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Are QR codes replacing SMS?

Taco Bell and ESPN QR codes

The Taco Bell boxes with the QR codes

SMS is a reliable workhorse in mobile marketing, but with the sudden rise and popularity of QR codes, text-in call to actions are being substituted by mobile bar codes.

Nowadays consumers cannot go a day without seeing a QR code – whether it is on a magazine page, billboard or bus shelter. In past years, SMS calls to actions were seen just about anywhere. However, many current marketing efforts are not incorporating SMS, but rather placing a QR code on products to drive user engagement.

“SMS gives brands an easy, broad reaching and low cost means of consumer communication via the mobile channel – and as you know, is ubiquitous, but it lacks the rich media experience that QR codes can deliver,” said Laura Marriott, CEO of NeoMedia Technologies, Boulder, CO.

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“From some of the campaigns that we have run alongside SMS call to actions, the QR codes are outperforming the response from SMS significantly,” she said. “In many times a factor of 10 or more times more successful.

“This is really causing our brand clients to question how they are going to use SMS in the future.”

Scanning success
Over the past year brands and marketers have added a mobile bar code component to their campaign initiatives.

Conde Nast’s Allure magazine has implemented Microsoft Tags in its August giveaway issue.

The publication saw success the first time it ran mobile bar codes on its magazine pages and found that its annual “Free Stuff” giveaways resulted in 444,572 scans.

Since then, Allure decided to incorporate the Microsoft Tags in its annual August issues moving forward.

Allure is not the only publication incorporating QR codes into its static pages. Magazines such as People, Cosmopolitan, Lucky, GQ and Women’s Health are using mobile bar codes to drive readership engagement.

Additionally, companies such as Starbucks, Bath & Body Works, Chili’s, Taco Bell and Red Bull are among the many that have incorporated QR codes into their marketing efforts over the past year.

Many companies are even educating consumers on what a QR code is and how they can use it.

“I believe QR codes still have that newness factor associated with them,” Ms. Marriott said. “It’s about that sheer convenience and adoption opportunities that QR codes offer to brands, enterprises and consumers alike – answering the need for information on the go, interactivity, measurability and traceability – that will ensure that the market for mobile bar codes will continue to grow this year.

“Already we’re seeing impressive adoption by brands, handset manufacturers and operators for use in mobile marketing and advertising campaigns, and this will continue as barriers to adoption such as consumer education, handset integration and consumer awareness are overcome,” she said.

“As big players such as Google, Facebook and eBay help drive the viral adoption of bar codes and offer mobile bar code solutions to their customers, the education is accelerated and penetration to the consumer, in all aspects of everyday life, will continue to grow.”

The next SMS?
According to Nicole Skogg, CEO of SpyderLynk, Denver, mobile bar codes in general are replacing SMS.

“Many 2D mobile bar codes provide a wide range of benefits above and beyond what a SMS campaign can offer,” Ms. Skogg said.

“First of all, it is much easier for a consumer to activate and lower barriers to entry will drive program participation,” she said. “Rather than having to send a text message to a number, consumers can simply scan the mobile bar codes – it requires less effort on behalf of the consumers.”

Unlike an SMS campaign, mobile bar codes are visually represented, per Ms. Skogg.

“This combined with the increasing consumer awareness of what 2D mobile bar codes are and the ways they can access them increases the likelihood of consumer engagement,” Ms. Skogg said.

In the past QR codes have primarily connected users to a mobile Web site.

However, marketers are increasingly thinking outside the box and incorporating mobile video, games and giveaways as another incentive to engage consumers.

“Given that mobile bar codes have the opportunity to be so much more than a link to a mobile Web site, 2012 will be the year that marketers will explore the opportunities that exist beyond the mobile site, realizing they have the ability to impact consumers at all stages of the consumer decision journey,” Ms. Skogg said. 

“Mobile initiatives will be designed to engage consumers, drive purchase consideration, activate a sale or build a sustainable mobile connection,” she said. “With all of the robust mobile bar code activity in 2011, we believe the stage has been set for brands to develop and refine comprehensive, strategic approaches to activating mobile bar codes in 2012.

“We expect brand marketers will capitalize on the ability to segment their mobile marketing campaigns and serve content and experiences crafted to engage different target consumers relative to where they are in their path to purchase.”

Return of SMS
Although QR codes are increasingly gaining traction, SMS should not be forgotten.

If a company is looking to incorporate mobile bar codes into their campaigns, they should also take a look at SMS and see if they can tie both channels into the mix.

Not every consumer has a smartphone on hand or a device that features mobile bar code scanning capabilities.

It is great that brands and marketers are uses new technology such as QR codes, however it is also important that they not forget about those consumers that have a feature phone.

SMS is a universal mobile channel and can be used by consumers with both smartphone and feature phone devices.

“SMS marketing is as strong as ever,” said Doug Stovall, senior vice president of sales at Hipcricket, Kirkland, WA. “Not everyone has a QR scanner or even a smartphone, but most everyone has a cell phone with the ability to send and receive SMS messages.

It is important thing to remember is that each user consumers in different ways and prefers various mediums.

By offering multiple means for engagement, companies can attract the maximum amount of customers and not exclude potential ones.

“SMS will be as strong as ever, but we will also see it placed alongside other mobile options like QR codes and the mobile Web,” Mr. Stovall said. “Offering multiple channels encourages engagement and campaign creativity, ultimately driving increased customer loyalty and overall revenue from mobile marketing campaigns.”

According to Tim Miller, CEO of Sumotext, Little Rock, AR, consumers are not more inclined to engage with QR codes than with SMS.

“Not according to comScore whose last report said that less than 10 percent of Americans have downloaded a reader and scanned a QR code,” Mr. Miller said. “That’s a really low level of engagement compared with the ubiquitous penetration of SMS.

“Unless you're going to provide an alternative call to action, those ads might as well be in Spanish,” he said. “So, though we love seeing any actionable elements in any ad, SMS is the only engagement tactic that marketers can rely on for maximum reach.

“I think you see a lot more QR codes because it's the new thing – and because those codes are big and noticeable.”

Sumotext believes that this is the year for MMS.

“Prices are finally right and we now have great tools to design and transcode the content for maximum deliverability,” said Randy Atkisson, executive vice president of sales and business development at Sumotext, Little Rock, AR.

“We also see geo fences and location aware messaging as a big deal for retail and restaurant brands with lots of locations,” he said. “Using location and geofences, we're able to help them promote a single SMS call to action while segmenting their database and organizing subscribers into other groups and keywords based on the location of the device.”

Associate Editor Rimma Kats covers media, television, research and social networks. Reach her at rimma@mobilemarketer.com.

Related content: Software and technology, QR codes, SMS, Laura Marriott, NeoMedia, Nicole Skogg, SpyderLynk, Doug Stovall, Hipcricket, Tim Miller, Randy Atkisson, Sumotext, mobile marketing, mobile

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Comments on "Are QR codes replacing SMS?"

  1. Hans von Knut says:

    March 9, 2012 at 4:07pm

    I am amazed, that people still spew out such bullshit, so many years after the buzz-word peak of the mobile business (2005-2009).

    Stuff like:
    “Rather than having to send a text message to a number, consumers can simply scan the mobile bar codes – it requires less effort on behalf of the consumers.”
    -no, you have toopen a reader (if you have it installed) then wait for the camera, then scan -given the distance and lighting is right.
    -its not faster than texting, receiving a link, then clicking it

    And QR codes mostly work in print, in billboard or other outdoor campaing or broadcast, you might have "gone past" the qr code, when you get out the phone.
    While "sms snickers to 1212" is easy to remember for some time.

    “Given that mobile bar codes have the opportunity to be so much more than a link to a mobile Web site, 2012"
    “Many 2D mobile bar codes provide a wide range of benefits above and beyond what a SMS campaign can offer,” Ms. Skogg said.

    -where do people dream up stuff like that?
    A qr code is just a link, like a link in a sms is. What you experience when arriving to the link destiantion can differ, but its still just a link.

    While I do see some purpose in QR codes, I don't get how people can still be so stupid and believen that everythin new, must be better than the old stuff. Its like the days of videotelephony, where people thought it would substitue normal mobile calls. Or the days of MMS, where people thought it would substitute sms.
    -without taking the socilogical aspects into consideration, that can explain why normal mobile telephony and sms became so popular.

    Sorry for the rant, its just stupid things like this, that makes me remember how frustrating the days of ultimate stupidity was (bullshit regarding mobile tech in the infatile years of 2005-2009).
    -butt at least the article did not use words like "innovation", "location based" or "Argumented Reality", so I guess I should be somewhat happy...
  2. Mobile Marketing says:

    February 22, 2012 at 5:35pm

    QR Code/SnapTags and SMS have different uses and should be used to work together on brand awareness and lead Gen. I've seen the best result using QR Codes with a SMS short code right next to the QR Code.
  3. Kerry Skemp says:

    February 20, 2012 at 8:05pm

    QR codes and SMS have different purposes. It's like asking whether Facebook will replace Twitter. Use each method to interact with consumers in a way that meets your overarching marketing goals. The methods may interact and complement each other for some audiences; they may be fully distinct for others. The method used should be driven by your goals and your audience.
  4. Rich Eicher says:

    February 15, 2012 at 11:12pm

    The truth is that QR Codes are NOT "replacing" SMS. A2P SMS was just never allowed to be that popular. We are all industry folks here so lets get real for a second. Brands have always wanted to interact with customers mobile devices but the excessive gate keeping around US Shortcodes prohibits them from doing so without a tremendous effort, expense and branding sacrifice.

    If we had net-neutrality-like regulations within the Shortcode ecosystem tomorrow Micky's headline would read "Is SMS replacing QR codes?".

    The success of QR codes today are the direct result of failed self-regulation of the shortcode ecosystem. Period. QR codes are not better than SMS, they are just easier.

    Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it. -Milton Friedman

    @Gary - I think there are two elephants in the room. Your comment was 100% where I was thinking.

    @TheQRChickenLittle's - QR codes technically can, but in practice do not, deliver any significant % of mobile malware in market to date. The concept of QR's pointing to malware was a scare tactic used by the "registries" during the 'indirect' days of the 2D barcode business. The sky is not falling, never has been, never will be. Lets stop mentioning it. Apps cannot install themselves.

    @Cri - Spot on. Most NFC smart posters will also have a QR code leading to the same content. If anyone cares, here is a good NFC/QR sticker. They print the QR code on the NFC tag/sticker so the CTA is universal. http://youtu.be/y1SCyqvBkTc

  5. Cri Boratenski says:

    February 15, 2012 at 12:13pm

    No, NFC will not overtake either SMS or 2D Barcodes. We get so hung up on new technologies replacing old technologies, but they’re not replacements, they’re simply new mechanisms of engagement. It’s not practical to put NFC chips into magazine, television or radio ads and you can’t put them in any location that is out of the physical reach of consumers (say the side of a building). Plus you have the cost factor to take into consideration when looking at the different mechanisms and how those costs align with the marketing budget. The point that a few people in this thread have attempted to drive home and that many still seem to be missing is that all of these technologies have specific benefits which will meet specific needs of consumers as well as function in different marketing channels. None of these channels are going away. Savvy marketers will not choose one mechanism and use it for all of their mobile marketing, they will have a variety of different engagement mechanisms in their quiver and will apply them as they make sense for the given application and may, in many situations, even provide multiple options for engagement in a single CTA.
  6. jeff nix says:

    February 14, 2012 at 12:16am

    I posted this article on http://www.facebook.com/QuickResponseCode
    Feel free to post there for your content and your QR related info anytime, lets help spread your good word!
  7. Brady Granier says:

    February 13, 2012 at 8:25pm

    Try using a QR code in a radio ad or even a tv ad (unless you expect people to use their DVRs to rewind the ad to scan the code. QR are codes are good for static messaging only and even then SMS can accomplish the same by simply sending a link in the bouceback text that leads the user to a mobile site, video, etc. That can all happen in a short time. With a QR code, you still need to thumb thru your apps to find the reader and then you still need to open the app. Unless you walk around with your QR code reader open at all times, it's not THAT convenient as compared to SMS or MMS
  8. Al H. says:

    February 13, 2012 at 8:01pm

    SMS is old technology. It cab be invasive and consumers know this and do not trust SMS.
    No need to fight the inevitable. QR codes and newer technologies will continue to drive SMS away from its long standing #1 pole position as a interactive marketing tool into a niche player. It will avoid the graveyard but its heady days are over.
    As far as 10% Comscore data, I would like to see that report. I have 5 people in this household and 100% have smart devices and QR apps. The answer to this article is YES.
  9. Wendell Davis says:

    February 13, 2012 at 5:29pm

    Why do you not challenge statements like Laura Marriott's?

    "SMS....lacks the rich media experience that QR codes can deliver,” followed by "QR codes are outperforming the response from SMS significantly,” she said. “In many times a factor of 10 or more times more successful.

    What rich media experience? QR codes do nothing more than connect a consumer scanning the QR code to a mobile website or an ad on a mobile site. Scanning a code is not the least bit comparable to a rich media ad experience from a Crisp or Medialets.

    Outperforms SMS by a factor of 10 or more times? Ask Ms. Marriott to provide the research to substantiate that claim.

    I seriously doubt her assertion given the public's lack of awareness and use of QR codes, which she and her QR peers have acknowledged and lamented.
  10. Dave Lawson says:

    February 13, 2012 at 5:26pm

    Nice perspectives from a lot of great people I know and respect. That said, I'm not sure I can really see where it makes a difference to debate one over the other. These things should all work together with the rest of the touches you have with your customers. They should also use mobile web, email, advertising (search and display), social, and on-site or in-store to attach mobility to your branded experience.

    From one angle, 2D codes and SMS are simply ways to activate interest in what is hopefully a well thought out and executed digital extension of another form of marketing or brand interaction. They are connectors- plain and simple. Some people scan, others send keywords to shortcodes. Some do both, many do neither when it comes to interacting marketing as opposed to personal communication.

    From another angle, marketing practitioners get very different data from each interaction so what tool is right for what the goals of the investment might be? With a 2D scan, one can get good data on where the scan happened, what device did the scanning, is this scan unique, what time was it, etc. To get more, you would need to develop some data capture element to your destination/scan result. With SMS, you get the time element, but you also get the phone number, area code, and you can return an interaction back to that participant. That returned message can have a link to a similar destination as with the 2D scan. If you aren’t capturing data from that destination, in either case, you are missing out on more data- either way, you are often ending up in the same place because of the richness that mobile web can provide.

    IMHO, consumers don't care. Regardless of the device they are using, they just want to “do”. If you have crafted a compelling CTA to accompany your differentiating message- make it as easy as possible for consumers to take action. They don't care if its scan, bump, text, call, or download if the value exchange is right and the instructions are foolproof and if it will work for them if they choose to interact. Consumers today aren't beggars- they are choosers. They will choose things that are easiest or they will promiscuously move on to the next thing that meets the criterion for ease of access.

    With the recent spike in 2D integration, 2D campaigns might seem to be more pervasive but a big influencer (and benefit) may be(and here we go with the “easier argument” again) that its easier for marketers to get them launched. It’s a free pass in most cases to dip a toe in the mobile waters. Works for their budget and they can report back to their teams about something “mobile”. There is no 12 week approval of a campaign, rental of a dedicated or shared code, geographic limitations and cost per message. Create it, print it, and see what you get seems to be the prevailing theory. Most of the destinations people are linked to are pretty horrible mobile experiences that are dissociated from the context of why they scanned in the first place. This is also reflective of the relative investment. Unfortunately, this has also made the tactic a prime candidate for pushing malware to phones, something the highly regulated SMS side of the house actually does a nice job weeding out.

    If any marketer has a goal of eliminating silos in their marketing horizon, they will not be having this debate. They will be working from a customer-focused perspective to use the right things at the right times to get the results they need and to deliver the experiences their customers want.
  11. Gary Schwartz says:

    February 13, 2012 at 1:35pm

    There is an elephant in the room (standing right in the middle of this article). QR, NFC, TXT are activation points. SCAN, TAP, TXT, or SNAP all good points of entry. SMS and MMS is the way you reply. If you want a relationship with someone, you ask for their phone number so you can contact them. However you establish that bond and enter into the consumer’s circle of trust, the end goal is targeted messaging: SMS/MMS.
  12. Jonathan Madnick says:

    February 13, 2012 at 11:05am

    It is awesome to read an article with a divergent set of opinions. You rarely see that.
    The title however is much broader than the article. The article is really "Are QR codes replacing SMS as an opt-in to a mobile campaign"
  13. TJ Kirgin says:

    February 13, 2012 at 10:54am

    This article is a bit off base. With only 49% of Americans having a Smart Phone with QR scan technology, SMS still has the largest reach of all mobile marketing mediums. In addition, QR codes are PULL marketing only with very little ability to future market or alert the consumer unless they are tied to a Social Media opt in or an app download. The best of both worlds is to use a QR code that leads the user to a Mobile Web page with an call to action that requires the user to become a n SMS subscriber by entering their 10 digit mobile phone number which would then send an SMS to which they would have to reply a keyword in order to receive the special offer and thus be opted in to future PUSH marketing messages.
  14. Josh Epstein says:

    February 13, 2012 at 7:44am

    QR codes and SMS are likely to co-exist. NFC may eventually supplant QR codes for physical point-of-location engagement, but SMS has a few advantages to both. 1) the simplicity of conveying a short code to someone who sees signage in passing, sees on tv, or hears on the radio. It is easier to remember "text a message to 112233 to win" than it is to remember a website URL. 2) the ability to set up a geofence to automatically send SMS to opt-in consumers allows a business to reach nearby individuals - not just on location individuals.

    QR codes and eventually NFC hold huge potential for on location mobile marketing, but SMS will stay in the mix for the time being.
  15. jose borrell says:

    February 13, 2012 at 7:35am

    No way QR codes will replace SMS. They're 2 different scenarios and consumers will still use SMS and they'll also incorporate QR codes while smartphones gets more penetration.
  16. Jesse Wixson says:

    February 13, 2012 at 7:26am

    I love to listen to people talk about mobile marketing because so many people don't fully understand it yet. Individuals interchange words like mobile website and mobile web apps like they are the same, but they are completely different in coding, target markets, and end-user interface. Are Native Apps and Non-native apps the same? No, one is specific for a (iphone or droid). The other is cross platform compatible. This means that no matter what type of smart phone you have, you can see it. QR codes can't replace SMS because they target two different groups. QR Codes mainly focus on new clients and the internet communication between the two. SMS targets an established customer base that is looking to get more valuable information from you on the spot. Many companies haven't figured out that you can link the two, but we have. Plus those Black and white QR Codes are ugly. We completely customize the code to fit into a marketing campaign with colors, graphics and logos.
  17. Michael Neidhoefer says:

    February 13, 2012 at 6:50am

    ...or will NFC overtake them as there is no common QR code Reader standard since 5 years?
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