QR Codes Are Easy, Cheap and Cool
Is the latest marketing buzz around quick response codes indicative of a growing trend or just the latest fad?
According to Brian Bierbaum, vice president of interactive services at Priority Integrated Marketing, it depends.
“One of the best indicators we have is if we look to what’s happened in Asia and Europe, where they’ve been used for years. So we tend to lean on the side of not a fad, but it could be hopped over by competing technology here in the U.S.,” said Bierbaum. “The latest generation of smartphones equipped with NFC could potentially replace QR codes. Instead of having to scan and take a picture of the code, you’d just wave your phone by a poster or billboard and it picks it up right there.” He added that the speed of adoption of that technology in the U.S. would be the tipping point.
Not sure what a QR code is? Basically it is a two-dimensional barcode that is readable by Web-enabled mobile devices. “The way I like to describe QR codes are as a physical connection to the online world. They’re a hyperlink that you can scan in with a mobile phone," said Bierbaum.
He advised credit unions interested in using QR codes to think about the context of where consumers are and how they use them.
“They may be standing in line or at a bus stop, so have a landing page that’s optimized for mobile devices within the context of their interactions with the credit union,” said Bierbaum. “First Bank had a great example of this. They put up billboards in airports and it linked to free content downloads. So while you’re waiting for your flight you could download an e-book or game to pass the time."
At Minnesota Power Employees Credit Union, QR codes have helped the $80 million credit union engage with members.
“Everyone was asking for an iPhone app, so we thought, why not use the QR code as an app?” said Nancy Hutchinson, senior vice president of marketing/business development at the Duluth, Minn.-based credit union. “It was so easy, and it’s the No. 1 thing members want. Now they scan the QR code, download the free QR reader, and once it’s installed, there’s the app, and they can go right to our website.”
For Hutchinson, implementing the codes was a no-brainer.
“First, creating the code was as simple as going to Kaywa.com and entering a URL, second it was free, and you know how we all like the word free for our marketing budgets,” said Hutchinson, who also serves on the executive committee of the CUNA marketing/business development council. “The code was generated in just five minutes. The costs to create an app start at $25,000. We don’t have that kind of money so this has been a good way to start to offer the technology consumers want on a budget.”
Hutchinson has plans to incorporate the code into business cards as a way to download contact information right onto the phone. In addition, she has been working on a QR code scavenger hunt loan campaign set to launch in September.
Bierbaum has also seen some success with QR codes in stadium ads on the billboard of the main scoreboard that can be scanned as a way to build engagement or support campaigns that revolve around local community events.
“Or during an event, have an interactive scavenger hunt where each codes reveals a tip to the next one and whoever makes it to the end gets a prize associated with the event,” said Bierbaum. “Try to make it unique. So maybe have some QR codes at the branch that help distract members from the inconvenience of waiting in line. Maybe link to an online game, educational tip, upcoming class event or even have some funny lines about the wait.”
“Creating a QR code is easy, but implementing it correctly, so it can be scanned easily, tracked effectively and, most importantly, the strategy behind the use in a piece is complex,” said Mary Dolan, director of training and marketing at Maine State CU. “As far as tracking, you want to make sure you have the metrics and analytics behind the tool to be able to measure effectiveness through response rates.”
She added that once decoded, the QR code can execute the following actions: navigate or redirect to a URL, or other data, return a phone number to place a call, return a number to send and SMS Text message to and return a block of text up to 255 characters.
She used all that to the $319 million Augusta, Maine-based credit union’s advantage during an auto loan campaign that ran from March through May. Targeting members with loans that were maturing in 12 months and members who’d paid off a loan in the past 12 months, Dolan threw QR codes into the marketing mix.
The audience was then segmented among females, males 26 and older and males under 25, with collateral pieces designed to appeal to their demographic with a focus on how Maine State CU was a better choice for auto loans and could make car ownership a reality.
Members who scanned the QR code were automatically linked to the online auto application. The code also doubled as one of the many tracking methods implemented. The overall campaign, which included email blasts, direct mail postcards, web graphics, banner ads and lobby monitor graphics, resulted in 285 auto loans opened that totaled a little over $4 million. To keep it in perspective Dolan said for the same time period in 2010, the CU had 244 auto loans that totaled a little over $3.1 million. The total campaign investment was $6,700.
“This year we’re focused on targeted direct mail marketing and the auto loan campaign is an example of that,” said Dolan. “We’re analyzing member data and determining who is most likely to benefit from our product or service.”
So are QR codes are worth exploring?
“I think if you are trying to drive a Web-based CTA, have a clear strategy for quick response, need to redirect to a long URL address, don’t want to purchase a unique URL, drive members to active Web content and want to capture a cell number or SMS..., why not give QR codes a try?” said Dolan.
QR Code Tips
- Mobilize landing page.
- If linking to your website, keep URL short to allow you to have a smaller QR code. A long URL results in a gigantic code and makes it harder for the phone to scan it.
- Make content valuable and take into account the context of being mobile. Don’t drop them on your homepage. The content has to add some value to their life otherwise it was a waste of their time.
- Never resize the codes manually. Let the program your using generate it.
- Don’t assume consumers are knowledgeable about QR code or even know how to scan it. Provide an alternative for those who don’t have smartphone access.