QR Codes Add a New Dimension to SMB Marketing
Virtually unknown in the U.S. as recently as two years ago, QR codes are quickly becoming as ubiquitous as the conventional UPC barcodes they promise to someday replace. You’ve no doubt seen QR codes (short for “quick response”) on packaged goods or in print advertisements–comprised of a series of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background, these two-dimensional matrix codes resemble nothing so much as portals to another world… which in some respects is exactly what they are. Consumers who scan QR codes with their smartphones and corresponding code reader applications are instantly transported to mobile-optimized websites boasting a wealth of content about the brand, product or merchant in question, spanning everything from special offers to contact information to social media outreach to how-to videos. In short, QR codes enable companies to interact with customers any time and anywhere (including the point of sale), delivering the kind of rich content and context that more basic marketing tools like SMS and mobile ads can’t match.
Consumer response is undeniably impressive. Forty-nine percent of U.S. shoppers who’ve seen QR codes on products or in advertisements have scanned them with their phones, according to a study conducted earlier this year by integrated marketing and communications agency MGH. But while Fortune 500 brands like Ford Motor Company, Nike and Pepsi are setting the pace in QR code deployment, the reality is that small businesses are positioned to reap the greatest rewards from integrating the QR concept into their marketing initiatives. For one thing, QR code campaigns are relatively easy to create and inexpensive to roll out–startups like Paperlinks generate customized designer QR codes and supply DIY campaign creation tools (complete with analytics data) for as little as $25 per month.
Even more important, QR codes level the playing field, giving SMBs a new weapon to compete head-to-head against larger, deeper-pocketed rivals. Picture this: A small craft brewery could incorporate a QR code into its beer label, forgoing cardboard stand-ups with bikini-clad babes, window banners and other expensive staples of liquor store advertising campaigns. Consumers who scan the QR code can then access discounts on the craft beer, interact with other microbrew connoisseurs, read expert and user reviews, check out recommended beer/dinner pairings, or view behind-the-scenes brewery footage. They could even leverage GPS functionality incorporated into their smartphones to access directions to local bars and nightspots that serve the beers in bottles or on tap. Whatever the brand or product, it’s all about making a connection with the consumer, supplying them with value and insight they can’t get anywhere else–not from traditional digital resources, and certainly not from the national beer brands vying for the same shelf space and mindshare.
It’s not just about consumer packaging, either–QR codes fit comfortably on business cards, within direct marketing initiatives and in-store windows as well. There’s just one rule to follow: Consumers who scan a QR code should feel rewarded for their time and effort. That reward might mean a coupon discounting a product or service, it might mean personalized loyalty program benefits, or it could mean local entertainment recommendations tailored to the customer’s individual tastes and behaviors. Above all, the QR code must lead consumers to a mobile web experience that’s not only compelling but also unique–if scanning a code supplies users with the same information they could have accessed by simply typing in a URL, you’re doing it wrong. Consumers who scan a QR code are seeking a more intimate and more meaningful level of interaction with your brand; it’s up to you to give the people what they want.
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