The Virtue of Naked QR Codes

By | July 13, 2012

I decided this morning that I like my 2D mobile barcodes naked.

I decided that when I saw the Sherwin Williams postcard advertising the company’s new line of paint. There was the Microsoft Tag, just hanging out there all by itself. No incentive. No text telling me how to use it. Just the Tag surrounded by empty space.

That violates all of the best practices of 2D mobile barcodes, so why do I like it? There are two reasons.

The first reason is personal. I don’t like marketing pitches and incentives. Either I’m interested in the product or the subject matter or not. Unless it’s something very obscure, I’m smart enough to figure out the difference very quickly.  In this case, we’re looking to do some serious painting in the next few months, so regardless of whether there was text or not, an incentive or not, I’m interested in where that takes me.

So I like the simplicity.

The second reason is marketing. Okay, so it violates all the best practices, but you know what it does? It qualifies the respondent very quickly. There is a certain type of respondent who will scan a code without any explanatory text or incentive. It’s someone who is either very interested in responding via mobile or someone very interested in the product. Either way, it’s a far more qualified respondent than someone who — at this point in the lifecycle of QR Code adoption — is still needing instructions in order to use them.

In my case, Sherwin Williams got a double benefit from me. Not only did I go to the mobile-optimized page, but I also downloaded the ColorSnap color matching app and the Picture It Before You Paint app — almost guaranteeing that we’ll buy Sherwin Williams paint when the project is a go.

So do I like my 2D barcodes naked? Yes, I do, and sometimes, marketers should, too.


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7 thoughts on “The Virtue of Naked QR Codes

  1. michael jahn

    and – you actually went out and painted some wall ? I mean, did you buy some paint ? I am sorry, but I did paint three weeks ago, and unless this add told me “get 50% off” or gave me some reason to scan it – why would I ?

    The last time i bought paint – we ( my wife, the twins ) went to home Depot – all together – ‘to pick out a color”. I don’t think – even if i did happen to capture that “Microsoft Tag” or “QR Code” or what have you, it would have caused Angela not to pick the purple she wanted. She had a Disney magazine in her hand. We talked about Lab values. We found the one that matched the best ( it was a Glidden )

    So, color me “NOPE” on naked codes. Sorry, but would you clip a coupon from a newspaper add that simply said “CHICKEN” ?

    No, you would not.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Hi, Michael.

    I guess that’s what makes me a qualified prospect for this particular Sherwin Williams campaign and you not! 🙂

    Notice I didn’t say a qualified prospect for paint — period. I said for Sherwin Williams. If Sherwin Williams had wanted to lure people in with discounts, it would have put one on the direct mailer. It didn’t. It used a naked Tag instead. Why? If Sherwin Williams was thinking it through — and based on the mobile site to which the Tag points, I would say that it did — my guess is because it was looking for a specific kind of prospect. It was looking for the kind of prospect who is in need of color matching and visualization services and premium paint.

    In our case, we are looking to relocate, and when we buy something, it’s going to be an old home — mid-1800s brick, stone, or old farmhouse. We are looking for historic colors and the kind of rich, complex color combinations you see in renovated (as opposed to remodeled) home. This is a very different set of needs, and a very different buyer, than someone looking to paint a child’s bedroom.

    Very often, marketers will do things like this simply to get a qualified contact base. For example, they will use augmented reality, not because they really want to sell people something during that campaign, but because they are trying to qualify a demographic base for something else. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Sherwin Williams was doing something like this. Or at least was simply trying to reach a very specific demographic this time.

  3. Fadel Iskander

    It really doesn’t make any difference whether naked worked for Heidi (or Michael) or not. What matters most is whether it worked for SW.

    I would be interested in knowing if SW (or their marketing firm) is willing to share the results: Does naked work (for them)?

  4. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Are you throwing down on me, Fadel? If so, I accept. I’ll see if I can track down some results from Sherwin Williams. If I find anything, I’ll definitely report back.

  5. thomaus

    My guess is that you were already in the qualified contact base list and that’s why you got the postcard. The page pulls up with Preferred Customer displayed and in the URL. Hope you entered to win the iPad. Good chance that the number of entries will be low. (I am impressed that I was able to read the code off the JPG on screen. It was pretty fuzzy. And now I have a third barcode reading app on my iPhone – because I didn’t previously have one for Microsoft Tag.)

  6. Dave

    I have always suspected that QR codes are pushed by the industry on a
    population who overwhelmingly could not care less. I saw another blog
    article this weekend touting the success of QR marketing campaign
    which resulted in a quantifiable sale to 14 out of every 100,000 folks
    who held the ad in their hands, snapped the QR code, got a coupon, and
    then bought something. So if you have any luck contacting someone at
    Sherwin Williams who can give you information about this please ask
    them these questions:
    • Assuming that the bar code pointed to in the mailer was trackable, is the printed URL link ( a trackable printed URL? If I were going to construct this marketing campaign I would want to know how many customers typed in the URL rather than snapping the bar code.
    • How many postcards did they send out? How many people used the bar code? Did they use a control group of cards without a bar code? What was the percentage of folks who hit the website from that card? Was it the bar code that drove the response or the product on the card that sparked a response?
    • Why did they choose to use the “non-standard” bar code (i.e. not QR)? I have seen many of this type of bar code on the little stakes placed in potted plants, but I have never once been able to get my phone to recognize any of this type of bar code. I stood in a store once and downloaded three different apps onto my phone. None of them would read the bar code. I could not read this bar code either. That could be because it’s a fuzzy jpg image, but more likely I still have no app on my phone that will read it. Given the low of a percentage of folks who will use QR, the type of code they used cuts out another 80% of the audience.

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