As someone that runs a digital agency, I must admit I have mixed feelings on the use of QR codes in general. I like the concept in theory, and I am seeing them more and more in market, promoting a whole list of products and services. The principle is a solid one, and you would think that the abundance of smart phones equipped with both cameras and onboard software to process the QR codes would bring leads and customers through the web channel. The reality is that if things don’t change quickly, this too will be another passing marketing gimmick that never really took off. Agencies and marketers are sticking the QR codes in the ads without an end-to-end strategy. I would say 8 out of 10 QR codes I snap a picture of takes me to a site that is not optimized for mobile; hell, most of the time, it just dumps me at brandname.com without even a custom campaign landing page built for desktop browsers, let alone mobile ones. It’s true that modern smart phones can render web standard compliant sites just fine, but the scrolling and zooming looking for the related content in the mobile browser is tedious at best when viewing a site on the move. When was the last time you did a digital campaign and just dumped the users off at your homepage? Well, the same applies to QR strategy if you want it to succeed.
Take a ride with me.
I went for a ride on one of Vancouver’s more popular commuter subway lines to test this theory for this article, and I have the following examples of the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly.
The first example is for an online learning campaign for a college in the interior of British Columbia. The campaign is for online learning, which I suspect is essential for an educational system that is not located near a major metropolitan area. They understand that their target market is professional, mobile savvy, and looking to advance their career through online learning. The posters are well placed on the trains, although a bit weak in design, and have a triple call to action (CTA) at the bottom to call, go to the web, or snap a QR code. The code itself is unobtrusive but visible and supports the other two CTAs well. When the QR code is snapped, the user is taken to a mobile optimized site designed with clear paths into areas of the site that would be of interest to the potential online student. Viewers can see tabs entitled “About,” “Programs,” “Courses,” “Testimonials,” and—most importantly—a large button that says “Open Learning” placed an inch away from where the thumb would be on a smart phone. This is a campaign that I suspect is doing well in lead generation and mobile page views. If viewed at the beginning of a commute, then I would guess that the time on site might also be quite long. Commuters are a captive audience thirsty for something to do during the ride through town, so you should give them something good to read. They may even have time to sign up for a course or two before the end of the journey if the site is built correctly. At the very least, there will be significant recall on “Open Learning” for the college.
In the second example, I chose a black mark on our city from last year’s NHL playoff run of the Vancouver Canucks. Long story short, when we lost in the final game, many fans decided to riot and trash the downtown core to bits. As
luck would have it, the event was documented like no riot before through the use of camera-equipped mobile phones; the event was uploaded to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, then turned over to the police for the ongoing (now year-long) investigation. They are actually in phase II of the campaign
that invites every day citizens to go to the VPD website and identify rioters in the uploaded photos. The out of home posters are big, bold, and eye catching with a large QR code in the middle. They are peppered at bus shelters around the city, which is great for those with nothing to do while waiting for the bus. Sounds like a great idea right? Unfortunately, when a user snaps an image, the user is taken to the non-mobile optimized VPD homepage with only a tiny banner on the lower right of the page to direct the user to the campaign site. It’s a shame that all that effort is wasted in the last portion of the campaign.
The third example is probably the worst of the bunch. The idea for the campaign was for the Vancouver Autoshow to sponsor free papers on the subway line and have prominent placement on the front page with a very strongly-worded CTA to go to the website to learn more. When I tried to snap a pic of the QR code with my smart phone, it became apparent that no one tested the size required for the QR readers to be able to clearly focus on the QR code. I tried everything to make my iPhone 4S focus on the QR code, but without a macro lens, I could not. Again, all that money to own the frontpage and to pay for the paper distribution on transit that day with a strong focus on QR and the web was wasted with an untested QR code for the CTA.
Top things to consider for a QR campaign:
- Plan your campaign from QR code to conversion.
- Point the QR code to a campaign page, not just the home page.
- Optimize your site for mobile—if not your entire site, then at least the campaign landing pages.
- Add analytics to the QR codes to track usage and ROI.
- Make sure that the QR code is large enough to be processed by smart phone cameras.
- Test your QR codes; does the path work for you all the way through?
Let me know if you have had a successful campaign in the comments below, and please send any other tips for others doing QR code campaigns.