The Carrot Blog

QR Codes and Barcode attachments are quickly becoming de rigueur for social campaigns. Let's take a critical eye to these fancy-shmancy things and figure out where their value lies. Here is my run at defending this trending medium to hopefully convince you why they are here to stay.

QR Code and Barcode 101

What is a QR code? Basically, a QR code (or Quick Response Code) is a geometric-looking, two-dimensional visual code (seen below) that, when scanned, accesses hidden information. There are many different QR code applications for any platform, even basic SMS phones. Regarding the one-dimensional barcodes you see everyday, certain applications like Stickybits, allow users to scan and attach photos, URLs and/or comments.

The Problems

As an avid user and supporter of this scanning progression (a.k.a. self-proclaimed scanatic), I've noticed a few hurdles that should be addressed before they hit mainstream, fulfilling it's promising potential.

The biggest speed bump is smartphone adoption. Even though QR code technology is available to all types of cellphones, the true value is in smartphones. Only on smartphones can we carry over the customer's curiosity to explore the digital space and provide a completely branded and bespoke mobile experience. The second speed bump is in effort. It takes a lot of effort to download the proper applications, correctly scan a bar code and further dive into the digital experience for a reward.

The Potential

With time, those hurdles will diminish as campaigns keep sparking public interest and including real value. There is a ton of uncharted worth that codes bring forth, including inherent mystery, personalization and physicality.

These codes can provide the excitement of "what's behind door number one," reenacting the soft drink industry's prizes under the cap. This will work as long as the reward is immediately accessible and relevant to the target market.

Over the past year or two, there have been several successful campaigns utilizing QR codes. Digital coupons have seen a rampant spike (as illustrated in this infographic) and QR codes have been at the forefront of the trend. Transmedia storytelling in marketing campaigns, especially for the entertainment industry, has embraced QR codes as a way to extend the story into the digital realm. Even the music industry has begun to use QR codes as a means to provide users with exclusive content and virtual backstage passes. These case studies are the foundations to using QR codes and barcodes in creative ways.

Stickybits has created a platform where brands and users can personalize a single product by attaching digital easter eggs to a barcode. Be it displaying the story behind a product or allowing consumers to attach their own comment or image, users will recognize that feeling of "I was here." Campbell's Soup has launched a campaign to build awareness around the new Campbell's soup can utilizing this platform. This is one of the first of its kind. Giving a user the ability to attach user generated content or any content to a product could be a legal and monitoring nightmare, but the benefit is unique and powerful.

Marketers have a prime opportunity to engage with consumers while they are physically interacting with the product utilizing QR codes and barcodes. These interactions can happen at the point-of-sale, during consumption or once the product experience is over. To have an opportunity to connect or deliver further value to a consumer while the product is in hand is rare and significant. This could mean a tierd messaging strategy, a branded application or leveraging geolocation with scans. As a marketer this is our prime time to shine (and rhyme).

As the general public begins to interact and become familiar with this unique medium, QR codes will be the most convenient doorway between the physical world and digital world. Making that experience simple, engaging and beneficial is crucial. And right now that doorway is still waiting to be opened.

Here are references to other uses of QR codes and barcodes: "NYC Garbage Trucks Take QR Codes Mainstream" – B.L. Ochman, AdAge Calvin Klein QR Code Billboard – picture taken on Houston St. in NYC

My own Bow Tie Tuesday cameos including stickybits: