Posted by Brian Klais, November 29, 2011
As a QR strategy and technology guy, I encourage marketers to “QR Everything.” You can imagine my delight yesterday when I discovered in my mailbox a liberal dosage of QR codes on the back of Brookstone‘s 2011 holiday catalog. It’s nearly 2012 and many US catalogers have managed to include a single QR somewhere in the book by now. But Brookstone? Nay: Brookstone has included FIVE QR codes on the back cover alone.
It’s beginning to look a lot like a QR Christmas!
Brookstone’s QRs promise to connect you to nearby locations, the website, call center, Facebook page, and an app (all of which I will review below). So I began scanning away to unwrap the little treasure boxes and – ho, ho, ho! – discovered a few surprises in store.
Since most US marketers are still learning how to master QR strategies, I decided I’d provide an analysis of Brookstone’s catalog QR experience, as both a consumer and a technology provider. Here are 5 lessons and observations you can use to optimize your own QR marketing performance:
1) Avoid QR Clutter
I truly admire that Brookstone is embracing QR as a form of information access. All direct merchants should. Brookstone is heading in the right direction, setting a great example by integrating QR with the catalog. However, having five QR codes arranged so closely together (with just an inch of spatial separation) not only looks cluttered to the consumer, it’s also overwhelming for your smartphone.
The issue is that when the consumer holds his phone at a reasonable distance away (say 12” or so), the scanner goes berserk. All five codes are in range – so you end up inadvertently scanning codes, which means an 80% chance of getting the wrong one. This makes consumers have to work harder to zoom the phone to about an inch off the page, and look through the lense to make sure it’s only “seeing” the exact code you want to scan.
Give each QR on a page at least 2-3 inches of margin from another QR. Don’t trigger accidental QR scans by placing them too close to each other. Consumers will become frustrated, hurting conversion, while your analytics and “click-through rates” become inflated and less accurate.
2) Optimize QR Visibility
Brookstone’s QR codes are all printed at the same physical size: approximately1” x 1”. But you can see how the “informational density” varies for each QR code. If you count up the rows and columns (I’m a geek), you’ll see the two on the left are both 29×29 matrices (more dense, courtesy of goo.gl), the one in the middle is 21×21 (less dense, just a phone number), the next one over is a 29×29 again, and then a 25×25 on the far right (medium density, courtesy of bit.ly).
The display area is the same for each (1” x 1”), so as you hold your scanner from a reasonable distance your phone is guaranteed to read the least dense QR first. Try it for yourself. When all QRs are in range of your scanner simultaneously, your phone will automatically scan the middle one first (the least dense). It’s like the eye chart at the doctor office – you always see the bigger letters at the top first.
So aim for the lowest density possible (21×21). It may seem counterintuitive but a 21×21 QR contains roughly half as much information density as a 29×29. Experiment with URL sizes and Error Correction settings to learn how to achieve lowest density output. Or consult our free QR generation guide to learn the breakpoints between URL sizes and Error Correction settings.
3) Integrate “Shortcuts” Throughout
Rather than stuff all five QRs on the back cover, I would love to have seen Brookstone place QR codes throughout the book – one for each product. Or at a minimum, place a QR alongside the 25+ smartphone- and tablet related-gadgets I count being sold in the catalog.
QR is really about shortcuts to information – pricing, reviews, product information. QRs that reduce typing and help people place a call, find locations, or like your Facebook profile are valuable. But help people research and buy on impulse. Put them next to each product – and make sure the links work!
4) Make Sure Links Work – Before and After Printing
The “Shop Brookstone” QR should launch the Brookstone site to shop. Instead, this QR leads to a very broken experience. This proved the case even after scanning multiple times, from multiple QR scanners. Good reminder: Only use link shorteners or QR platforms that allow you to change the QR destination URL as often as necessary and whenever you want.
5) Maximize QR Recall
Below is my QR “browser history” after scanning all five Brookstone catalog QRs. Good luck deciphering which links go to which destination page! At some point I’ll throw the catalog a way. Help me recall and revisit your pages from my device. Don’t make me spend time clicking through randomized goo.gl and bit.ly links. Brand them on your domain.
Consider abbreviated custom TLDs (like brookstn.cm or bkst.cm) to lower your URL size for 21×21 or 25×25 QR codes that double as memorable, branded, trackable links.
New technologies like our URLgenius platform make management, branding, tracking, and generation of QR easy for large-scale deployment.
Despite the lessons and opportunities outlined, I do sincerely congratulate Brookstone on their pioneering use of integrated QR. It’s only through cutting-edge experimentation like this that the brands of tomorrow will teach their consumers how to connect with them today through mobile.
QR Analysis Notes
Below are my notes on the iOS consumer experience for each of Brookstone’s QRs.
This QR gets scanned more by accident because its density is much lower than the surrounding QRs. It’s the one in the center of the arrangement and should launch the phone app and prompt you to dial the 1800 line. However with my default iPhone scanner app (by TapMedia), I received a prompt to “add” this unknown contact – this was not what I was expecting.
Whether I “create a new” or “add to existing” contact, the scanner seems to lose the phone number. It’s bizarre: there is nothing I can click to access the phone number at this stage. This creates a confusing experience for consumers who are still unsure of QR technology and if they’re “doing it” right.
In fairness, I did scan the same QR later using by backup scanner (from ShopSavvy) and it does trigger the dial prompt. In addition, Brookstone does warn in fine print that QR codes may not work on all devices.
The screenshot says it all:
There is a host of compounding problems here: The QR is a 29×29 size (supplied by the goo.gl URL shortener) and is more dense than it really needs to be). But the core issue is that the destination link is dysfunctional!
When mobile consumers request this link, the webserver fails to redirect to the right mobile page. This wouldn’t be a problem if Brookstone could change the destination of the QR. But now the QR is in production!
The destination link is broken, the shortened URL is broken, hence so is the QR in the catalog. Brookstone will likely be forced to implement a messy manual redirection scheme at the server to fix.
Google shortened this bad link (as http://goo.gl/pnv40). Since these stats are all public, you can see here that over 3,700 people have clicked this link or scanned the QR in the past month. Hopefully, Brookstone is checking their error logs and get automated notification of this problem, otherwise it will appear the QR is getting clicks, but no conversion!
The technical issues at play here inspired us to develop our URLgenius platform to help brands control their URL/QR destinations post-production without involving IT.
The third QR scanned leads to a store locator, which does offer location detection so consumers don’t have to type. Bonus! This page works without any issues. However, as in the prior example, the production QR here uses the goo.gl shortener (http://goo.gl/DSa1W). The problem is Google encodes QRs at a higher error correction setting than necessary, given the size of URL (19 characters). As a result, the QR that’s printed in the catalog is a 29×29 matrix, while a lower density 25×25 is achievable at that URL size.
The fourth QR in order is another goo.gl link, which means it’s a 29×29 harder-to-read QR (http://goo.gl/EEjlz). The link works fine and has been scanned over 3200 times (http://goo.gl/info/EEjlz).
The final QR has slightly confusing messaging – you’re encouraged to enter a drawing by downloading an app, but it’s not clear how you send gift cards from your phone, as promised in the print copy. That aside, the QR is a 25×25 bit.ly link (slightly better density than the goo.gl links), and has been scanned over 4,200 times by consumers (https://bitly.com/oS6xk7+).