QR Codes Are Smart Marketing Tools, but Only If Executed Well

Last Updated Sep 16, 2010 8:32 PM EDT

QR codes, the little bar codes scannable by your smartphone that give additional information on a product, seem to be taking over advertising, clothing and even food purchases. Manufactures shouldn't look at it as a quick way to get customers, but as a tailored way to engage the consumer. Here are a few ways they can succeed.

Appeal to research-intensive products: The company Cellar Key recently began putting QR codes on wine. According to Jennifer Van Grove at Mashable, Cellar Key "[s]canners can watch videos about the wine in question, get video tours of wineries, discover food pairings, read up on harvest and tasting notes and check out reviews." In short, it is a virtual sommelier.

The key here is that most wine consumers need help: Wine novices are intimated by the choices or don't know what they like, while wine connoisseurs want as much information as possible on their potential purchase. Compare the needs of a wine drinker to, say, a soda drinker. The average soda consumer isn't going to need videos and second opinions on RC Cola.

Bribe consumers with prizes: Sometimes it's not about the product itself, but the gifts attached to the scan and purchase. Like the aforementioned soda example, Pepsi-Cola experimented with QR codes last year displaying them during an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The QR codes onscreen linked to the QR codes on specially-marked Pepsi bottles for prizes.

However, prize-driven QR codes may end up falling away to check-in apps. Just last week Coca-Cola launched the Coke Fairy. Driven by FourSquare, the Coke Fairy gives players clues for which vending machine carries the prize-winning soda bottle. The high-end prizes include airline flights and concert tickets. Checking into places can be a tedious process, but it takes less energy than scanning a QR code and reading or watching the following commentary. Time will tell if check-in services become the dominant interactivity tool.

Give the illusion of comfort: QR codes could also succeed if customers are shopping in a hostile environment. For instance, Port Townsend Food Coop recently launched the first talking QR code market. It could be dismissed as a gimmick, but in light of America's massive food recalls, the feedback-heavy QR codes at least make the consumer feel more informed on the food supplier. Compared to the average supermarket customer, the shopper at a food coop would probably be more interested in where his or her food came from, its nutritional value and its safety. In other words, QR codes probably wouldn't fly at the local Quik-E-Mart.

From advertising to food, companies seem convinced that QR codes are the next big thing. However, they also need to tailor their campaigns around their audience's needs -- and that it's more than just slapping an extra bar code on a bottle of wine.

Photo courtesy of giaLLLO! // CC 2.0
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