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Sticky Branding: Andrew Witkin

How PSPs Can Benefit from Using More QR Codes

Over the past two years, they’ve become essential branding elements.

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IN THE TECHNOLOGY WORLD, it’s common to celebrate anniversaries of major innovations. In 1997, Lucent spent an entire year highlighting the impact of the transistor, which was first introduced in 1947. In 2014, IBM similarly hosted a series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking mainframe computer. But one anniversary that passed without notice in 2021 probably deserved a little bit more recognition: The 25th anniversary of the QR code. Not only was the development of this digital mark significant on a technical level, it’s also had a major effect on how companies interact with their customers. And in many cases, the codes themselves have become integral parts of their brands.

QR (Quick Response) was not originally developed as a consumer application. Rather, it began life as part of an inventory management system for a Japanese auto parts maker. Unlike UPC codes, which would simply allow scanners to pick up number sequences, QR codes can include a far greater set of data. Among these is the ability to link to a specific website, meaning that people could use scanners to directly access information on the web. Needless to say, this was a game changer because, for the first time, people could share URLs without having to write down web addresses and type them in on their computers or mobile devices. QR codes soon made the leap into the consumer realm, and top brands around the world began to leverage them.

Although QR codes were commonly available by 2011, it took nearly a decade for them to enter mainstream use in the US, which was significantly behind Europe and Asia in their adoption. According to Inc. magazine, in 2012 only three percent of Americans knew what a QR code was, but that all changed in 2017 when Snapchat made it a core part of its offering – and got more than eight million people a day to use snap codes. This coincided with the advent of the next generation of mobile phones, which made it even easier for people to use QR codes from their handheld devices without requiring a third-party app. Over the next three years, their popularity soared in North America.

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QR Codes and The Pandemic

It’s hard to think of a major company that wasn’t using QR codes prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Starbucks relied on them for their loyalty cards. Concert venues and airlines replaced physical tickets with digital codes. But when the pandemic hit North America in early 2020, the QR code proved to be a lifeline for companies in just about every industry. And over the last two years, they’ve become fully embedded in just about every aspect of ecommerce. Savvy companies looking to build their brands have found ways not only to leverage this technology, but to incorporate them into their marketing stack.

One of the most obvious uses of QR codes is in restaurants. As soon as eateries were able to open their doors after the first wave of the pandemic, most of them relied on QR codes rather than physical menus. Customers would sit down at the tables, take a picture of a QR code, and then order from their phones. But in many cases, these codes were simply printouts that were clumsily taped to tabletops. Once the first phase of the pandemic passed, we began to see restaurants actually print out attractive labels and stickers with the codes on them. Many restaurants today have stand-up signs on the table so customers can easily take a photo of the code when they sit down.

In fact, as QR codes have become indispensable for businesses over the last two years, there has been a notable transition from them simply being “add-ons” to being essential elements of brands. In fact, customers are actually demanding them: according to a retail study by PYMNTS, more than a third of customers won’t complete transactions if the QR option isn’t available to them. In addition, shoppers who use QR codes have a much higher brand loyalty rate than other shoppers.

Baking QR Codes Into Your Brand

QR codes have come a long way from the early days where they were somewhat ugly and obtrusive. Today, a number of companies are actually making QR codes look attractive and are harmonizing them with their brands. Unlike the first codes, the modern incarnations can be in any color, which makes it a snap for companies to integrate them with their existing digital assets. In fact, today, it’s not uncommon to see QR codes embossed with the logos of companies ranging from Facebook to Target to YouTube. And these images don’t just exist online. It’s almost a guarantee that any physical rewards card will include a QR code – rubber stamps and hole punches are rapidly disappearing.

What are some ways you can integrate QR codes in your digitally printed graphics? If you work with restaurants, instead of letting them print a piece of paper to put on their tables – which will be perceived as a makeshift approach rather than a thoughtful act – suggest an SEG banner at the host’s stand or a window graphic on the front door. If you’re printing stickers and bags for a retail store, make sure the QR code is a central part of the design rather than simply a throwaway in the corner. Again, it comes back to intentionality: If you’re going to use QR codes, make sure they’re integral, not afterthoughts. From a design standpoint, find creative ways to build QR codes around your clients’ logos, rather than trying to shoehorn squares and dots.

There’s no single way to build a digital brand, which is why forward-thinking companies need to look at every possible opportunity to improve their ability to connect with their customers. QR codes have become a core element of this strategic approach, and companies are rapidly finding new and exciting ways to use them to drive success.

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Andrew Witkin is the founder and CEO of StickerYou, a global ecommerce leader in custom-printed, die-cut products that empowers consumers and businesses to create high-quality materials for personal expression, marketing, and packaging.

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