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Author Andy Perrin
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Amazon’s ability to personalize consumer marketing is more powerful than you might realize. Of course there are the prompts on product pages offering items similar to those you’ve browsed and bought. But that’s just the start. The site also uses social info, shopping history and big data to determine if you’ve just had a baby or bought a new car. Once Amazon’s algorithms have determined your latest life change—big or small—the company’s powerful marketing levers will adjust and suggest a diaper bag or an upholstery cleaner that would be “just right” for you.

That level of customized messaging may seem wonderfully helpful—unless you’re a company competing with Amazon. Even if your products are sold on the site, a massive amount of data is collected about your customers and never passed on. Brands trying to develop a nuanced marketing program need to be smart about reaching customers. With QR codes poised to enter the mainstream, brands have a new opportunity to establish more direct customer relationships and access previously uncovered consumer data and insights. But if they don’t go about it the right way, they’ll run the risk of giving up control of their data, their customers and their products.

 

Mobile OS and Social Platforms Bring QR Codes into the Mainstream

As WIRED recently (and correctly) observed, QR codes were “just ahead of their time.” US consumer engagement with codes has been on a steady increase over the last four years, and millennials have proven to be particularly taken with scanning codes to share information. This behavioral trend is now set to skyrocket thanks to new, seismic shifts in the industry: mobile operating systems adding native QR code readers and the rise of codes on social platforms.

This month, Apple’s new iOS 11 will be available to more than one billion devices, which brings a native QR code reader to the Camera app—making it easier than ever for consumers to scan codes. Meanwhile, we’re seeing more and more codes on social platforms. Snapchat, Spotify and Facebook have all begun to utilize a customized QR code—sometimes called a “social code”—to help users connect with one another and pass content between friends.

These social codes bring the exciting potential for brands to connect with consumers. Reebok, for example, created customized exercise playlists that live on Spotify and can be shared with a code. And to celebrate the launch of the “Gilmore Girls” reboot, Netflix printed Snap codes on 10,000 coffee cups, resulting in nearly a million views on “Gilmore Girls”-inspired photo filters.

The advantage of using social codes is that they link to content within the platform, creating a cohesive user experience. Unfortunately, this upside is overshadowed by the many downsides. Like selling on Amazon, brands that use codes created by Snapchat, Facebook and Spotify are denied a direct connection to their customers. The majority of the user data that’s generated is owned by the networks, not the brands, which they can then re-purpose for their own benefit.

Just as important, social codes require that companies give up control of the user experience, diluting their own brands in the process. Each social platform also has its individual rules to follow and walled gardens to hurdle, and with multiple platform-specific initiatives, it’s incredibly difficult for brands to execute an always-on activation for their products. Finally, social codes do not connect to deeper information about the product from the brand’s manufacturing and distribution phases, meaning that brands miss out on significant opportunities such as showcasing provenance and or sustainability credentials of an item.

 

Smart Product Technology Lets Brands Take Back Their Customer Relationships

As brands look to wrestle back ownership of their customer relationships from Amazon and social platforms, it’s clear that they must take ownership of the codes themselves. Emerging smart product technology shows the path forward. By using a single, platform-agnostic QR code across their products, packaging and marketing campaigns, brands can reclaim ownership of their greatest asset—their products—as well as the customer experience and the associated data generated by consumers. Placing these QR codes on products—and connecting them to a cloud platform—allows brands to turn their physical goods into owned media channels that establish direct connections with their customers. In addition to breaking brands free from disintermediation, these smart products also allow brands to unlock new data sets that open up valuable opportunities across the product lifecycle such as supply chain visibility.

Today, direct customer relationships are no longer a “nice to have,” they’re essential for survival. Products serve as consumer goods brands’ best chance at establishing one-to-one connections with the customers—but only if they also own the data. Using their own codes on their products for consumers to scan, brands can reclaim their customers, build brand loyalty and unlock a wealth of consumer insights in order to fuel future marketing, innovation and business value.

In the modern digital age, data is power. It’s time for brands to take that power back.

Check out our tutorial on how you can use iOS native scanning capabilities to increase customer engagement with your products.

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