The surge in smartphone ownership seems to be supporting a parallel rise in the use of QR tags. Marketers, advertisers and communicators should start incorporating tags into their planning now. The cost is minimal and the benefits could be huge.
A week or so ago I was shopping for a TV stand, that piece of furniture that supports a flat-panel television and the various devices (cable box, DVR, gaming console, DVD player, etc.) that stream content to the TV. At Best Buy, the small cards that displayed the price also featured QR codes. Using a free app called BeeTagg on my Android phone, I was able to scan the codess and get more information on each item than the price card could hold. (Google Goggles, which is also installed on my HTC Evo, would also have done the trick.) It was a lot easier than finding an available sales rep.
Yesterday, the Contra Costa Times (my local newspaper) featured a story about a new service of the Contra Costa Library and Tri Delta Transit, which are teaming up to display QR codes on all East County buses. Passengers who scan the codes will be able instantly to download any of 600 audio books the library is making available. The books will be deleted automatically after two weeks. The article quotes Paula MacKinnon, information systems manager for the library, saying that "This is bringing library service anywhere you can stick a two-inch code."
The library is also making code readers for multiple smartphone platforms available to riders directly from its site.
Contra Costa residents have the 10th-longest average commute time west of the Mississippi, MacKinnon said, and is above the national average in smartphone usage. Tri Delta transit's 69 buses provide 10,000 rides a day around East County, but commute times rarely exceed 45 minutes. The library hopes to bring Snap 'n Go posters to buses that travel longer routes.
Eventually, the service will expand beyond buses to museums, cafes and hospital waiting rooms.
Best Buy and the library-transit program aren't the only examples of QR codes finding their way into marketing and communication efforts:
- Mashable reported earlier this month that wine owner-importer Lion Nathan Wine Group is adding QR codes to bottles designed to make it easier for everyday wine buyers to make better choices. Scanning the code will "pull up a mobile-friendly site replete with information on each wine. Scanners can watch videos about the wine in question, get video tours of wineries, discover food pairings, read up on harvest and tasting notes and check out reviews."
- In Canada, posters are appearing featuring a QR code that brings them to "a web page featuring a petition to protect the Flathead River Valley in British Columbia and the Restigouche Watershed in Quebec and New Brunswick," according to a report in the Winnipeg Free Press. The campaign, from the conservation group The Big Wild, represents a way "to really connect the offline world and the online world," according to early social media adopter Darren Barefoot.
- In Manor, Texas, a QR code hangs from a fence surrounding a park. Scan the code and you'll find information about the "the history of the land and its re-dedication from "park" to "SmartPark." The SmartPark now boasts free Wi-Fi and 'technology training classes,' all a part of Manor's government tech upgrade that began back in 2008," according to an article on Switched.
- QR codes will play a central role in providing fuel economy information on new car stickers, according to Consumer Reports.
- Three film festivals are using QR codes in "newspaper ads, posters, passes, program guides, tickets, t-shirts, temporary tattoos, chocolates, cookies, cupcakes, etc.," according to a press release. Scanning the codes will lead to trailers, video interviews, festival information and downloads.
- C|Net used a QR code as part of an article introducing an Android app that would let users directly download the app to their phones.
- BL Ochman reports that in July, QR Codes began appearing on the sides of 2,200 New York City Department of Sanitation trucks. "Scanning the codes with a mobile phone will take users to a video from NYC Media's show 'The Green Apple: Recycling,'" BL wrote.
- A month or so ago, a massive QR code was displayed in Times Square. Scanning it took users to information about the "Be the One" Gulf cleanup campaign, including a video and a petition.
- Forbes reports on Calvin Klein billboards in New York and Los Angeles displaying QR codes that "will pull up an exclusive, 40-second commercial featuring models Lara Stone, "A.J.," Sid Ellisdon, Grayson Vaughan and Eric Anderson. After the spot plays, viewers can then share the code with their Facebook and Twitter networks."
- Bradley University's billboards featuring QR codes promote "Study Abroad" opportunities.
These examples barely scratch the surface of the growing use of QR codes. As the codes are implemented in ways that make life easier for people, the word is bound to spread. More code readers will be installed, prompting more organizations to find uses for the codes. In short order, you'll see them everywhere, from store windows to magazine advertisements, from business cards to shopping mall directories.
The burgeoning use of QR codes also represents another example of the migration away from traditional websites explained in this month's Wired magazine cover story, "The Web is Dead." While the headline is provocative and not entirely accurate, the Chris Anderson-Michael Wolff piece makes an important point: "One of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display." The article doesn't specifically mention QR codes, focusing more on smartphone apps, but the use of the codes to direct people to discrete content fits the article's premise to a T.
Have you incorporated QR codes in your communication efforts? Leave a comment-I'd love to know how you're incorporating the codes into your plans.