Guest article: Decoding QR codes

Guest article: Decoding QR codes

Author | Sujay Maheshwari | Monday, Apr 30,2012 10:27 AM

Guest article: Decoding QR codes

If the title of this write-up sounds mystical, let’s begin by informing you that it’s not Dan Brown’s sequel to “The Da Vinci Code”. And neither is it the holy grail of the technology world. It’s been around for ages and is now being put to some innovative use. We explain how.

Digital interaction: The possibilities
Let’s get your imagination going on the possibilities at hand, to improve the way you interact with a brand or a product. You are reading your newspaper that has this interesting interview with your favourite business person. Instead of reading the interview off the newspaper, what if you could view it? Or what if the movie promo splashed on your newspaper could come alive and allow you to view the trailer? Sound’s Harry Potterish? Here’s more - you walk into a multiplex unsure of which movie to catch and you have a facility by which you can watch the trailer of each of the movies running there. Or even better, see what people on Facebook or Twitter are saying about them so that you can avoid the duds.

Fascinated? Here are some more possibilities. You buy this new brand of spice that shows you a neat recipe visually. Or, you walk away from the supermarket with a heavy bag and a light wallet, looking sadly at the incredibly long receipt and the same offending receipt becomes a coupon that gives you a discount or a freebie. As a culture vulture, you visit a museum on your holiday and the painting in the art gallery tells you interesting anecdotes of the muse that inspired it. And that sculpture you begin to admire gives you an insight into its creator’s mind at the time of its creation.

QR codes, like the one you see here, are these maze-like squares that are increasingly springing up in multiple places. They are similar to the barcodes used by retailers to track inventory and price products at the point of sale. The key difference between the two is the amount of data they can hold or share. Bar codes are linear one-dimensional codes and can only hold up to 20 numerical digits, whereas QR codes are two-dimensional (2D) matrix barcodes that can hold thousands of alphanumeric characters of information. When you scan or read a QR code with your iPhone, Android or other camera-enabled smartphone, you can link to digital content on the web; activate a number of phone functions including email, IM and SMS; and connect your mobile device to a web browser. Now, you can see what they can do to businesses that need to keep communicating brand, product and service information to their buyers but are constrained by advertising space, time and spend. And more importantly, what they can do to customers who need to make that informed decision of buying or rejecting a product or a service.

QR were first created and used in Japan. When Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota, invented QR codes back in 1994 to track their vehicle parts, little did they imagine that QR codes would one day become an alternative marketing channel. These days we are noticing these convenience codes in newspapers, magazines, hoardings, product packaging, brochures and even as epitaphs on tombstones. (Instead of a poignant quote, an Israeli man opted for a QR code embedded in the tombstone for his mother’s grave in the city of Haifa. The QR codes links visitors to a memorial website he set up and the site contains photos and stories of his mother’s life).

In each of the digital interaction scenarios discussed before, we are talking about bringing real world objects to life; by bridging the real world and digital world with a link. This link could be a QR code. QR codes come with the ability to connect people with each other and to multimedia digital content, which is very useful for businesses and consumers alike. For example, if you are a business and have a presence on Facebook, you can create a QR code that links your mobile device to a fully functioning ‘Like’ button for your Facebook page. The accompanying signature ‘thumbs-up’ clearly suggests the purpose of the code. By scanning the image you see here with a smartphone equipped with a QR code reader, you will be able to ‘Like’ this write-up on the Facebook page.

Despite being around for 16 years, it is only now that QR codes are popping up everywhere. The reason for this is not difficult to fathom – the ecosystem that enables QR adoption is evolving now. The burst in smartphone technology and usage is creating a playing field for QR codes like never before. With the ubiquitous phones and an ever increasing 2G, 3G and 4G data network coverage, consumers are increasingly using their phones to equip themselves with information and interact with their surroundings. Marketers searching for new channels to reach out to consumers have happily jumped onto the QR bandwagon, very happy to engage and entice consumers with their offerings.

India outlook
QR (and other 2D) codes are flooding the Indian consumer market quite rapidly. Mobile phones that helped the Indian masses skip the landline telephone revolution are again at the centre of this revolution, this time helping leapfrog the PC-based computing age into the mobile computing era. It is estimated that 59 per cent of mobile web users in India are ‘mobile only’ and they do not or very rarely also use a desktop, laptop or tablet to access the web. Although there are no clear statistics on smartphone users in India, the number is exponentially increasing and currently stands at an estimated 752 million mobile customers with over 40 million subscribed to mobile internet. With rising end-user population of mobile phone users and falling technology costs (both handset and network), marketers are starting to use QR code-based campaigns.

Another aspect that makes India a great potential for QR code-based campaigns is the demographics. With 26.2 years as the median age of the country, the very wired Gen Y is going to play a key role in new technology adoption like never before. Their acceptance, nay, preference to use mobile phones to interact with their peers, search for information and transact with the world is a key tipping point in favour of technology-based offerings for India. QR codes are a perfect opportunity in a market such as India, where mobile phone users find it easy, intuitive and even natural to obtain information on mobile phones and then act on it. A QR code-based campaign can extend the conversation between a product and its consumer, and if backed by sound analytics, one can also measure the RoI of such campaigns.

The article is a first in the series of articles to be published on exchange4media that will give a holistic perspective on QR codes and its usage in the Indian advertising and marketing industry.

The author is Co-founder and CEO, Queaar

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