How major brands like Starbucks and Macy’s are using QR codes and mobile coupons

As advertisers continue to look for new, stand-out ways to engage consumers, two still-young technologies have emerged as effective, personal, mobile marketing tools that

are changing the way marketing campaigns are designed and mobile coupons are delivered. Statistics on text messaging and QR codes have taken the advertising world by storm in recent months, and while text marketing stands as the clear current leader given the worldwide popularity of text messaging, both offer retailers an opportunity to communicate on a far more personal level than traditional print and even online advertising ever could.

Opinions still vary on which is the preferred format, and surely there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Whereas SMS marketing has the potential to engage the 90 percent of (or nearly 280 million) Americans who send and receive text messages, QR (or Quick Response) codes require a scanning technology currently utilized by only 25 to 30 million people in the U.S. On the other hand, QR codes don’t require retailers to obtain a short-code, often a time-consuming process, and due to being relatively new to the scene, a QR code-driven campaign is still viewed as having a certain level of “cool”.

In any event, both technologies present retailers with an opportunity to connect with customers in a one-one-one manner that continues to make them the advertising vehicle of choice for makers of everything from soda to sweaters, and for everyone from political candidates to pro sports teams. Starbucks, which recently won high honors as the 2010 Mobile Marketer of the Year, has merged SMS technology with GPS capabilities to run mobile initiatives that are store-specific. Macy’s has utilized QR codes to provide shoppers with fashion tips and product information. Even President Barack Obama utilized text marketing during his 2008 presidential campaign.

 Regardless of how a mobile initiative reaches its goal, the typical result puts mobile coupons in the hands of opt-in consumers who are far more likely to act on special offer than are random newspaper readers or Web surfers. Any mobile initiative, whether SMS- or QR code-based, is fueled by prompting consumers to make the first move, enlisting them in a targeting, trackable database that is then used by a retailer to send mobile coupons, special offers, business updates or any other relevant messaging. The key is amassing the right database, and Sprite recently struck gold when it rode the popularity of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest to reach an audience with a text marketing campaign that began by asking in-venue fans and those watching on television to text in to vote for contest’s best dunker. The campaign ignited a huge success for Sprite, the NBA, and broadcast partner TNT.

 While the average local business hasn’t the resources to launch a similar mobile initiative, the advent of shared short code text message marketing now provides those same opportunities, and small- and medium-sized businesses are gradually getting on board to realize the benefits of running a mobile marketing campaign. Local bars send out Happy Hour reminders at lunch and see benefits later that day. Flower shops send anniversary and birthday specials to date-specific clients. Dentist offices issue appointment reminders to patients due for a sixth-month checkup. And salons fill openings caused by late cancellations and fill chairs rather than sit idle. The possibilities for business owners to communicate with customers are still being realized, and every day, more and more advertisers are wondering not “How can I use mobile marketing?”, but rather, “How can I not?”

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