==== ====Test - QR Code in action...http://lowellareaconsultant.com==== ====Those strange-looking shape-filled squares youve been seeing lately may not look like much, butthey are very likely the next big thing in marketing and branding for U.S. businesses. With a simplesnap of a smartphone, that unassuming graphic sends valuable information instantly to potentialcustomers, which for some businesses can mean the difference between a sale or a walk-away.What is this magic marketing bullet you ask? Its common moniker is a "QR code," and it isessentially a two-dimensional bar code much like the bar codes that have become so ubiquitous inthe retail world. But it is oh so much more! Each QR code (QR stands for quick response) iscomposed of tiny shapes that can be read both horizontally and vertically. The turbo-chargeddesign means that when activated, this code can implement complex actions, such as opening aweb page, downloading a video or sending a text message. Its a way of providing instantinformation, integrating print and multimedia capabilities, capturing data on the spot and otherwiseengaging your customer through the use of todays new mobile technology."Its growing very rapidly," comments Mike Wehrs in an article on Newsobserver.com. Wehrs is thepresident of Scanbuy, a New York QR code development and management company thatproduces one of the most popular codes: ScanLife. "Its not something where youd say peopledont know whats going on, but its not 100 percent out there yet either."But whether or not people dont know about these codes yet, they definitely will in the near future.According to the article, Scanbuy data shows QR code generation and usage has increased by700 percent since January 2009 with the number of scans in the United States increasing fromaround 1,000 a day to more than 35,000 a day. Thats an awful lot of people clicking theirsmartphones for more information. But it seems thats what people want nowadays.Consumers crave information. Theyre devouring online reviews and product descriptions beforeeven stepping foot in a store. And they want even more. Latitude, a Massachusetts consulting firmthat researches how new information and communications technologies can be used to improveconsumer experiences, discovered in a 2010 study of food shoppers that 56 percent of shopperswanted more product information, such as food origins and ingredients, from the stores theyfrequent, and 30 percent of the respondents wanted that information delivered to their mobilephone."What this study tells us is that having access to information in real-time-at those critical decision-making moments-is often the missing link between intent and action," says Neela Sakaria,Latitude vice president.Smartphones = Savvy ConsumersAlthough QR codes are not new (they were developed in Japan in 1994 and appear on everything
from beer cans to buses around Asia), they are only now starting to hit Mainstream U.S.A. QRcodes require a web-enabled smartphone to decode, something not all consumers use. But that ischanging.According to a comScore MobiLens report from last July, one in four Americans now own asmartphone and that is on a continual upward trajectory. The Nielsen Company has similarastounding statistics: as of Q3 2010, 28 percent of U.S. mobile users had smartphones, and ofpeople who acquired a new cell phone in the prior six months, 41 percent chose a smartphone.Nielsen predicts that by the end of 2011, there will be more smartphones in the U.S. market thanstandard feature phones.And lest you think those smartphone users are all teenagers who are not your core audience, thecomScore report showed that smartphone penetration is highest among persons age 25-34 withthe second highest group being age 35-44. In addition, Nielsen reports, two-thirds of todayssmartphone buyers are personal users."U.S. consumers increasingly view their mobile phone as their go-to device for shopping andmanaging their lives," says Peter A. Johnson, vice president of market intelligence for the MobileMarketing Association (MMA). In a study conducted last October, the MMA found that 59 percentof mobile consumers had planned to use their mobile phone for holiday shopping and planningcelebrations.Knowing the BasicsThe technology and desire to make QR codes popular is definitely there. So how can retailers andother small businesses leverage this exciting new marketing tactic to their advantage?Lets start by learning the basics of 2D bar codes. Two-dimensional bar codes (also called matrixcodes) come in various designs. The two most prevalent in the market today are the QR codesmentioned above and a similar format developed by Microsoft called Microsoft Tags. The codesused in Country Business are Microsoft Tags. Microsoft Tags are proprietary in that they can onlybe read by a Microsoft Tag Reader. However, the Tag Reader is free and easy to download andthe tags themselves are free to create. Microsoft Tags can also be rendered in black and white orcolor and can also be customized or branded. Microsoft Tags can also be made smaller than otherQR codes and, according to Microsoft, are more readable under non-prime conditions or byinferior phones. Microsoft also makes the whole process easy to use and allows organization andanalytics of your various tags. Scanning a Microsoft Tag can open a website, send a textmessage, place a phone call or add contact info to your address book.QR code creators and their accompanying readers are available from a variety of differentcompanies. Some of the top QR code generators are ScanLife, Kaywa and BeeTagg. You can doan Internet search for "QR code generator" to find even more. Most QR code generators andreaders are free and easily downloaded as well (although a few may charge for expandedservices, such as data metrics, organizational library, etc). One of the main benefits of QR codesare that several different codes can be read by various readers. Some code readers are evencoming pre-installed on newer phones. Scanning a QR code provides the same results asMicrosoft Tags plus some; a QR code can also add a bookmark, email a message, findgeographical coordinates and a few other actions in addition to opening a website, adding contactinformation and other actions handled by Microsoft Tags.
Both QR code readers and Microsoft Tag readers run on the most popular smartphones, includingBlackberry, iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile. Specific details on compatible platforms can befound at each companys website. The process to create the tags is simple; basically sign up atthe code generator of your choice, choose your URL or other action, and decide what size andformat to make the final code. The final code is downloaded to your computer and can be used onvarious surfaces-printed on paper, added to window clings, adhered to vehicles, designed intofabric-even tattooed onto skin! A YouTube video shows one inventive person creating a workingQR code out of M&M candies.Best PracticesThe 2D bar codes are currently being used in any number of ways. Tech-savvy business men andwomen are adding QR codes to their business cards so recipients can access their onlinebusiness profile. Airlines are using codes to allow travelers to scan their boarding passespaperless from their phones. New York garbage trucks have QR codes printed on the side that letviewers scan the code to see a video on recycling. Realtors are adding codes to their For Salesigns to let potential buyers see interior shots and get more information on the homes for sale. APennsylvania company sells Memory Medallions that put QR codes on tombstones to let lovedones scan photos, a video and a biography of their departed family member.Those examples may be obscure, but when it comes to the retail world, QR codes and tags canbe used just as inventively. Codes can be placed on shelf talker signs to give more informationabout the product (Best Buy started doing this in all their stores last year). In a gift or home decorstore, this could be especially useful for handmade goods or artisan pieces. The code can scan toa video demonstration on how the products are made or an interview with the artist. Or if you sellspecialty foods, a tag or code can be used to download recipe ideas for that particular item.A QR code or tag placed among a display can give a complete listing of all the products in thedisplay, their prices and where they can be found in the store. Or consider generating a code foryour window display and placing it somewhere where it is visble from the street, so people passingby at night can gain more information about the products on display. Its a salesman thats workingfor you while your business is closed! (Google is actually doing something similar; it is sending outwindow decals with QR codes to more than 100,000 U.S. businesses it identified as the mostsought after on Google and Google Maps.)A code can also be used to enhance a TV ad. Give a 30-second spot added value by displaying acode at the end that takes viewers to a more in-depth YouTube video of your store, or sends themdetailed information about upcoming events. Display a code near your cash register that letscustomers scan it and automatically sign up for your newsletters. Have a delivery van? Put yourQR code smack dab on the side of the van, turning it into an interactive traveling marketing piece.Ramp up your print campaigns. Integrate codes or tags into your flyers, brochures, catalogs ornewsletters. Print is one-dimensional. Todays customers want their information in multimediaformat. Give it to them.Send shoppers on a scavenger hunt. Place 10 codes around your shop and have customers scanall 10 to get a discount on their order. If they buy at least five or more of the 10 items, give them abigger discount. Or have one tag scan to another product they need to find to locate the next tag,
sending customers all around your shop.When it comes to integrating 2D bar codes into your business, Latitudes Sakaria says to "look atwhat people are doing in the store, what the gaps are between their desires and their actions, andarchitect tools with those in mind." Consider what questions shoppers ask or what moreinformation they look for to help make their buying decision. If customers are hesitant to purchasefloral arrangements because they can never quite envision how they might work in their homes,have a nearby QR code sign that lets shoppers scan the code for pictures of how florals canenhance different rooms.When you do implement a 2D bar code marketing program, keep these practices in mind:• Be sure the scanned information provides added value; dont make people go to the effort ofdownloading a reader and scanning a code just to take them to a general paragraph or two aboutyour business.• Keep the URLs used to create the codes short; use a URL shortener if needed.• Be sure the landing page is optimized for mobile viewing.• Be sure codes are placed where WiFi is available, or be sure that your customers haveweb-enabled smartphones.• In addition to the code itself, also include descriptive copy on how to download a reader orscan the code.• Test out the code on various phones before making it public.• Have an inventory system in place and a way to track metrics of the codes; you want tomake sure your efforts are paying off.QR codes and Microsoft Tags are an innovative way to enhance the customer relationship for anybusiness. The technology is easy to use and the cost is minimal at most. With everything going forit, diving into this new wave of marketing is more like being carried away on a delightful oceancurrent rather than jumping off a cliff. Go ahead! Take the plunge.Susan Wagner is the editor of Country Business magazine, a trade publication for independent giftand home decor retailers. Country Business provides valuable business advice, tips, resources,ideas and more to help the small business owner succeed in todays retail world. For moreinformation, visit http://www.country-business.com.Article Source:http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Susan_M._Wagner
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