As communication options continue to emerge, merge and fade away, hospitality merchants must stay abreast of the changes and be ready to adapt, adopt or migrate away from one option in favor of another.
QR codes are a recent example. They have emerged as a way to connect with customers via customized messaging that takes advantage of the popularity of smart phones. But is the technology a possible solution to a variety of communication challenges, or a passing fad? Hospitality Technology talks to mobile marketing experts, technology trend setters and hotel and restaurant operators to find out about their experiences with QR codes and what the future is likely to hold.
Is the technology a good fit?
QR code technology shouldn’t be used just for the sake of using it, says Mike Osborne, chief operating officer of bieMEDIA (www.biemedia.com), an online marketing and media agency in Denver. Creativity counts. Hospitality operators should strive to find imaginative ways to use QR codes to yield quantifiable results.
The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale) started using QR codes in its new Club 27 teen center in June of 2012 and has thus far been received enthusiastically. “When teens check in, they receive a personalized welcome card, embedded with a QR code that welcomes them to the resort and invites them to Club 27 to begin a scavenger hunt,” Kim Cole, director of public relations, says. QR codes along the way can be scanned to help them in their search. At the end, they receive a certificate for a complimentary smoothie and appetizer poolside.
According to Osborne, when using QR codes, hospitality merchants “really should consider what the value is to the consumer.” Many applications, he says, don’t pass the “so what?” test. “There needs to be some ‘so-what’ identified,” he says, “whether that be coupons to the bar downstairs or whatever.”
Common mistakes to avoid
Kerri Smith is the director of mobility for iProspect (www.iprospect.com) a global digital marketing agency that works with hospitality clients including STA Travel, Mandarin Oriental, Motel 6, Cruises Only and The Leading Hotels of the World.
A common error with QR codes, she says, is placing them where they can’t effectively be used. “I’ve seen them on the subway here in New York and in airline magazines on planes when connections are not available,” she says. Marketers, she says, need to be preventing as many barriers to entry as possible.
Another area where marketers go wrong, says Smith, is failing to educate consumers about how to use QR codes. “There is a dichotomy between how many brands are using QR codes compared to how many users are actually engaging with them,” she says. “Overall penetration is still quite low.” Most users, she says, are still unaware that a downloaded app is needed to actually scan the code.
Al Copeland, Jr., is chairman of the board for Al Copeland Investments which owns a number of properties including Copeland’s of New Orleans (www.copelandsofneworleans.com). Copeland’s has used a QR code on its menu to direct guests to a mobile landing page that includes photos, ingredients and information on all of the restaurant’s dishes. Guests enjoy being able to see a photo of what they’re ordering.
More importantly, at Copeland’s guests aren’t left to figure out on their own what the codes are and how to access them. Servers are trained to help the guests use the codes. “A lot of people have mobile smart phones and really don’t know how to use them,” Copeland muses. “We teach them how to get to the app store, get the app and how to use the QR code.” Taking that simple step goes a long way not only toward ensuring that the QR codes will be used, but also in providing extra value to the customer. They’ve learned something new. “I think it’s an ‘a-ha’ moment,” Copeland states.
Still, despite what seems to be a growing popularity and visible prevalence of these codes in a variety of venues, some are predicting their demise.
What new options are on the horizon?
bieMEDIA predicted the end of the QR code in a news release in January, 2012, stating: “The short-lived and soon-to-be-antiquated ‘Quick Response’ codes will be replaced with mobile visual search, which provides consumers with faster, more convenient and compelling, interactive marketing experiences.”
Mobile visual search and near field communication (NFC) are receiving buzz lately as emerging technologies likely to eventually replace QR codes. But, says Smith, probably not in the near term.
“Mobile visual search is terrific in theory, though hasn’t proven to be how users prefer to engage,” she says. In addition, she notes, visual search requires specific programs to use, leading to fragmentation and making it difficult for marketers to take advantage of scale.
“NFC may be a good long-term solution, though it is dependent on user adoption of newer generation devices,” says Smith. “Currently, only a few of the newer Android devices (those produced late 2011 and beyond) are equipped with NFC. Though device turnover is shorter than it used to be, it will likely be three years before we can really take advantage of this.”
According to Smith, for now QR codes are still gaining in popularity. “So long as marketers are cognizant and respectful of best practices when executing, QR codes can be extremely effective and provide a concise and engaging experience to users,” she concludes.
5 Must-Read Tips for QR Code Success
Milestone Internet Marketing (www.milestoneinternet.com) offers some advice on the use of QR codes, including specific applications for hotel and restaurant operators.
1. Drive traffic to leave reviews, perhaps through the use of a code on the footer of the folio upon checkout.
2. Create a unique discount code available only to users that scan the code in the printed material.
3. Leave a QR code on a sample menu in a restaurant window linking directly to OpenTable, or to nutritional information for menu items.
4. Use QR codes to link to on-property maps.
5. Create games like treasure hunts that link from one QR code to another to encourage guests to explore the entire property.