Marketers are rapidly coming around to using 2D barcodes as a way to integrate online and offline marketing efforts. The question is whether they are using them the way consumers want…
Marketers’ Perspective: A recent study of marketers by Scanbury shows a keen interest by marketers in the use of 2D barcodes. According to the study, 50 percent of the marketers surveyed were already using them. That number rises to 86 percent when asked about their future use. The open source QR (Quick Response) Code was the dominant format used by marketers.
Magazines/newspapers followed by direct mail and product packaging were the top choices of marketers for placement of 2D barcodes. The top uses for the barcodes were directing users to additional product information, promotions and coupons according to Scanbury.
Consumers’ Perspective: While consumers don’t know what a QR code is (79%), they do recognize them (81%) according to a survey released last month by Chadwick Martin Bailey (CMB). Another study conducted a few months earlier by Russell Herder indicated that 72 percent of those who responded to the survey reported seeing a QR code, while roughly 30 percent did not know what it was. Half of all smartphone users have reported scanning a 2D barcode at least once.
Why is it Being Scanned: The reasons for scanning 2D barcodes varied among respondents to the CMB study. Curiosity was a main driver, followed by accessing more information and taking advantage of a discount, coupon or free gift.
According to the CMB study, just 41 percent of respondents who scanned the barcodes found the resulting information useful. 57 percent of respondents who scanned a QR barcode did nothing with the information while 18 percent made a purchase. Doing nothing may be the result of both scanning for curiosity coupled with the fact that the information they were directed to was not useful.
The CMB study also revealed a high interest by respondents to scanning QR and other 2D barcodes to gain access to discounts, coupons and free offers. That data is graphically shown:
What is Being Scanned: The CMB study found that magazines/newspapers (35%), product packaging (18%) and websites (13%) led the way as to the location of barcodes that were scanned. It should be of interest to marketers that direct mail fared no better than billboards/signs (11%) in this study. If this study is valid, then more research is needed to determine why bacodes used in direct mail aren't ranking higher.
Where it is Being Scanned: ComScore reports the physical location of consumers when scanning a QR code by percent of scanning audience.
Growth: The use of 2D barcodes is exploding according to a number of studies and vendors in the 2D barcode space. ComScore reported that twenty million consumers in the U.S. used their smartphones to scan a QR code in the three month average period ending October, 2011.
Another indicator of the rapid growth of barcodes is NeoMedia Technologies reporting that it experienced a 1,800 percent growth in year-on-year for its 2D barcode management platform.
The growth in use by magazines has been rapid. The Mobile Action Codes in Magazine Advertising 2011 study by Nellymoser involved tracking the use of mobile action codes (essentially 2D barcodes) in the top 100 national magazines by circulation. Some of the things Nellymoser’s study found:
- Magazines use of 2D barcodes rose 439 percent from the previous year. A total of 4,468 codes were printed in the top 100 magazines.
- As the year progressed, more and more barcodes were being used.
- Ninety-six percent of the top 100 magazines contained at least one barcode during the July to December, 2011 period.
- Ninety-seven percent of the codes printed were either QR codes (72%) or Microsoft Tags (25%). QR codes percentage of use is growing while Microsoft and other proprietary codes continue to lose ground.
- Barcodes were used in 2011 to showcase a video (54%), followed by sweepstakes/opt-in (30%).
The Future: The future looks rosy for QR barcodes for the next several years. It appears to be coming into its own as the standard for 2D barcodes as proprietary formats continue to lose share. Standardizing on one format should help consumers as well.
There are some threats out there that could derail or contain the use of 2D barcodes in the coming years. They include:
Poor Quality Content: The biggest is the fact that too many barcodes lead to information that is not useful to consumers. Novelty has been driving a lot of the scanning by consumers. As the novelty wears off it becomes increasing urgent that barcode direct consumes to relevant and timely information. Simply sending them to a website is a big mistake. It should take them to a landing page that contains what they want. If you believe the studies mentioned above, it should lead them to discounts, coupons, free offers, sweepstakes and to other important information needed in the purchasing decision process.
Lack of Education: More education is needed to make consumers comfortable with using this technology. Barcodes need to be accompanied with instructions on how to download the barcode reader. This won’t be necessary over time as more and more people become familiar with the technology. However, all barcodes should have descriptions of what will happen after the scan.
New Technology: A recent report by the Yankee Group estimates that percentage of smartphone users scanning 2D codes will peak in the near future and actually begin to fall in later years. They conclude that near field communication (NFC) will slowly but surely displace QR codes for many applications once the technology becomes widely embedded in phones (2014 – 2015).
NFC is touted to be a simple technology for consumers to use and has no limit on the amount of information that can be transferred. Consumers will simply tap their smartphones to initiate the call to action with NFC.
Another technology beginning to be seen in this arena is the use of digital watermarks. Think of them as invisible barcodes that are embedded into text, photos, ads, etc. While you can’t see them, your smartphone can. It allows advertisers to eliminate that “unattractive” barcode in the design of their advertisements.
The biggest issue with the mobile action codes or technologies is their poor use. If marketers don’t link them with relevant and timely information, it makes no difference if the technology is 2D barcodes, near field communications (NFC) or digital watermarks. It’s all about the content, not the technology.
Related posts on this topic:
- Authors are starting to use the term QR (Quick Response) code to mean all 2D codes, both open source and proprietary when reporting on this subject.
- One should always maintain a bit of skepticism of surveys by parties that have a vested interest in the results.