QR codes in mobile video commerce – the present and future of video marketing?

This year retailers enjoyed the biggest holiday shopping boom since 2005. Anyone who is following e-commerce, video commerce, or just plain commerce needs to pay attention to one e-retail technology that showed a huge jump in use: QR codes. Learn what they are, why they’re important for e-retailers and marketers, and the many opportunities and examples we’re already seeing for QR codes in mobile video commerce.

An overview of QR codes

If you’re unfamiliar with what a QR code is, I recommend reading the following primer…

What is a QR code?

QR is the acronym for “quick response,” and it brings electronic data to you in real time. Think of a QR code as a next-generation, 2-dimensional barcode; it can house more data than regular 1-dimensional barcodes, and has many more uses. It consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. In that QR code (i.e., encoded in the image) can be text, a URL, or other data.

How are QR codes used?

As explained on Wikipedia, QR codes are used today in both commercial tracking applications and convenience-oriented applications aimed primarily at mobile phone users. Users with a camera phone equipped with a QR code reader application can scan the image of the QR Code to display text, retrieve contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the phone’s browser.

Note: While I’m using term “phone” throughout this article as an all-purpose reference to mobile devices, it’s just as doable to scan and read QR codes with any mobile device that has a camera and a QR code app; plus there are stationery QR code reader devices as well. However the most benefits for typical business and consumers really come from the ability to make and scan QR codes for mobile devices, so that’s what I’m going to be focusing on for this article.

QR codes are being used today to display text to the user, to add a vCard contact to the user’s device, to open a URL, to compose a text message or email, or even to open up a video. Users can also generate and print their own QR Code for others to scan and use by visiting one of several free QR Code generating sites.

Want to read a QR code? It’s really as simple as these 3 steps:

  1. Open your QR reader on your phone. If your phone doesn’t have one, there are a number of free and cheap QR code reader apps for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry.
  2. Point your phone’s camera at a QR code, and;
  3. Your QR code is scanned in real-time, bringing you quickly to your destination.

You can decode QR codes of:

  • URLs
  • Phone numbers (Call or SMS)
  • Contact information
  • Map locations (including with FourSquare)
  • Text
  • Videos!

Where are QR codes appearing?

QR codes storing addresses and URLs can appear on just about any print and marketing material, on store shelves, and on physical merchandise. In the print world, they are appearing in magazines, on signs, buses, billboards, and business cards. In the online world, they are appearing in email signatures; and yes, even in online videos! See this example below of how QR codes are already appearing in YouTube videos (wait for it appearing at the end):

Why It’s Time To Pay Attention to QR Codes

Reason #1: Bar Code Scanning Up 700% This Year

A recent report from the barcode technology provider Scanbuy found that there were more barcode scans performed in a single month starting in July than in all of 2009, highlighting the technology’s growth as an ad vehicle. MediaPost reported that “barcodes have given retailers, packaged goods companies and brands the tools to deliver content and promotions on mobile devices.”

“All retailers should be adding a bar code scanning feature to their app if they haven’t already,” said Mike Wehrs, CEO of Scanbuy. “This will allow them to customize an experience based on scanning behavior to deliver targeted offers or cross sell opportunities.”

“If the shopper gets a great deal in the store, they have no reason to go elsewhere,” he said. “Additionally, brands should be using [QR] codes on print, catalogs, and other media before they even get to the store; which could drive to the store with time sensitive deals or even offer a one-click purchase experience from the mobile device.”

Reason #2: Yearly surge followed by holiday spike

Scanbuy’s report also found that QR code usage was up significantly year-over-year, and increased 50 percent over the holidays in comparison with the pre-holiday period (likely attributed to holiday promotions).

Reasons #3: Social Network acceptance

That same report also indicated that social network users in particular are taking to the new medium, with a significant portion of Twitter and Facebook users scanning mobile barcodes MediaPost also reported that 57 percent of Facebook and Twitter users said they have scanned a mobile barcode at least once in the past year, while as many as 40 percent had done so five or more times in the past year..

Reason #4: Print-to-online integration

Mark Haslan, of Overnight Prints’ Small Business and Graphic Designs News, reported that with smartphone ownership grew by nearly 20 million American consumers over the course of 2010, according to comScore, “Codes are encouraging many businesses to turn to print marketing initiatives, as the bar codes can be placed on anything from color brochures to catalogs. The trend is sure to continue as the number of smartphone owners continues to grow.”

Integration of Video in QR Codes

Here are some screenshots of campaigns provided to me by ScanBuy. Both Target and the GAP used QR codes in their print catalogs for the holidays, which led mainly to videos about products.

Target Holiday Catalog

GAP – In Store to Mobile Device

QR Codes in Video Commerce

I interviewed Patrick Donnelly, Founder of QrArts, an integrated media consulting agency out of Washington D.C. that specializes in mobile user experience with respect to mobile tagging and 2d barcodes (QR codes). QrArts creates brand engagement strategies that help move consumers from impressions to interactions and specializes in the design and implementation of QR code campaigns.

“QR Codes are being integrated anywhere and everywhere. Movie trailers, restaurants, tourism – you name it,” says Patrick.

I asked Patrick for some specific examples of how video is being integrated in QR Codes. Here are some of the resources he shared:

Video Example #1: QR Codes on Vans

Drainage inspection, cleaning and repair company Lobbe has placed a QR Code on each of its 17 vans (image below). The QR Code resolves to a mobile site with more information about their services and a video.

For more QR code examples, check out the 2d code blog, where Patrick’s colleagues and mobile tagging professionals discuss the QR Code campaigns that they’ve run, including those involving video.

Video Example #2: QR Codes on Storefronts

Patrick also did an interactive storefront (Axis Salon) in Washington D.C. that allowed for people to view videos and scan coupons without having to enter the store.

(You can check out the original story in QR Arts.)

Video Example #3: Business Event

Here’s an example of QR codes being used at at TED Conference involving QR Arts, which would also change over the course of the event and point to event videos.

Video Example #4: Business Cards

DZineblog published a great article with many visual examples of how QR codes are being implemented into the print design of business cards. What a great opportunity to link to an intro or promotional video about you and your company!

“A video could be great for QR (business) cards,” says Patrick. “But it’s really up to the individual to decide what content works best for them on the other side. I find that personally, people usually won’t sit through a whole video.  I like to link to dynamic data content such as blogs so that they can keep up with you as you grow.”

Of course, it’s entirely doable to have a QR code link to a special landing page on your blog, which also has an embedded video, and a doorway to a series of videos. Knowing that the audience who has your business card is likely in the “getting-to-know-you” phase, a video or video series would be ideal for that introductory period for anyone.

Video Example #5: Media Product

Your QR code could include a link to a special, exclusive online video of whatever physical media product you have for sale. Take for example, the Green Day Album that featured a QR code in the jacket sleeve.

The QR Code news service and blog site reported that “With over 22 million records sold to date, American punk rock trio Green Day has placed a QR code on the front cover of their latest album which directs fans to an exclusive website where they can listen to music, watch videos, connect with other fans and even download the groups recent hit Know Your Enemy.”

The key to QR Code Success with Video

The key for businesses that want to succeed with QR Codes is to understand how a mobile-equipped, real-time and real life audience relates to the physical world.  After this is understood, organizations can develop a smart QR code imprint and create a seamless offline-to-online (and even back to offline) consumer experience.