What was the year? 2009? 2010? QR codes were ‘the next big thing’. They had such great promise. Turn any print advertisement, packaging or promotional experience into a digital touchpoint.

Richer engagement. Richer analytics. But they never delivered. (Some people perpetually say ‘next year’ is the year for mass adoption).

But there is one technology that comes pre-installed on 100% of handsets and which can exceed both the engagement and analytics that QR codes promised.

The problem with QR codes

qrcode

The biggest barrier is ubiquity. A majority of smartphones don’t come with QR code readers pre-installed.

Even for consumers who go get the app, the steps involved have massive drop off rates: finding the app, loading it and lining up the image to get it in focus.

Let’s face it, no real person knows what a QR code is or how to use it. You and I might, but we’re digital marketers.

Real people don’t.

Poor old QR codes.

How to achieve what QR codes promised

Luckily for us marketers, there is a great alternative technology out there that real people know how to use. That technology? SMS.

You’re about to press the back button or close the tab, but trust me on this one, this is SMS like you haven’t seen it before.

Imagine any use case you’ve ever seen for a QR code, but with an SMS call to action instead.

Like O2 Telefonica uses in its TV ad below.

O2 Freedom - YouTube

(It’s worth noting that almost every mobile carrier uses SMS as their direct response call to action. They know a thing or two about mobile marketing)

But where SMS really excels these days is in auto-responding to SMS with a branded message and web link.

These links deliver the two key promises of QR codes (this is the most important part of the article):

  • Rich Experiences: SMS responses can link to signup forms, surveys, competitions, videos, maps, social sharing, click-to-call buttons and much much more. By adding an SMS call to action (instead of a QR code), every type of web engagement you can think of can now be delivered through print, outdoor, TV and radio.
  • Rich Analytics: With rich web experiences comes rich web analytics. Individual responses (for follow up and re-marketing) and real time location and device data can be tracked. 

Don’t underestimate SMS

It may not be “the next big thing”, but here’s a quick refresher on SMS as a marketing too.

  • 6bn text messages are sent every single day in the United States alone.
  • 100% of smartphones sold today have the SMS app pre-installed.
  • The average American teenager sends a staggering 2,000 text messages sent every month.

When compared to a traditional web based call to action, SMS Direct Response campaigns received 325% more responses from consumers.

Attract TV viewers to your website

This case study shows how one business tried two calls to action on their TV ads.

One said “visit our website to enter the competition” and the other said “send an SMS to enter the competition”.

The SMS call to action generated 325% more entries than the web-based call-to-action, making up 52% of the total entries, though it ran in only 25% of the ads.

Now imagine that response rate on any future campaign you run.

Every single customer could get an SMS reply with a link to a signup form, an ecommerce purchase page, a PayPal donation button, a Facebook page.

Companies like SparkPage Media, Text Local and Mobile Commons make it very easy to set up campaigns like this.

SMS 2.0

When I first saw QR codes I was excited. They had a lot of promise. But, as is so often the case, they fell down at the details.

SMS was exciting too. It was widely adopted and had huge response rates. But with only 160 characters of text it was a limited channel.

The smartphone age is about to marry the promise of these two technologies.

That should make us very, very excited.