The latest trend for advertisers seems to be the use of QR codes in their promotional materials. But what about the PR industry? How can we make us of QR codes? Do they have a place in the PR toolkit? I interview John Harrison, co-founder of ScanMe.com, to find out.
Would you please briefly explain what a QR code is and where they came from?
The QR (or Quick Response) barcode is a two-dimensional code originally developed by a Toyota subsidiary – Denso Wave – back in 1994 to track vehicles during the manufacturing process.
A conventional, linear barcode typically holds a simple 12 digit numeric code that identifies what product it is. A QR code can hold up to around 4,000 alphanumeric characters which can be used to do a multitude of things. It can also be scanned no matter which way up you are holding it.
Why have QR codes become so popular in the communications industry?
Smartphones have all the ingredients for being an effective information and marketing tool: it’s always with it’s owner; it can be instantly communicated with via email or phone; it has the ability to show things effectively via web link or video stream. The only issue is engaging with the consumer and showing them what you want them to see. QR codes offer this opportunity.
There has been a 600% growth in Smartphone sales in the UK since June 2010, and this has enabled consumers to carry around their own barcode scanner in their pocket! In fact, 24% of owners have used their phone to scan barcodes – and this number is growing at over 1,000% year on year.
Is the industry making the most of QR codes? What should we be expecting next?
There is evidence that more and more companies are using QR codes to convey information to their audience. You will see them on TV ads, at the back of books, or on magazine adverts, to name a few. However, without knowing what’s going to happen when you scan the QR code, the experience from scanning one code to another can be mixed and often the barcodes are not used to their potential.
As barcodes become more popular and the consumer awareness of the technology increases it will become vital to be seen to be using the right tool. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right! Developments and new creative ideas for the application of QR technology are always just around the corner. As with any new technology, it evolves at an astonishing rate.
How do QR codes fit into the social media PR toolkit?
There are plenty of websites that enable you to create QR barcodes that can link to a website you specify. If you link that website to Google Analytics, this can provide you information such as when and approximately where your barcode was scanned.
At ScanMe.com, we have developed sophisticated back-end technology that not only tells you when and where, but also ‘who’ scanned you and on what material! By knowing who scanned what product – be it a brochure, press release or business card, for example – it provides you with a hugely powerful consumer engagement tool. For example, providing barcodes to media to add to coverage can help track which best attracts reader attention and lets you profile the category of readers that are most commonly interested in the brand you are promoting. This in turn can help you make more informed decisions on which media to target in the future and provides excellent, in depth reporting material for clients or the boardroom.
Barcodes also work really well on merchandise so are a great tool for tracking consumer interaction at publicity events. It’s real world engagement, and offers something more than any of the top-tier social media sites can do. The great thing is that through a ScanMe scan page, you can link back to these social sites, therefore gaining the benefit of all this information before you are ‘liked’ or ‘followed’.
How can PR students become skilled in the use and creation of QR codes?
There are plenty of QR creation sites on the internet where you can gain some first hand experience. Our’s is a free service that creates a unique QR barcode for you via login with Facebook – so it’s very simple to try out. The barcode links to a unique ScanMe URL which you control. You can then manage the content without having to generate a new barcode, allowing you to connect with people instantly when out and about while providing scan history so that you can review later.
See how many barcodes you now spot after having read this and scan as many as you possibly you can. You will soon get a good feel of how they are used, how they work best, and experience the good and bad examples for consumer engagement. Happy scanning!