QR codes are taking the marketing world by storm and invading the exhibition show floor. Nadia Cameron investigates how organisers and contractors are embracing this smartphone tool.
Are we a nation addicted to our mobile phones? UK telecoms regulator Ofcom certainly believes so. In the recent Communication Market Report, the authority found 60 per cent of teenagers and 37 per cent of adults say they are “highly addicted” to their devices, with 81 per cent leaving them on at all times.
A major contributor to this usage increase is smartphones. Across the UK, 47 per cent of teens and 27 per cent of adults now own a smartphone, whether it be an iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia or Google Android-based device. Notably, 59 per cent purchased their device in the past year.
Where there is a platform, there are applications for it. Smartphone take-up has prompted a plethora of apps covering everything from song identification to drinking virtual beer. Closer to home, it’s triggering new live event and exhibition visitor apps focused on digital navigation, interactive and targeted communications and real-time information gathering.
An increasingly popular addition to the smartphone app arsenal is Quick Response (QR) codes. The codes are based on a two-dimensional or matrix barcode that can be read by a smartphone using a dedicated QR mobile app. By scanning these, users gain access to specific text, a web address or other types of data on their phone chosen by the QR code’s creator.
Given the promotional scope this offers, marketers and consumer-focused companies are already embracing QR codes to reach tech-savvy consumers. Some examples include using QR codes as a digital business card, as a way of providing more info and as marketing collateral.
UBM Live is one of several exhibition organisers investigating QR codes for their call to action properties. UBM Live marketing manager Alex Jones said its first step was using QR codes to drive people to view its show videos from Energy Solutions, M&E Building Services and Total Workplace Management exhibitions. The result was viewing increases of 59 per cent, 40 per cent and 38 per cent respectively.
The organiser next used QR codes to enable Leisure Industry Week (LIW) attendees to download its new mobile app. Jones said UBM Live recorded 358 app downloads from the QR code a week after its launch. QR codes were also displayed during the show on all signage to further encourage app downloads.
“QR codes are heading the way of other technologies that are now integrated into our daily lives. As more people are exposed to them, we will be in a position to be bolder using them as a call to action,” Jones claimed. “It will open up the way for more technology like this in our industry.
“LIW was UBM Live’s case study for the app and has done well, so we plan to rollout the app and QR codes next year at IFSEC, Facilities Show and Energy Solutions.”
CloserStill Media is also looking into how to best employ QR codes. Event director for Learning and Skills Jonquil Coy said it will supply exhibitors with individual QR codes at the upcoming Learning Technologies and inaugural Learning and Skills exhibition in January 2012. Exhibitors can use these in pre-show marketing collateral, their brochures or as part of displays to direct visitors to their website, specific promotional offers or a dedicated web page.
“For exhibitors, it’s a handy way to give customers access to information,” Coy said. “It’s all part of the ongoing push to digitise hardcopy collateral and products.”
To complement exhibitors displaying QR codes, CloserStill is developing a mobile app that will help visitors download the required QR code scanner app. The exhibition team is also using QR codes on their business cards that link directly back to an aggregated site including the show’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn Group and website.
Coy pointed to environmental positives from using QR codes such as cutting print collateral on the stand.
“Inevitably you come away from a show with a stack of brochures and there’s so much you don’t want. There’s an elegance in being able to scan an exhibitor’s info and return to it digitally post-event,” she claimed. “Organisers and exhibitors need to think of QR codes as retail tools – for example, an exhibitor could be giving 20 per cent off training booked in February and use the QR code to help visitors utilise this offer.
“It’s difficult to see a disadvantage in using them. QR codes will form part of the value-add we have in the exhibitor package. This is particularly the case with tech shows, where we need to be seen embracing these new tools.”
QR codes aren’t the only type of next-generation barcode available today. MD of US-based events and media agency Finn Digital has developed a new product, BoothTag, to drive trade show visitors to exhibitor booths. BoothTag uses Microsoft Tag, a rival but similar offering to QR codes that also offers device ID detection and location-aware capabilities, Finn Digital MD Bill Finn said.
BoothTag was recently used at the CompTIA IT industry exhibition to facilitate a scavenger hunt. The principle was to drive attendees to various exhibitor booths to scan barcodes in return for incentives and prizes. Finn said the initiative generated 11,200 scans over three days across 163 stands.
“CompTIA wanted to make the trade show more engaging, so we came up with the concept of using BoothTag as a game on the show floor,” Finn explained. “The old school way of running a trade show is to have exhibitors on either side of the aisle, but they may not see anyone they’re interested in or find visitors avoiding eye contact so they don’t get ‘sold to’.
“We turned that on its head by providing incentives for attendees to go to exhibitor booths, scan the code on the stand and obtain points to redeem prizes.”
Exhibitors and visitors were given unique codes so both sides could retrieve a customised list of who they met during the show. Having location awareness also allowed the organiser to see hot spots of activity or popular exhibitors, Finn said.
Locally, UK suppliers see next-generation barcodes as another way for exhibitors to improve their show profile’s visibility. Website contractor ASP Events MD Arran Coole said the company can automatically generate QR codes for exhibitors to use for marketing. These are accessible when they update their listing in a show’s exhibitor zone.
“Exhibitors can download the QR code from the expo website, display it on their adverts and on the stand itself and use it to link back to their profile on the expo website, thus keeping the show in the mix too,” Coole said.
AV contractor Aztec employed QR codes this year to improve its own exhibitor profile at The Event and Exhibiting Show. The company used QR codes to invite visitors to the event, then to receive information about products at the show. These codes were displayed on pre-show email invitations, on the stand and on T-shirts worn by the company’s staff on the stand.
“It was a simple, gimmicky and yet also a practical way of engagement,” MD John Robson said. “Once scanned, visitors were sent an email with the link to our product information on the website, which they could view on their PC.”
Having dipped a toe in the water, Aztec is looking to now use QR codes at the Event Production Show next February and is investing in detailed tracking to see what information visitors respond to.
While marketing interest is clearly there, the success of QR codes depends on exhibitors and visitor familiarity. Director of exhibitor services for US-based 21st Century Building Expo and Conference Tracie Garrett said the organiser offered free logos for every exhibitor listing using a QR code at one of its recent exhibitions. Not one exhibitor took advantage of it.
“We even offered a discount to our show with the QR code on the brochure sent to potential attendees. Still no takers,” she claimed. “Even though we now see them everywhere, the general public doesn’t know what QR codes are because they’ve never really seen a good explanation of what they are and how they are used.”
Despite her initial experiences, Garrett still believed QR codes to be a good way to get a big message across with “a small symbol”.
“Getting started is the hardest part, particularly if visitors have not used a barcode reader before,” BoothTag’s Finn continued. He claimed the first and biggest step is ensuring a visitor downloads the free scanner app.
“We produce packs in advance of the events including quickstart cards where we outline the four steps to getting on-board,” Finn said. “We’ve seen most interest where there is a technology flavour to the event, but it’s starting to broaden out. All the reports indicate that barcode scanning use is widening exponentially.”
Regardless of whether it’s QR, Microsoft Tag or next-generation technologies like Near Field Communication (see breakout box below), Finn claimed mobile connectivity is transforming the show floor. Exhibition organisers and exhibitors ignore smartphones at their peril.
“All of this is changing the way people think about the traditional trade show and giving us a new perspective on visitor and exhibitor interaction,” Finn added.
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