QR codes are now firmly back on the marketing table thanks to an increased presence and brands needing to gather more customer data. Discover what can be done with a simple square box.
Two years ago, market intelligence agency Mintel released their annual Global Packaging Trends report, which showcases the latest developments in the packaging industry. Alongside such evergreen topics as sustainability, the rise of e-commerce and the eradication of single-use plastics, the report highlighted connected packaging – the use of codes printed on packaging that can be scanned by a customer’s smartphone to receive exclusive information or content.
However, such predictions that connected packaging will take over the retail world have been around for years (the QR code was invented in 1994), and despite the efforts of companies and marketers the world over, it’s never quite taken off with the public. But with a number of factors currently in its favour, it looks like 2021 could be its year.
The quiet QR code revolution
Over the past 12 months, we have all got used to a number of new behaviours and habits. As well as the essential personal hygiene and health measures, new ways of working, socialising and shopping have required us all to learn new ways to interact with digital media. One of those ways is scanning QR codes.
It seems that the QR code has been the centre of a quiet revolution, becoming the simple solution to a number of complex challenges. From registering a Covid-19 test result to ordering lunch at your local restaurant, it offers a frictionless way to move people from analogue to digital in the blink of a lens. And the more people that use it, the more they become used to its presence.
“Due to Covid-19, QR codes and other digital enablers have become even more useful and much more visible in consumers’ everyday lives,“ said Amir Maslic, Product and Brand Manager at Emmi, Switzerland’s largest milk processor. “Traditional marketing activities have been on a downward curve, and with the pandemic set to continue this, brands are finding the new in the old.”
Frictionless data collection
The other key factor in the rebirth of the QR code is the need for brands to gather more customer data. With brands always seeking out new data sources, packaging presents a number of opportunities to understand who purchases and uses their products, as well as a chance to convert casual buyers into loyal customers. In return for some original, engaging content, a piece of packaging can be the first step to creating a strong relationship that can last for years.
While wrestling with the seismic shift in shopping habits and working practices, brands also have the headache of the major web browsers scrapping the third-party cookie. While this is welcome news for consumers keen to keep their browsing habits a secret from advertisers, it’s not great news for marketers who use programmatic advertising to frequently target their customers.
What connected packaging offers is customer permission from the very first click, with none of the irritation that comes from being tracked and followed all over the internet. A lot of information can be gathered just from a customer engaging with a piece of packaging, first-party data that’s considered more reliable and clean than from third-party cookies.
With all these factors in its favour, it’s unsurprising that a lot of brands are currently jumping on board the connected packaging bus, with Tetrapak, Kellogg’s, Vodafone, Unilever, Nestlé and Coca-Cola all exploring the medium’s potential. Taken with other forms such as NFC-enabled packaging, which embeds a near-field communication tag for instant smartphone connection, and wi-fi-enabled packaging, which connects directly to a wi-fi source to provide information via an interactive touchscreen, the future of connected packaging looks thrilling – for brands as well as customers. Watch this space.