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  • 30 Aug 2012

QR code marketing – a sticky subject?

When a leading international brand owner turns to QR coding to market one of its products, the indications are that the technology and its acceptance has come of age. Nick Coombes visited the consumer goods producer and market leader in adhesives, sealants and surface treatments, Henkel, to meet Dr Salima Douven, the company’s new media manager responsible for consumer adhesives, and find out how the campaign was planned and executed.
 
With about 47,000 employees around the world, Henkel considers itself a leader in brands and technologies, and is one of the most internationally aligned German-based companies in the global marketplace.
 
Founded in 1876, Henkel operates in three business areas: detergents, which account for 29 percent of its business and includes Persil, Purex and Dixan; cosmetics, which accounts for 22 percent and includes Schwarzkopf, Dial and Syoss; and adhesives, which is the largest sector at 48 percent, and includes brands such as Loctite, Terson, Pritt, Metylan and Pattex.
 
It was the last mentioned of these brands that was chosen for QR code marketing, having evaluated the alternatives of PoS touchscreen, PoS shelf navigation, application videos and printed material. The manufacturer believed that an adhesive was a product that required explanation if it was to be used effectively, and the PoS is an important place to maximize benefit to the consumer.
 
Dr Salima Douven, Henkel’s new media manager for consumer adhesives, says: ‘We first had the idea of using QR codes on a product back in 2010, and chose Pattex, which we wanted to relaunch with new branding.
 
‘The concept was to imply that Pattex empowered the user to do a good job, and we redesigned the packaging to be more eye-catching and tactile, using less text and more illustrations to give easier assimilation of the information needed to use the product.’
 
The product proved ideal for QR coding, because it required information to be provided at various levels to ensure best usage, both in-store at time of purchase, and subsequently at home, where the product may reside in a cupboard for long periods without being needed. The use of a QR code allowed Henkel to simplify the packaging by reducing the printed text, which gave a less fussy and more attractive appearance, while providing more detailed information via the scanned code mark.
 
It faced the questions of how much information to give, what is the customer actually looking for and can this be presented on one mobile website, or does it require more?
 
The need was to explain usage, for example, that Pattex is a contact glue that needs to be applied to both surfaces to adhere correctly. A QR code can do this, but it needs to be product-specific.
 
‘Since the Pattex brand covers an extensive range of products, we also wanted to be able to give guidance on its full capacity – and we saw the opportunity to use QR coding as a gateway to more information about our company’s products, rather than it being an end in itself, which is more typical of traditional forms of marketing,’ she added.
 
Market testing
Between March and July 2010, Henkel began to test-market the new pack designs. Wanting to keep the space required for the QR code as small as possible, to prevent it dominating the image, especially on small format packs, a key decision was how much information to hide in the code and how much to print on the pack.
 
Certain products in the Pattex range required a more clever solution, so it was decided to print the QR code on those products under a peel-off label. Equally, there is a minimum size for the printed code if it is to work effectively and consistently – 2.5 sq cm was chosen initially, though this size can be slightly reduced now.
 
The next task was to establish a mobile strategy for code scanning, and of those investigated, which included mobile optimized websites and apps, mobile sites were preferred. Likewise, QR codes were chosen ahead of augmented reality, Bluetooth, SMS, and MMS, and smart phones were preferred to tablets.
 
Creating a mobile site requires a virtual storyboard. Beginning with the promotional phase, which saw a “Pattex Hero” created, the mobile site went on to allow the viewer to select different materials by clicking an icon, followed by an insight area that gave useful hints, including how to use the product on different materials, an overview of other related topics, and finally a link to other sites within the same product category.
 
‘With an international product, we also had the problem of language to overcome, so the mobile websites needed to cater for up to 10 additional ones. This can be accommodated by making the packaging tri-lingual, and then directing the user to his or her own language via the QR code itself.’
 
Phase one of the campaign was launched in 2010 in 11 European countries, and combined with phase two in early 2011 to include 29 mobile pages, which summarized QR coding with separate pages per sub-category. By phase three, launched towards the end of 2011, there were over 200 products (SKUs) with QR codes in 11 different languages across 14 countries in Western Europe.
 
Product diversification
With early results looking promising, Henkel began to consider other products for QR coding. ‘Different products require different usage, so the mobile website needed to reflect this with its content.
 
Some of our adhesives are straightforward to use, while others require greater explanation, so we needed to ascertain what information the customer would find most useful for each product,’ says Douven.
 
The problem initially was how to overcome the psychological barrier of scanning the QR code. The concept was new, and available only to those with the correct type of mobile phone.
 
The reward was more detailed information about the product and an explanation of its uses, but this was of little value without a ready acceptance of the technology.
 
Smartphone growth
Fortunately, the launch coincided with the growth in smartphone uptake, which currently sees Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android dominating, and three manufacturers accounting for 90 percent of market share. With acceptance of new technology largely a generation issue, what is clear is that products suited to younger age groups will, at least in the early days, be better suited to QR code marketing.
 
‘It’s difficult to accurately compare costs with more traditional methods of marketing because it depends on how ambitious you aim to be with QR. Our concept cannot be seen as a one-time campaign approach, and deserves proper preparation. It has a longer lifecycle because it’s more of an ongoing concept and is therefore less topical.’
 
There is no doubt that Henkel sees QR coding as a valuable tool in its marketing mix for a whole range of consumer products, but one which clearly has a learning curve all of its own. ‘In hindsight, we might have been better to pilot it, rather than roll-out across Western Europe simultaneously – it would have allowed us to see how a small sample product and market interact – but we’ve learned that it’s the pace with which smartphone usage is growing that is the most significant factor.’
 
On the positive side, Douven says QR coding is innovative and a good fit with the rebranding of Pattex, which was the original plan. And, as smartphone usage increases, the acceptance of this marketing technique will allow wider usage, especially on more complex products where extra information is valuable.
 
‘We evaluate each product’s suitability for QR coding and focus on appropriate target groups. We have to ask if the brand supports QR and how relevant it is to integrate this type of marketing – if there’s no added value, it would probably be less successful.’
 
And while reluctant to divulge actual sales figures since the adoption of QR code marketing for Pattex, Douven made it clear that Henkel considers the project to have been successful.
 
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