The return and rise of the QR code

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After a long drawn out lockdown where businesses and communities alike have felt the strain, stress and instability of our globally shared reality, it comes as no surprise that the UK’s dubbed ‘Super Saturday‘ saw restaurants, pubs and hair salons reopen en masse up and down the country, some with more success than others.

Already many pubs have had to reclose due to outbreaks of coronavirus, and the government's inability to get anywhere with a track and trace app has forced business owners to come up with their own solutions for data capture, tracking, tracing and adapting to a socially distanced service. This brings with it complications for the less tech savvy, and opportunities for the more future thinking, all brought to you by the humble QR code. Let’s go back a bit.

The QR code is nothing new. Barcodes have been around since the 1960s when Japan entered its high economic growth period and developed the POS system, the beeping machines we now take for granted in every retail store. In 1994 the Quick Response (QR) code evolved from the initial 20 digit reading capacity of the original barcode, to a new 7000 digit reading capability, ten times faster than its predecessor. But it wasn’t until 2002 and the marketing of smartphones with a QR code reading feature that the use became widespread among the general public in Japan. What once started as a free app on smartphones became a built in feature, much like the torch, and by 2012 the QR code had been standardised and developed into a variety of evolutions, growing more effective with every annual tech update and widely used around the world.

Fast forward to 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic. After entire sectors have reopened with strict social distancing guidelines, the QR code has gone even more mainstream. Restaurants looking to protect their staff are using QR codes driving to websites for customers to order their food directly to their table. Workspaces are using QR codes to book hotdesks, and a vast amount of public venues are using QR codes to build their own CRM for track and trace purposes in the event of an outbreak. Post GDPR, restaurants and pubs are having to be careful of what data they capture and how they use it, and many venues are falling short.

In Luton, a local pub took no data when they reopened, other than keeping a counter to keep the numbers down, a vastly missed opportunity to protect, better serve and better market to their most loyal customers. In Brighton, a local coffee shop took down peoples names and mobile numbers on the back of receipts. At Westfield Stratford, individual restaurants used QR codes for menus and table service, but no data was captured by Westfield upon entrance to their indoor/outdoor supermall. These seem like massively missed opportunities for customer relationship management, safety, service, marketing and advertising, but not all hospitality venues missed out on the opportunity provided by QR codes.

At Bistrotheque, a restaurant in Hackney, their booking service was powered by RESY, which captures data ahead of customers' arrival. At POP Brixton, QR codes are being used to drive to a simple Google form for track and trace purposes (with a 21 day data deletion disclaimer and an option to subscribe to their mailing list), as well as another QR code driving to website GoodEats.io to power their multiple restaurant menus and internal table service. In gastropubs from Cornwall to Manchester, QR codes have been used for similar purposes, in some cases failing and reverting to pen and paper to take down customer details.

Many missed opportunities are occurring, even for those with slick and simple uses of QR codes and customer relations management. The vast majority of consumers now have smartphone technology and are familiar with scanning QR codes to get to a digital location, which is why there has never been a better time to adopt a new form of CRM and systematically change the way customers and businesses communicate with each other.

Imagine a world where EVERYTHING has a QR code, a physical-digital portal that not only gives you access to more information, exclusive content, or juicy discounts from your favourite brands. Imagine you’re a Marmite fan, you scan the code on the jar and you’re taken to a digital destination for people like you. Imagine you’re a music fan of a specific artist or record label, you walk past their billboard or come across a flyer, scan the code and are taken to their latest music video before it has officially dropped. Imagine you’re a sneaker head and the latest Yeezy’s are all but sold out, you scan a code from an Adidas advert and are added to a waiting list with an additional 20% discount to reward you for your patience. From a consumer POV it’s a no brainer.

Now look at the same examples from the opposite side. You are the chief marketer of Unilever and want to run a new campaign for Marmite lovers in order to gather better, first party data. You are Ed Sheeran’s record label and despite being able to sell out stadiums by sending an email blast out, you’re looking to innovate your approach in order to gain further understanding of your audience and get better quality data, more than just an email address. You’re the CMO of Adidas and you want to cross pollinate your new found audience from the Yeezy campaign and re-target the most engaged fans to similar campaigns, to further drive ROI.

All of these ideas are entirely possible with a fresh approach to CRM. A post GDPR, post cookie future where data is leveraged by the consumer as much as the brand, restoring the balance of marketing in favour of both parties. This new app based CRM platform is called BLiX, a Brand and Lifestyle Information Exchange. It’s a military encrypted app, dashboard and QR code combination that delivers a fresh perspective for marketers and consumers navigating a new normal, together. Of course I would approve of such a product as the head of business development at BLiX, but I was originally sold on the idea as a consumer and appreciator of powerful marketing done well. I really can’t stand the opposite, and as our chief strategy officer Craig Wills has said: “There’s never been a modern economic climate more in need of an effective, efficient accountability solution like BLiX”.

QR codes are the new normal and they need a verb. To ‘BLiX’ is to scan, engage and exchange. To ‘BLiX’ is to receive high quality content from a brand in return for opt-in sharing. To ‘BLiX’ is to imbue press, packaging and outdoor with the digital means to drive relationship marketing. To ‘BLiX’ is to interact directly, safely, securely with a brand. To ‘BLiX’ is to nurture sincere, post-doubt relationships between Brands and consumers.

Silas Armstrong, head of business development for MarTech BLiX.

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