I’ve noticed people on Twitter talking about QR codes, so of course they popped out at me while I perused the November 15, 2010 issue of Fortune. Specifically, companies are using them in ads: in this particular issue, Time, Fortune and Ford ran ads that included QR codes.
What is a QR Code?
According to Wikipedia, “a QR Code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and smartphones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.”
Because they’re so new, the three ads gave instructions for what to do with the QR code — which is how I learned that you need some background info in order to see the marketing riches behind these funky codes.
“Simply scan the QR code with your smartphone” . . . uh no.
The ads for Time and Fortune carried easy to follow instructions — “simply scan the QR code with your smartphone.” To me, scan means “scanner,” as in a scanner iPhone app, as in RedLaser, which is a really cool app, in case you don’t have it.
RedLaser does scan the QR code and then gives you a URL. You then have to cut and paste the URL into your iPhone’s browser, a two-step process. You can also download QR scanner apps. My son, who is much geekier than I, immediately took on the challenge of downloading QR code apps; we spent close to an hour trying to figure out how the codes and apps worked.
The problem with using RedLaser to scan QR codes is that you have to ensure the code is in an upright position. To do this, I had to tear the ads out of the magazine and then hold the ad steady while trying to scan the code. This process worked for the Time and Fortune codes, but this is because the printed codes were fairly large. The Ford ad didn’t work at all and I think this is because the code is too small.
After trying to open the Ford QR code via TwittQR (see below) I finally followed the instructions on the ad, which read, “Simply open your phone’s browser and download the free app at gettag.mobi [from Microsoft] or text “MFORDTOUCH” to 4FORD. Then follow the directions to snap this tag and see MyFord Touch come to life.”
This worked. After downloading the app and then scanning the code, I was taken directly to a mobile Web page advertising Ford’s new 2011 Edge.
(You Droid users have it easy: a scanner is part of your phone.)
QR codes now part of marketing campaigns
During this trial and error time, my friend Margie Dana, founder and President of Print Buyers International, and I tweeted back and forth about our frustrations with QR codes and the apps. (Margie also has a new book out: “Print Buying Made Simple,” 138 pages of advice for print buyers. Be sure to check it out.)
In the middle of this, @SpeakFeel tweeted me to say I should check out TwittQR.com for an easy way to handle QR codes.
All you do is take a picture of the QR code, open your Twitter phone app and tweet the picture to @TwittQR. TwittQR then sends you back the URL, which appears in your timeline. You can then click on the link to view.
It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got it. The entire process made me see that I needed to write about this topic, because as I told Margie, if I can’t figure it out, how will non-marketers?
Since he had tweeted me the link to his QR app, I asked Noel Webb, Vice President of SpeakFeel Corporation if I could interview him. (This, my friends, is Real Time Marketing in action. See how it works?)
Svedka Vodka integrates mobile, Facebook
Noel’s company is the genius behind TwittQR and the new Sveda vodka campaign that’s been getting some buzz in the trade press. Posters around Canada advertising Svedka also included a QR code. When people tweeted the code (via TwittQR), they received a message with hashtags “#SVEDKA” and “#TwittQR” plus a custom message and a short URL that went to a mobile site.
Once there, people could then sign in via Facebook and “Like” the Svedka Vodka Page. (For those of you not using Facebook, this means that any time Svedka puts out a message to its “Friends,” that message shows up in their personal profiles. This is why companies are drooling over Facebook’s 500 million users. Who wouldn’t kill for that kind of one-to-one marketing?)
“One of the goals of the campaign,” says Noel, “was to increase the number of Facebook fans, which we accomplished. Svedka also outsold Smirnoff for that quarter.” You can read the full campaign details at Mobile Marketer. You learn more about TwittQR and SpeakFeel Corp. at Going Cellular.
Are QR codes the next best thing?
I definitely see the potential of QR codes and how marketers can use them to engage people by getting them from print to Web. However, the downside is that QR code use is not standard nor are the apps, something pointed out in the Going Cellular post.
In addition, marketers need to use language carefully. As my experience shows, telling people to “simply scan using your smartphone,” isn’t “simple” nor do you “scan” if you’re using an iPhone. And making people download an app, as the Ford ad did, is ok, but it did take me a few minutes. In our now “instant world,” these few minutes are the difference between campaign success and failure.
What’s your experience with QR codes and how do you think B2B companies can incorporate them into the marketing mix? If you’re a B2B company and have successfully used a QR code in a campaign, I’d love to interview you for a blog post.
UPDATE: Also check out these related items:
The CueCat — A barcode reader from the 1990s used for scanning barcodes in catalogs (way before its time, unfortunately). Hat tip to @PeterKretzman.
JagTags — Tags used by consumer brands, such as Macy’s. Hat tip to @LoisGeller.
2d Code — A magazine that is the definitive resource for all things QR Code. Edited by @RogerSmolski (and a hat tip to him).