Platform for success with cross-media

In a crowded Seoul subway, a commuter comes across a display of virtual groceries put up by grocery giant Tesco. The traveller removes his smartphone from his pocket and uses its camera to photograph a square-shaped ‘barcode’ beside an image of some fruit and vegetables then maybe some bread, followed by the code for milk or eggs. Another click, and the items are ordered for delivery. Welcome to the world of QR (Quick Response) codes, which are popping up in ads, bus shelters and displays everywhere. Printers: sit up and take note. In a world where screens are rapidly replacing paper, these little B&W devices forge a link beween dots on page to pixels on a screen to data in the cloud. In other words, they make print relevant.

Calling them barcodes is old-fashioned. These codes use a two-dimensional matrix of tiny squares, dots or other geometric patterns, rather than the traditional stripe of black-and-white lines of varying thickness. Software in a smartphone converts it into a web address, a piece of text or a number. QR code reader apps for smart phones are free and easily available.

There’s never going to be a better time for QR codes to flourish. These little black-and-white boxes, which, when scanned by a mobile phone camera, take the user instantly to a pre-set weblink, are popping up more and more. This is because of the huge take-up of internet-enabled phones. The technology is ready.

This is an opportunity that, as an industry, we should not be missing. It is something we should be pushing. This is print’s route into the digital world. A route that puts print in the driving seat with the keys in its hand. We just need to get moving. This year, 2011, is the year that QR codes might just make it. For its own sake, print needs to make sure it does.

Not turning Japanese

First created more than 15 years old, QR codes were actually developed to track parts in the Japanese automotive industry and were not originally meant for consumers. They have been a mainstay in Japan and Korea, but have failed to take hold to any great degree in the West.

The earlier Seoul example is just one of the myriad uses for this nifty technology. Applications are only limited by imagination. Some QR codes might add an event to the user’s personal calendar. Another might display a coupon that entitles the bearer to a discount. They can create a personalised web page that allows the customer to interact with the ad, instead of just receiving it. QR codes can store the recipient’s email address and phone contact details into the company’s database, gathering information on them for future campaigns.

The uptake in Australia has been slow at best. Despite the fact that, in print terms, a QR code is nothing more than a simple monochrome image that is easy (and free) to generate, few printers are pushing QR codes to their customers. As a result, print risks losing out to other media in the future of marketing communications. Marketers are bombarded with non-print communications options and, if it is to play a significant role in the marketing mix, print needs to get its voice heard.

But will QR codes ever take off here? Some doubt it.

Telstra spokesman Peter Symons says that while QR campaigns were popular a couple of years back, they are now rarely used. “The transition to smartphones with easy-to-use web browsers and apps means it is much easier now for consumers to quickly respond to marketing messages on their phone,” says Symon.

Despite this caveat, QR code campaigns and applications seem to be popping more and more. For our caffeinated culture, eCoffeeCard ( uses QR codes to capture loyalty coffee cards at Australian cafes and coffee shops. Potentially, this would allow coffee shop and café owners to build their profile and push out special offers based on time and location, something they could never do with a loyalty card on a piece of cardboard that sits at the back of someone’s wallet.

Bollinger champagne recently launched a QR campaign in Europe and Australia to mark the 50th anniversary of its most prestigious product, Bollinger RD. When scanned, the code takes consumers to a mobile website set up for the competition. They can enter into the competition by filling out a few personal details and sharing a story, either real or imagined, relating to the theme of the campaign, ‘Life can be perfect’.

Track and trace

“It’s a way to take a print piece and tie it to an online world,” says Peter Brittliff, marketing manager for graphic commun-ications and software solutions at Fuji Xerox. “From a marketer’s perspective, it is very difficult to track a piece of print. Once you print it and it’s out into the big blue yonder, it is difficult to track where it has gone and who is reading it. But if I get someone to click on to a QR code and get them into an online world, I can track them, I can request further information, and I can start creating a conversation with my customers.”

The real estate fraternity are getting on board. Agentpoint, a company that builds applications and websites, is a shareholder in a web app called Mohbe that allows real estate agents to have a dedicated mobile phone website for each of their property listings. This mobile site is viewable through any internet-enabled smartphone. Agents can put the QR codes on billboards adverting the property or in print ads.

Agentpoint business development manager Ryan O’Grady says: “So if you are looking at the paper and see a property you like and you want to see more, you can take a photo of the QR code and all the details of the property will come up on your phone.”

Although Mohbe has been running for two years, only 20 agents in Australia are using it. O’Grady says the challenge is getting them to adjust their print advertising and putting the codes on their billboards. The other big issue in Australia, he says, is the low speed of mobile broadband. The National Broadband Network will change all that, he expects. More agents will take to the technology.

“If you can get the same speed that Telstra has got but a lot cheaper, then suddenly QR codes with mobile phones will be a lot more popular for those industries that are image– and video-focused,” he says.

QR codes are an opportunity for printers. Used right, they could be a game changer for an industry being hurt by the online revolution. QR codes could be the lever that turns a printer into a marketing service provider. There’s even a school of thought that says successful QR-driven campaigns could generate more print.

Anything can be turned into a QR code. There are websites that can provide free codes. One of the most popular is QR Stuff ( Cut and paste the text in and it will appear as a QR code, much like free services to shorten web addresses, such as TinyURL.

Quentin Brown runs QR Codes Australia, a company that helps businesses adopt codes into their campaigns. He says printers don’t really need to know that much to get into it, just the basics. “The printer himself doesn’t really need to know anything at all really,” Brown says. “QR codes are just a graphic so they print them like any other graphic.

But he does have words of warning. “If they don’t put their websites in correctly, they could fail. Printing them too small is another failure. You probably don’t want to go under one and a half inches because it’s hard to scan. Not having them in good quality could be another one. It’s very important that they have good contrast.”

He says that where possible, a QR code should take the viewer to a mobile site, not the standard website.

Anti-virus software developer AVG has another warning: cyber criminals developing malicious QR codes and placing them as stickers over legitimate QR codes, steering victims to malicious websites for identity theft or fraud. There haven’t been any reported cases here, but it can’t be ruled out.

Brown reckons QR codes could turn the print industry around. “They are starting to take off in marketing now because people are starting to realise it’s a link between online and offline content. The printing industry, magazines and papers that have been going downhill like a rock, they’re starting to realise that if they have QR codes they can link some of the content to the online site. That could be a saviour for the industry if it gets adopted.”

He says it could also change the business model for printers, putting them right at the centre of the digital communications industry. Some, for example, might enter into a joint venture with a mobile web designer or web marketing company to generate work. “They get two bites of the cherry then. They get the commission off the mobile website plus they get the printing work. They can offer a complete package, which is something they haven’t been able to do before.”

But it’s not just a simple case of inserting a QR code into the PDF for a billboard job or marketing piece, says Brittliff. They need expertise to get value out of it. “Printers can put dots on a piece of paper; this is just a two-dimensional barcode. But the back-end systems for data, web, email, require skill. Slapping a QR code onto a page to take someone to a website is not really adding any value.”

If QR codes are going to be a success, this point is crucial. It is not enough for printers to just put a company website URL into a QR code generator on the web and to have your code link straight to that. For starters, most businesses don’t have a website designed specifically for mobile phones, and normal websites tend to look bad on a mobile’s tiny screen, so you may wind up doing more harm than good. The link has to have stimulating, useful content like the examples given above, be that video, data or a smartphone application.

Finding that innovative link is easier said than done, but printers don’t have to take on full responsibility for the creative side and the execution of a campaign. Having an idea of the types of things that are possible should be enough to get the marketer interested. Then, by working together, the right solution can be reached.

It’s also about understanding how to use the analytics and tracking mechanisms to maximise that opportunity. That means one of two things: printers build their own expertise or they work with specialist vendors.

Transform business

Kathy Wilson, general manager of business solutions and production at Ricoh Australia, says printers could transform their business to take advantage of QR codes. “There is a lot of talk about printers becoming marketing service providers rather than just print service providers,” she says.

“If you look at the companies that have had large-scale success doing things like variable-data printing, which tend to integrate these technologies, in many cases you see two companies working together with a common client. One is the marketing service provider and they may engage with some kind of technology specialist, and they are partnering up with a print service provider. Or the print service provider might start to evolve in that direction themselves.

“It really depends on what they want to be and what sort of service they want to provide rather than being just a print service provider. So it might mean that they want to start providing a more integrated service or it might mean that they want to partner with a marketing service provider,” says Wilson.

The great advantage of this is the connection it builds with clients, ideally locking them in as long-term customers. “It protects the work they’re doing and protects the relationship with their clients,” she adds.

But printers need the know-how to back this up. “The minimum they need to understand is all the delivery mechanisms and where they sit in the eco-system.”

The great advantage for printers, says Wilson, is that it allows them to get their content across with the equivalent of a personalised URL. “It means I can send you a lot more information. I’m not going to type in 37 paragraphs in the middle of an ad. You can use the QR code to send some long content and you have the flexibility to update that content as you need to.”

But she says printers need to understand which delivery mechanism would be more appropriate. “A general URL might be sent to a computer, a QR code would be for getting content to someone with a mobile device, a flyer might be the thing to get attention or it might be a billboard,” she says. “You just pick which of these delivery mechanisms is appropriate for the information you want to give people.”

She says not all printers will make the transition. “It’s not going to make sense for every business and I wouldn’t for a minute be advocating that every printer takes the next step. There are other things they can contemplate doing to extend their offering to customers. They can start doing web-to-print, they can host online print catalogues, they can start doing variable-data printing but still be print-centric.”

The future may seem bleak for the pure offset printer, but there’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to QR codes.

Will Parker, manager of applied technologies at Canon Business Imaging, says: “Pure offset printers can put down a generic QR code no problem because it’s a simple image to print. There really isn’t any obstacle for any kind of printer.”

Parker believes QR codes will change the industry. “You can charge a lot more per piece for these personalised-type campaigns than you can for just high-turnaround back-to-back printing. It’s about finding margin in print again and that’s been lacking since the GFC.”

Parker says there are two types of printers embracing the QR code concept. “There are the pure digital production houses that might have started off as print brokers and have adapted themselves to do short-run variable-data cross-platform marketing and email campaigns.

“Then you have commercial printers with established volumes and established customer relationships who have been outsourcing their digital work because they haven’t had that knowledge base in-house. They are starting to realise they can bring these skills in-house not only to print digital work but to work with these emerging technologies like QR codes. They can also have alliances with agencies,” he adds.

If QR codes are so revolutionary, why haven’t they taken off in Australia? Brittliff believes it’s because advertising agencies and marketing companies aren’t all up-to-speed with the technology. But the increasing number of QR codes now appearing on printed pieces across the land suggests more are beginning to understand it. With the uptake of smart phones, the arrival of the NBN and – crucially – a growing awareness among consumers of just what these little crossword-looking codes are, the scene is set for a QR code bonanza.



Case study: Oroton

Sydney-based fashion house Oroton achieved remarkable results when it launched a QR code-driven campaign last year. The people running the campaign claim it had response rates up to eight times the industry standard – an impressive ROI. Almost half of the respondents who interacted with the multi-channel campaign did so via QR codes or an SMS request service.

The campaign, which was developed by mobile marketing company Mnet Group, allowed customers to view the new Oroton Summer 2009 range. The QR campaign was integrated with
print advertisements in magazines such as Marie Claire and offline and off-print efforts. Consumers who saw the QR code sitting in front of the store could scan it and go to the mobile website to watch and download a fashion video. They
could also enter a competition, learn more about the strategy behind the brand, and view exclusive video footage from the runway.

According to Mnet, 30% of Oroton customers and Marie Claire readers entered a competition from the mobile site, with an equal split of consumers arriving at the site via the QR code and the SMS service. Traditional advertising channels were used with call-to-action campaigns running in Marie Claire magazine and selected Oroton store windows. Consumers were encouraged to scan a QR code or SMS the code word ‘Oroton’ for a chance to win.

Oroton’s group marketing director Janine Garner, says: “This interactive campaign allowed our customers to engage with the Oroton brand across traditional channels including retail and print as well as an innovative mobile strategy. The results of the campaign showcased that our consumers were responsive and engaged by this new method of communication for our brand.”

Mnet’s sales director of media & brands, Kristy Manson, adds: “Mobile is definitely the new interactive advertising platform that conveniently fits in your pocket.”

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