Accepting the QR code culture

By James Lowry and Christy Correll | January 18, 2012

James’ Take:

QR codes are becoming very popular in our culture, which is not surprising because of their popularity in the Asian and European countries for years. They take advantage of technology that is becoming readily available, especially to the younger generation. As a printer, I have mixed emotions about their use though. While we gladly print them on a label or on a piece of marketing collateral, I keep thinking what we would have printed if the QR codes were not there. Some examples include:

• Product or service descriptions with all the information you want to include. We simply print a limited amount of information such as a logo or a striking image with a simple QR code and that is it. The rest of the information and details are available on the web. What if we were printing all that information on our labels?

• Coupons are a huge business, whether in paper or pressure-sensitive form. Do some brief research on the benefits of couponing for retailers and product manufacturers and you will see that the ROI is good. Now, with the benefit of the QR code, these businesses merely need to have a QR code printed on the product or affixed retail shelf. The savvy buyer takes a picture, goes to the web page and gets the deal. Where did our dry release label or the bottleneck coupon that was put on the product container go?

• Promotional printing for mailers will likely change as well. Instead of consisting of two or three pages of material with a reply envelope, and maybe a novelty item like a printed magnet, a simple postcard with a QR code now suffices.

Despite my mixed emotions about where this is heading, it is inevitable that we will be printing more and more QR codes. As such, I encourage our industry to embrace this concept as we have with many, many other changes. The opportunities for our customers are huge, so we need to find ways to support them in getting their QR codes printed and in front of consumers. Now Christy is going to provide some insight into successfully incorporating QR codes into your marketing materials.
James Lowry is the general manager of Lightning Labels, an all-digital label printer in Denver, CO, USA. He is a 25-year veteran of the printing industry with experience in digital, flexo, offset, and commercial printing. 

Christy’s Take:

On one of the final days of Denver’s Indian summer, I woke up and QR codes were everywhere. On nearly every ad in Rolling Stone Magazine, like stickers printed with television snow. QR codes were also in my neighborhood, in the yards of homes for sale. At work, I spotted them being printed on customer labels, and they were all over the grocery store, too.
At the movies, my friend Maria spotted one on a movie poster. When I used my iPhone’s RedLaser app to scan it, a short movie preview popped up, followed by a coupon for a free tub of popcorn.

I am excited that QR codes have already opened up previously unimaginable ways for marketers to reach consumers. Their design allows them to hold an enormous amount of data in a relatively tiny amount of space. Marketers are typically using this technology to enable smartphone users to access product information, special discounts, branded entertainment, and to send text messages to users’ phones.

Please don’t be lazy when using QR codes.While this technology has amazing potential, it is only useful if people use it. If Maria had gone to the movies alone, she probably would have merely glanced at it. With no directions attached to it, the QR code is meaningless to the uninitiated. Standalone QR codes like this are quickly becoming the norm here, which is a shame. As such, I have a message to anyone who thinks this is the best way to implement QR codes in US markets:

This is not Tokyo, people. Not everyone here knows what a QR code is and what to do with it – even if they don’t need or want to use it. That would be a postage stamp you are thinking of. Furthermore, not everyone has smartphones, even if they are smart people. They deserve information, too.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s talk about what marketers can turn do to turn things around and give the power of QR codes back to, well, everyone. The easiest solution, in my opinion, is to tell consumers what the QR code is, what they should do with it, and why. Also direct people without smartphones somewhere else, such as a website they can look up at home.

Oh how I wish a Rolling Stone advertiser is reading this. If you are, and decide to give your QR code the “old-school” treatment vs. treating it like a postage stamp, please let me know. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the most popular ad in the magazine. 

Christy Correll is the online marketing specialist at Lightning Labels, where sales are driven primarily through eCommerce activities.
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