You’ll have noticed these populating the corners of ads, blogs and websites. And maybe wondered, ‘What are they there for? and ‘What do they do?’.
They’re QR Codes, short for Quick Response Codes. Which is exactly why they work so well with SMS. Scanned through an app you can download on your smartphone, they’re not only eye-catching, but can hold a lot more information than the stripey supermarket bar-code.
Displayed on a press ad, for example, they are available for the mobile user to respond to right at the moment of impulse. Typically, they will direct the user off the page straight to a website (without all the bother of entering text), where the full promotional message can be displayed. Using all the persuasive effects of video, audio and flash animation.
‘Made in China’ not so cheap after all?
Are the Chinese paying more for their SMS? When nearly every manufacturer is sourcing their production from the Far East, SMS might be the one commodity that doesn’t work out cheaper.
The reason? While the standard 7-bit SMS message allows you 160 characters to play with, this is only true for languages using the Roman or Latin alphabet. Writing derived from other traditions uses the 16-bit Unicode, which limits overall length to 70 characters.
Unicode is based on an internationally agreed encoding system that allocates a unique number to every character, no matter what their platform or language. Because two bytes are allocated to each character, the message must be shorter. This is true for Arabic, Russian (Cyrillic), Greek, Hebrew and, of course, the Hanzi letter-forms used throughout China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
Given that China not only has a mobile penetration of 67%, but is the home of operator China Mobile (whose $77bn mobile business places it at the top of world rankings*), how has it managed to establish such a user base?
What we’re overlooking here is the pictographic tradition of this type of writing. Refined over centuries, in its original form this system was intended to represent a picture of the object described, which means that it can actually say more per character than letter-based systems. To wish someone ‘Happy Christmas’, for example, takes just three characters in Chinese. All of a sudden, that 70-character limit doesn’t look so bad.
But they’re also great when used with SMS. For example, the QR code can contain the advertiser’s phone number and a pre-written text message. When scanned, this phone number appears in the ‘To’ number field, with their message in the ‘Message’ field.
All the person scanning the code has to do is press ‘Send’ and the message will be delivered back to the advertiser as an SMS, along with the mobile user’s phone number. Because it’s a such a simple way of achieving an instant response from engaged consumers, the marketing potential is huge.
Possibilities include sales promotions, user support, product upgrades and registration. Incorporating mobile video, games and giveaways for the full multimedia experience. With the potential for the type of analytical tracking once possible only with online activity.
We hope we’ve deciphered some of the secrets of the QR code for you. Used creatively, it really can make your marketing jump off the page.
Of course, should you really need the extra length, you can always send what is called a ‘concatenated’ message. One that is actually sent as a series of short messages (and billed separately) to be joined up again when they reach the handset, where they appear as one unbroken SMS.
‘Concatenated’? We’re back to the Roman tradition here, with a term that is derived from ‘catena’, the Latin for ‘chain’. Even though these messages may be separated for sending purposes, they are still ‘linked together’. Ave atque vale. That’s Latin for ‘Hail and Farewell’.