QR Codes: Why you should know about them … and care

A year ago, QR was the conversation of tech geeks, early adopting countries such as Germany and Japan, and Best Buy employees. Today, “QR code” is the fastest growing marketing search term in the United States. SNEWS takes a look at why it should matter to you.

A year ago, QR was the conversation of tech geeks, early adopting countries such as Germany and Japan, and Best Buy employees. Today, “QR code” is the fastest growing marketing search term in the United States.

“The momentum behind technologies like QR in the marketing world shows how valuable it can be to engage your customers along their paths to purchase, in new and creative way,” Jim Lecinski told SNEWS. Lecinski should know, as vice president of Google’s U.S. sales. In his book, “Winning the Zero Moment Of Truth,” he emphasized the growing role that smartphones play in the modern shopper’s decisions, noting that 79 percent of smartphone owners admit to using their phones to help with shopping. And that’s where QR codes come in.

QR codes, or “Quick Response” codes are those boxes filled with squiggly black lines and shapes popping up in magazine ads, on billboards and product hangtags. Like their ancestor, the UPC barcode, they are embedded with data, albeit a lot more, and are used by marketers to provide additional information or resources to consumers. With a downloaded scanning app, smartphone users can read the code and be redirected to the website with more text or videos – or whatever they dream up. In short, it’s an Internet link without having to type in the address.

QR codes’ popularity is mainly due to the adoption of smartphones: As of June 2011, there were 78.5 million users, while according to digital research group ComScore, some 14 million Americans scanned QR codes in June. As consumers increasingly access the Internet via smartphones and mobile tablets, experts say its makes sense for companies, including those in the outdoor and fitness industries, to include QR marketing into their marketing campaigns.

Growth of QR in Outdoor and Fitness

In the outdoor industry, use spiked just in the last six months, according to Ginger Conrad, former marketing manager for Outdoor Retailer.

“At the 2010 Outdoor Retailer summer show, I saw some buzz with QR through ad campaigns, but no manufacturers and no hangtags,” she said. “Then I saw a little more at the (2011) winter show, but this past summer, it just kind of … wow … blew up.”

And that has led the trade show to move even faster with its own QR use: “We want QR codes at every New Product Preview at every zone. Up until now, we’ve only had them in one zone: Paddling. But now we want them everywhere,” she said.

In the same way, companies like Columbia Sportswear in outdoor and Spri Products in fitness have seen successes of their own and have plans to ramp up their campaigns.

“Columbia has seen more QR scans in the past three months than the past three years, combined,” said Paul Zaengle, the company’s e-commerce vice president. The company will push to include QR codes on the hangtags of its most technically advanced lines, such as products with Omni-Heat. This way, shoppers who scan the codes in the store can be connected to more technical information on the product, presented in a variety of easier-to-understand formats, such as video.

The fitness industry is starting to take a harder look at QR too.

“Our QR campaign has done well, and we’re planning to do more. And as smartphones become more and more prevalent, the hits are just going to continue to grow,” said Adam Zwyer, Spri Products marketing director. The fitness accessories company recently ran a campaign that led scanners to a mobile formatted page with information on products.

Return on Investment

Since generating the QR codes is free, the investment required to execute a campaign is minimal for companies if the codes are placed on their own products. In this case, the largest expense is the cost of the landing page. Of course, additional costs come in further marketing of the codes, such as in newspapers, magazines or on billboards – but less advertising space is needed when it’s the QR code that does all the talking.

“QR is an opportunity for companies of any size to level the playing field in terms of marketing and advertising dollars,” said Nate Alder, CEO of Klymit. “It’s especially useful for small companies because we’re more nimble and can implement campaigns quicker.” The maker of sleeping pads and insulated wear recently placed QR codes on the hangtags of jackets and camping pads pointing to a page with product reviews from customers as well as product videos.

QR codes also can bring additional data to companies that could be useful in analyzing marketing campaigns and consumer habits, such as when and where they are accessing the codes.

QR isn’t solve-all solution for marketing, however. And for now, QR codes should be tailored for the smartphone crowd. “We want to be careful that we’re not using them just for the sake of using them, Zaengle at Columbia said. “I think some people in our industry fall into that trap – like sending a customer to a full size website that’s not formatted for a smartphone.”

Points to consider for a campaign include:

* Giving users an experienced optimized for the mobile platform.

* Designing content for the location so a scanned code in a magazine would bring different information (an mobile e-commerce link, for example) than a hangtag scanned in a store (which could include reviews and video).

* Arranging the code to fit the design of the location, even adding aesthetic value.

* Deciding whether you will create your own code or contract to have it done. A marketing firm that specializes in mobile concepts may be helpful to start.

With the QR race speeding up, one reason to start a campaign may be to not get shoved to the back of the pack.

“It seems like everyone,” said Imagine Paddleboards founder Corran Addison, “is jumping on that bandwagon.”

--Yoon Kim

Want to find out more about QR codes as well as about more futuristic modes of mobile marketing? Look for an in-depth feature in the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012 Daily. Run by SNEWS, the dailies will also appear online immediately following the show (Jan.19-22, 2012) at www.snewsnet.com/ordaily.



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