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Are QR codes replacing SMS?

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.

?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.?