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Mobile Marketing for the New Year

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By: Millie Milliken

It is that time again when people reflect on the year in review, develop annual top 10 lists, and make predictions for the new year.  If there was a category for most improved marketing technique in 2011, one could make a case that the winner would be the QR (quick response) code.  At the beginning of 2011, the QR code was fairly unknown in the United States.  Now they are ubiquitous, found everywhere from bus stops to bananas.  Check out this infographic detailing the rise of the QR code over the last two years.

For those unfamiliar, QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes originally developed in 1994 by Toyota to track vehicle parts during the manufacturing process.  The range of applications has grown and the codes are now utilized in mobile marketing to reach customers and drive sales.

While QR codes have been in Asian markets for years, they have only recently begun to break into the mainstream U.K. and US markets.  This past summer, 14 million American mobile phone users scanned a QR code during the month of June, representing about 6.2% of the total mobile audience, up from only 1% the year before.  Currently, there are 95.8 million active smartphone users in the United States, an increase of 67% from last year. With nearly one third of the US population and almost half of UK adults owning a smart phone, it is clear that the mobile marketing trend shows no sign of slowing down.

The benefit of integrating mobile marketing to augment a company’s current marketing strategy is clear. In addition to capturing a growing audience segment, these campaigns provide an effective opportunity for companies to build brand awareness, increase customer engagement, and gain a better understanding of their customers’ behaviors.  An added benefit is that the QR code campaigns are inexpensive to create and use.

In terms of sustainability, these scanning technologies offer a number of benefits.  Green marketers can use these as informational or educational tools for customers searching for more information on the back-story of a product helping customers make more informed purchasing decisions.  This increases transparency in sourcing, thereby increasing accountability and brand reputation.  By providing more information about where products are sourced, fair trade companies can also assist in developing a connection to the local artisan or producer.  Innovative companies can also use the technology to help consumers track carbon footprinting.  More importantly, QR codes can help reduce paper waste by replacing additional printed documentation with links to web pages.

However, in terms of branding, the QR codes leave something to be desired. These tiny digital Rorschach type inkblots may provide companies a powerful platform for targeted marketing but they have a serious shortcoming on the aesthetics front.  One emerging competitor, SpyderLynk, combats this drawback by storing the scannable information in an attractive ring, called SnapTags, prominently displaying a clean company logo. Another key difference between SnapTags and QR codes is that users only need to have a camera application on their phone rather than the downloadable QR reader app required on smartphones.  As 88% of mobile phones have a camera while only 43% of phone users own a smartphone, companies are able to reach a wider audience.

Most importantly, it is the functionality of the codes that create the added value for companies.  Depending on the goal of the marketing campaign (whether increasing brand awareness, building fan base, or advertising a new product) it is critical that the code takes people to the right destination (whether a social media link, company website, or a related video link).  Progressive companies are finding creative ways to integrate both the branding and marketing.

Scanning technology offers tremendous marketing potential.  As more mobile devices are purchased into the new year, we can expect to see this trend continue in the future. Whether companies use QR codes, Snap Tags, or any other interactive marketing technique, branding and functionality will continue to be critical factors.  Despite being the mobile scanning technology story of 2011, the QR code may live up to its name; exiting just as quickly as it came to prominence.  2012 may write a new story as other technologies continue to emerge.