A new channel is opening up, enabling rich communications between advertisers and consumers.  That channel is what I call Context-Sensitive Marketing, and is enabled by the Quick Response (QR) barcode.  By effectively leveraging Context-Sensitive Marketing opportunities, advertisers can separate their brand from the pack and encourage deep customer engagement and, ultimately, purchasing.

How can a QR code – a 2-dimensional barcode scannable by smartphones – do all this?  Most companies delivering a service or a product already present many fronts to customers, from retail locations and point-of-sale signs to their packaging and products, not to mention traditional advertising.  Such visual material has limitations of size and interactivity.  Oftentimes, consumers only make a passing glance at all of the branding material.  The novelty of the QR code, however, promises to change this.

As QR codes proliferate, consumers will understand that their smartphones can analyze those codes, which really serve as a hyperlink to smartphone-consumable internet content.  In essence, hyperlinks are migrating from computer screens to the real world.  By scanning a QR code, consumers can retrieve desired content easily and quickly. Advertisers who take advantage of QR code technology will ensure that they have a noticeable presence on the mobile web.

Examples of engaging QR code campaigns include:

  • Placing a real world hyperlink on the packaging for a set of cupcakes.  When delivered to a friend’s house, the package can be scanned to order more cupcakes, to save the contact info of the bakery to one’s phone, and to leave a comment through Twitter.
  • Affixing a real world hyperlink, such as a QR code, onto the front retail window of a fashion boutique.  This retail window badge might beckon, “Scan me to see if you’ve won a free item to collect inside!”  The combination of discovery and earned rewards will delight and motivate new customers.

The effectiveness of these campaigns is attributable to enhanced engagement with consumers.  Normally, a poster might trigger a quick glance; with the QR code, customers will linger to scan and interact, transforming a 2-second interaction into a brand experience that could last minutes.  These days, it’s natural for consumers to look for new and seamless ways to interact with their favorite products, and get rewarded for their brand loyalty in turn.  The modern consumer doesn’t shun these “advertising moments,” instead seeing them as opportunities for deals to share with friends.  There is a social currency attached to deal and brand discovery, and QR codes can facilitate this.

Until now, QR code campaigns have mostly been the province of large companies, such as movie studios and national advertisers.  However, tools are being created to make QR code campaigns easy to deploy in minutes and without technical knowledge, even for small businesses.  These tools will catalyze the adoption of Context-Sensitive Marketing techniques as a must-have for all marketers.

Beyond marketing, QR codes can provide a digital layer of content – such as a tutorial video or other non-marketing content – that consumers will appreciate.  As hyperlinks migrate from monitors to the real world, consumers will increasingly rely on their smartphones to learn more, view more, experience more and ultimately, buy more.  For marketers, this represents a new opportunity to increase brand awareness and consumer engagement.

Author: Hamilton Chan is CEO and Founder of Paperlinks. Through its iPhone app (previously featured as the #1 New & Noteworthy free app in the iTunes store) and QR web platform, Paperlinks makes context sensitive marketing plug-and-play for small, medium and large businesses.