Retailers increasingly sold on the comms power of QR codes

As mobile devices become increasingly ingrained in the daily lives of consumers, QR codes are growing in importance as a beneficial communications tool, particularly in the retail sector.

As mobile devices become increasingly ingrained in the daily lives of consumers, QR codes are growing in importance as a beneficial communications tool, particularly in the retail sector.

Macy's rolled out a major QR code-based branding campaign in spring 2011 called Macy's Backstage Pass. Focused on the retailer's set of celebrity designers, consumers can scan QR codes from signage and in-store displays in order to obtain interactive and engaging video content delivered directly to mobile devices. One of the QR codes, for example, leads consumers to a video of tips from makeup company CEO Bobbi Brown. 

"It's been really well received," says Holly Thomas, VP of media relations and cause marketing at Macy's. "People have been excited about the content and feedback has been strong."

The company realizes it may be a bit ahead of the curve among consumer adoption of QR codes, but is comfortable in that position.

"Part of what we aim to do is stay ahead for our customers and help them learn technology as it relates to us in new and interesting ways," Thomas says.

Cracking the Code

Magic Hat. Brewing company used QR codes that link directly to the brand's Facebook page.

The Weather Channel. The network used a QR code on TV that allowed viewers to download its mobile app.

HBO. The cable channel used the codes to link to a video trailer to promote an upcoming season of True Blood.

Best Buy. The electronics retailer used the codes to lead consumers to its mobile shopping site.

Chevrolet. The automaker used QR codes on its cars at South by Southwest.

Consumer value
Dirk Shaw, SVP of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide's digital influence group, notes that when considering the use of QR codes, it's important to assess whether the target audience possesses a good general understanding about them. It is also imperative that the codes provide some value to consumers.

Elizabeth Pigg, SVP of media strategy at Edelman Digital, shares this sentiment on the importance of providing value and having a strategy in mind. 

"Rather than thinking they are this shiny new object, the same rules apply to QR codes that apply to all forms of marketing and PR," she explains. "You need to give a user real value, particularly when you are asking them to take some sort of action."

That said, once communicators have a strategy in mind, the codes can be used in a variety of interesting, interactive, educational, and engaging ways for consumers.

QR codes can lead directly to point of sale through providing discounts; can be entertainment based by leading consumers to movie trailers or providing samplings of songs; can be scanned on clothing tags to lead people to sizing charts; or direct consumers to recipes from codes on food packaging.

Beyond that, QR codes can involve location-based elements in order to provide consumers with even more targeted content. Shaw explains that it is possible to put a QR code in a car or particular location to provide regionally relevant content from a messaging standpoint.

From an analytics standpoint, the codes can be used to determine which content the audience is consuming.

QR codes that drive consumers to simple content, such as a transportation schedule or sizing chart for clothing, can be equally effective as a QR code that leads to something more complex, such as a video.

Benefits of education
The most creative ideas sometimes meet a true obstacle in that many consumers might be unaware of how to use QR codes. As such, education is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Alongside QR codes on display, brands sometimes lay out specific directions on how to use them in order to increase adoption.

"Once there is a general awareness of what QR codes are and phones have a built-in QR code reader, adoption will become much greater," Shaw explains. 

Context is another element to keep in mind. For example, in places where consumers are rushed or have a short duration of stay they are less likely to scan a code than in a situation where they are waiting around, such as at a bus stop.

"In a high-traffic place, it might be harder for someone to stop, read, download, and then perform this task," Shaw notes. "If you educate someone, they might go by and do it next time."

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