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Mobile Marketing: QR Codes

Bridging Online and Offline Marketing for Restaurants

It’s no secret that e-commerce has seen exponential growth in the last decade. It has challenged the traditional brick and mortar system, with websites like effectively competing against retail behemoths like Walmart. Yet for businesses based on consumer experiences or perishable inventory, including restaurants, there is limited e-commerce opportunity. Gift card sales, online ordering and group buying allow restaurants a taste of online sales, but the lion’s share of the revenue continues to change hands at the register.

To fully realize the value of e-marketing, restaurants need to bridge the gap between the online world and the real world. With an expected 120 million smartphone users in the U.S. by year’s end, mobile has the ability to bring the immediacy and trackability of online marketing to the street1. With quick response (QR) codes, restaurants can easily and effectively interact with customers’ mobile devices at any point in the communication process.

QR codes are square-ish symbols comprised of jumbled lines and boxes. They act as real-world hyperlinks. Via 3rd-party apps, a smartphone user simply scans the symbol with their device’s camera, and they are jettisoned to the target link. You can use a QR code to link to a video, photo, landing page, Facebook profile, or anything else that’s online. On some devices, QR codes can even generate text messages or interact with installed apps, without the need for a wi-fi connection or cell phone signal.

QR codes are not new. Created in 1994 by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave, they have been widely used in Japan for over a decade. Today, 86% of Japanese consumers scan four or more times per month2. It appears that the U.S. has finally taken to this technology. The combination of a surging smartphone market and increasing marketer adoption drove 1,500% year-over-year growth of mobile scans in 2010; and for the first time, the United States saw a higher volume of scans than any other country3 .

It is estimated that some 70 million smartphone customers have installed an app capable of scanning QR codesiii. In perspective, that’s more than 10 times the number of potential users as popular location-based service (LBS) Foursquare4. Further, the audience using this emerging technology is more diverse than its LBS counterparts, which skews highly to the under 30 cohort5.

The explosion of mobile barcodes brings seemingly limitless opportunity to the restaurant industry. The following is only a sampling of how QR codes can be applied to your restaurant’s marketing program.

Make Your Traditional Advertising More Actionable

For decades, newspaper FSI’s, direct mailers, billboards, window decals and other printed advertising have proven successful for restaurants. With QR codes, traditional ad space can generate a significantly higher return on investment. Trigger your online reservations page, online ordering system, or refer-a-friend link by printing a QR code with these web addresses embedded. Take it a step further and apply a coupon or provide exclusive access via URL tagging.

Bring Online Marketing to Offline Life

For nearly a decade, online promotions had to be printed in order to be redeemed in-store. Now, when you use QR codes in your emails, banner ads and other web properties, you can provide a great convenience to your present and future customers. Call a mobile version of the offer that can be presented at the register, saving time, money and even trees.

Extend the Value of Printed Material

QR codes take little physical real estate and require no special printing process. Encode a QR with a link to your Fishbowl mobile join form and let your napkins, cups, to-go bags, business cards, receipts and any other printed material help to grow your guest database.

Encourage Viral Growth from Inside the Store

There’s never a better time to ask for a Yelp review, a GoWalla “check-in” or a Facebook “like” than when a customer is dining in your restaurant. Table tents, menus and bill inserts adorned with QR codes can help coax social media activity.