Archive for September, 2010

Guide to QR Codes for Direct Marketers

Business people using smartphones

Mobile web usage grew 110% last year (Quantcast). QR Code technology is helping direct marketers bridge the gap between traditional channels and the increasing number of smartphone users.

What’s black, white and read all over? It’s not the newspaper anymore; it’s the square 2D barcodes called “QR Codes” that have already taken over Asia and Europe, and are making strong inroads in the U.S.

Unless you’re looking for them, there’s a chance that you may have overlooked these small squares filled with seemingly-random black and white pixels. However, QR codes represent a lifeline for direct marketers looking to connect with an increasingly mobile, online audience.

What Are QR Codes?

In short, a QR code is a two-dimensional (2D) or “matrix” barcode containing data that can be read by scanners and mobile “smart” phones with cameras.

Some quick facts about QR Code technology:

  • QR Codes have a higher data capacity than other barcodes.
  • QR Codes are often used to convey tracking information, urls, text, and other data.
  • QR Code technology is public-domain, leading to many innovative uses.
  • QR Codes are one of more than forty 2D barcode types, however today they are the most common for consumer uses.
  • QR Codes are showing up on everything from billboards to business cards, and a lot of unexpected things in-between (like cupcakes, scarves and temporary tattoos).
QR Code Structure

Standard structure of a QR Code. Attribution: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) on Wikipedia.

How are QR Codes Used in Direct Marketing?

While initially developed by a Toyota subsidiary to track car parts, direct marketers overseas, and then in the U.S., have quickly learned to use QR codes to add depth to their marketing communications.

QR Codes can be easily generated, and then printed or embedded on direct mail, email, landing pages, catalogs, postcards and more. Here are some of the many ways you can use QR Codes in your direct marketing:

1) Share Data

QR Codes can contain more than 4,000 characters or 2,900 bytes, giving you plenty of room to embed information for use on your target’s mobile device, such as:

  • A sales rep’s contact information
  • Calendar items and event information
  • Product information
  • Directions to your brick and mortar locations

2) Enrich Offline Experience

One of the most common data contained in a QR Code are web URLs, which serve as conduit between a static piece and an online, interactive asset, such as:

  • A landing page with additional information
  • A personalized response page, such as a PURL
  • A product demo or video

3) Generate Sales

QR Codes can be used to provide immediate shopping and purchasing. For example, when someone is viewing your catalog, postcard, print ad, including a QR Code can link them directly to:

  • An online purchase page or shopping cart
  • An estimate request form
  • An on-screen coupon that can be scanned when purchasing at a store

4) Collect responses and track behavior

Generating and tracking responses is crucial for direct marketers, and is often done by using unique response pages and phone numbers for each marketing campaign. Similarly, actions such as a webpage visit and online purchase can be easy traced back to an individual QR code, allowing marketers to compare the effectiveness of different ads and channels.

QR Code leading to

Got your mobile phone handy? Scan the image above with your QR Code reader to be directed to

Try QR Codes For Yourself

Since QR Code technology is in the Public Domain, there are many different QR Code readers and generators. While some smart phones now come equipped with QR code readers, users can also easily install QR Code apps on their phone.

Popular QR Code Scanners/Readers

Popular QR Code Generators

How are you using QR Codes? What tools do you recommend?

Please join in the conversation by adding a comment to this post.

9/24 UPDATE: The Challenges of Using QR Codes

There are some great insights in the “Comments” section of this post about the issues involved with QR Codes. I highly recommend checking them out and adding your own thoughts!

Higher Education Marketing: Why are 98% of Colleges Missing the Largest Growth in 40 Years?

Piece of the Marketing Pie

According to research, 2% of colleges and universities are accomodating half of the recent enrollment boom. Why aren’t more colleges and universities getting their piece of the “increased enrollment” pie?

According to a report released in June 2010 by the Pew Research Center, college enrollment grew 6% between 2007 and 2008, the most recent data available.  Certainly the type of school and the beginning of the recession impacted this growth rate, and it is predicted that when new statistics are available, a strong trend will continue through 2009 and into 2010.

So for college and universities, this is a dream!  A natural increase in enrollment, driven not by the expense of marketing and advertising, but the fact that for graduating high school seniors, job shortages are pushing them to work on their degree while waiting for the job market to rebound.

But wait just a minute.  The Pew Research Center report goes on to explain that “half of the total increase in freshman enrollment occurred at just 109 colleges and universities out of nearly 6,100… less than 2% of the nation’s colleges and universities accommodated half of the enrollment boom.*”

Hmmm.  So what do the 2% of colleges know that the other 98% haven’t figured out yet? That makes me think that enrollment gains may in fact be driven by marketing.  Back to the basic 4 P’s of marketing:  Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.  The Pew Research Center’s report absolutely supports that Product, Place and Price are playing a role.  Those universities paying attention to market trends, and listening to what today’s students need, are more likely to see enrollment gains.

That leads us to Promotion.  As a marketer, I’m always curious to understand the role promotion and advertising plays in driving growth and more importantly, how marketing evolves to drive this growth.  I would fathom a guess that one of the reasons 98% of colleges and universities have not fully capitalized on an industry growth rate of 6%, is that their go to market strategy has not changed fast enough.  In any industry where there is a consistent, annual pattern such as a school year, it is easy to fall into a planning cycle that only interjects new ideas once a year.  Testing is limited to this annual cycle. Higher education marketers become complacent because deviating too far from what we did last year seems too risky.

So what’s the solution for colleges and universities?

In my experience, here are a few key “game-changers” in the higher education space:

  • First, listen and let the prospective students’ guide your higher ed marketing.  This includes taking into account changes in the make-up of the student body.  Minority enrollment is the fastest growing student population.
  • Find marketing solutions that are fast and easy to deploy, track and measure.  This allows you to continually try new things throughout the year.
  • Allow individual departments and admissions advisors to contribute to the idea generation process.  Then quickly implement some of their suggestions.  You’ll have their buy-in and efforts behind the test initiatives.  That good ‘ole sales and marketing working together applies to higher ed too.
  • Make sure your testing includes multiple channels to understand not only what gets you noticed, but what leads to the almighty enrollment.

Finally, here’s one last piece of information that may be helpful.  Selecting a college or university has as much to do with individual interests, as the school as a whole.  Lead nurturing campaigns that feature amenities and specific departments of interest make a more personal impression.  (Here’s a link to a Case Study that outlines the problem and solution implemented by one university:

Avila University’s small change in their approach to marketing created immediate impact on the relevancy and timing of their marketing by adding a personal touch to recruitment efforts.  Maybe it’s the first step to getting more colleges their piece of the “increased enrollment” pie.

Editor’s Note: Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project provided the statistical information utilized in this article. Freshman enrollment at the nation’s 6,100 post-secondary institutions surged by 144,000 students from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008.

Overcoming the Fear of Losing Control to Field Sales and Marketing

"free puppy with purchase" marketing message

"Free Puppy with Every Purchase." Great offer or a bad case of brand deconstruction?

I have to start with a quick story… I used to work for a corporation with over 10,000 locations world wide. Some of the locations were corporate owned, some were owned by franchisees. My role was in corporate marketing and my responsibilities included franchise marketing. The member of our creative services team who was responsible for reviewing and approving the franchises’ self-created marketing materials sat adjacent to my office.

I still giggle every time I think about the “creative” language she utilized many times a day to describe what she received to review: distorted logos, misspellings, horrendous color combinations, and my all-time favorite offer: “Free puppy with every purchase!”

Technology has advanced rapidly to make the management of marketing materials faster, easier and more controlled for companies with distributed locations, marketing staff and field sales. The solution that is central to improving the quality of branded communications comes in many shapes and sizes and has many names like: marketing asset management, communications portal, print on-demand, web-to-print, and digital asset management.

For organizations that are still concerned that a marketing communications portal will be destructive instead of constructive, let’s look at some of the biggest fears:

Big Fear 1: My brand and brand message will be distorted.

All good communications portals come with the power to give you the brand control you need, while making the user feel like they have great customization abilities.

Big Fear 2: There’s a lack of quality data and mailing lists at a local level.

This may be true, but you can help them obtain new lists. Even better, hook-up the data and list service you want them to use. You can even program in targeted tools that enforce best practices.

Big Fear 3: They (the field, location, and marketing managers) will spend too much.

If budget isn’t controlled by the franchisee, or location level budgets are not in place, expenses can be monitored and limited through your marketing portal. Spending limits may be set by order, user or location within the communications portal.

Big Fear 4: After investing in a communications portal, it is not utilized and doesn’t produce a positive ROI.

This is the opposite problem to number three above, and the problem most likely encountered when implementing localized marketing. This problem has to be addressed before you implement a communication portal. Conduct user testing with the proposed tool before buying. Make sure your users can easily understand how to navigate the system and know exactly what to do. Next, plan out an implementation and user adoption program to encourage interaction with the communications portal or asset management system. And although this is common sense, after you implement the communications portal, the old way of doing things has to be eliminated. Aberdeen Group recently released research on Print On-Demand that proves the positive impact it has on ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment.

Big Fear 5: They aren’t savvy enough to know what to do.

Even an easy-to-use system doesn’t make up for the lack of marketing expertise required to conduct local marketing initiatives. Or does it? If the system can be set up to support best practices and be specific enough that the localized marketer or franchisee knows exactly what to do, even lack of marketing know-how can be overcome.

Empowering Your Most Devoted Marketers: Your Local Representatives

Up to this point, this entire article has studied negative things that can happen when marketing is conducted at a local level. I have also worked for a franchise owner and seen thousands of franchisees and location managers in action. Who takes on the most responsibility for each location to be successful? It’s the local manager, sales person, franchise owner, and each and every employee associated with that location. Sorry corporate, it is not you.

The unfaltering commitment that these individuals possess to make their business a success is enormous. For companies to not take advantage of that from a marketing perspective is a detriment to the success of the company and franchise owner.

If you don’t give marketing control, you don’t get motivation for success by the very people who interact with the customer each and every day. Individual locations always feel their market situation is different, their competition is different, their employee base is different, and so they need to feel that they can control the marketing and sales approach to be different, even if it is not.

With the right tools, a communications portal being the main one, you can give your locations and franchisee all they need to conduct relevant, localized marketing, while keeping the control you need to build a consistent national or world-wide brand. So what’s holding you back?