Caution – emerging technology information! While currently far less common in North America than Europe or Southeast Asia, the opportunities with “QR” or 2D codes are so promising that we need to include this technology within our assessment of mobile calls-to-action.
For more background on this technology you can go here and here. Generally, “QR” and “2D” are used synonymously, though technically speaking, “QR” is a specific type of 2D code. Both are distinctly different from “bar codes” which are 1-Dimensional, or 1D. For those of you who may not know what a “QR” code looks like, click here.
Boiled down to its essence, 2D codes provide a couple key benefits:
- Rendering and reading: 2D codes are distinguished from 1D bar codes because they can be read/scanned horizontally or vertically by optical scanners – not just laser scanners. QR codes afford enormous flexibility in how and where they are rendered, placed, and scanned. They can be rendered in virtually any size on all sorts of media including packaging, print ads, billboards, and digital displays. They can also be read from a broader range of devices with optical scan capability, such as camera phones.
- More Information: 2D codes can be encoded with vastly more information than traditional 1D bar codes. This provides tremendous flexibility for the marketer to define various user experiences on the mobile device. Encoding in a 2D code can tell the user’s phone to connect to a web page, play a video, or automatically send an SMS-text to a phone number or shortcode.
But, is our brand ready to roll with 2D codes?
- Bypass the carriers! 2D codes are the workaround to bi-directional SMS. While SMS is still the call-to-action for the masses, bypassing the carriers has large value for marketers, and is a time-saver.
- With vastly more coded information than traditional bar codes, marketers can create the diverse campaign experiences brands demand. Because 2D codes can be easily rendered in infinite iterations and sizes, the flexibility extends easily from print, to online, to event marketing.
- Assuming the software is downloaded, the call-to-action is simple (a couple of clicks) in relation to the diverse, rich user experiences that can be created. This means big wins for consumers and marketers, and we begin realizing the true promise of powerful mobile devices.
Cons: I touched on a couple downfalls to “QR” or 2D code technology in a recent debate on SMS vs. QR in a Lunch Pail post a few months ago. To summarize:
- The only way for a user to scan a 2D code from their mobile device is to have the requisite software downloaded. Phone manufacturers are not yet pre-installing this software for devices sold in North America, so consumers have to go online to download. The provider landscape is still very fragmented, and finding and downloading the correct software can be extremely frustrating depending on your device.
- Though widely adopted in Europe and Southeast Asia, the American consumer just doesn’t appear ready for this. Technophiles and mobile geeks will recognize and react to the sight of a 2D code. Those who aren’t in the know… will be utterly confused. This is not what we call a compelling in-store experience. But, if your brand’s image fuses with technology, the bleeding edge, and the exclusivity of coolness, then now’s the time to look at 2D solutions. For everyone else, 2D codes will have to be bolstered with parallel SMS calls-to-action for the next 12-24 months – at least.
The SMS call-to-action gets high marks for consumer comfort level, adoption, and flexibility. However, incorporating monolithic organizations, such as wireless carriers, is a significant drawback. Nonetheless, SMS is the strongest call-to-action available today.
Entering a URL within a mobile browser directly scores points only for minimizing the moving parts and keeping costs down. However, expect far lower adoption and response rates. Therefore this call-to-action should only be used in extreme circumstances or as emergency backup to an SMS program.
Using 2D codes is the next step. Unfortunately, the North American market is not yet ready for widespread adoption. While usability, flexibility, and efficiency are all superior to SMS, until the required reader software is widely distributed it just can’t be evaluated as the strongest call-to-action mechanism for the masses.
In all cases, these calls-to-action can be used in parallel, empowering the consumer to choose a method that suits them best. A single POS display can include the keyword + short code call-to-action as well as a 2D code. Rather than causing confusion, you’re simply respecting the diversities of the consumer audience and mobile technology adoption. That is a good thing.