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Mobile engagement POV: Use of QR Codes in Healthcare

Posted on Sunday, 13th March, 2011

Chances are your brand objective/strategies include a critical success factor such as: “Gaining SOV across emerging digital channels”. One channel you might be expanding into is mobile. Mobile channel engagement offers many ways to leverage a mobile device to deliver customized information requested by a consumer.

QR Codes/2-D Bar codes

One tactical aspect of mobile engagement that has been gaining momentum within consumer marketing efforts over the last year are the use of QR Codes /2-D Bar Codes. (QR= Quick response) This is not new technology. QR Codes/2-D bar codes have been around for decades. You may know them as or refer to them as “UPC symbols” most consumers are familiar with those bar codes since they exist on almost every CPG they purchase.

QR codes are commonly used in Japan. They offer much higher density encoding than standard bar codes and allow for higher amounts of data to be stored, with error correction in cases where parts of the bar codes get damaged/blocked.

When understanding technologies, it’s sometimes best to use a real-world reference to garner the “ah ha…” moment of figuring how to apply that to your own marketing efforts. How have you, a consumer (yes, we are all consumers) used this technology so far?

Ever go to a concert and get your ticket scanned? Board an airplane? Build a registry at Williams Sonoma for your bridal shower? Those are all unique identifiers, to you. Key word= unique, which equates to trackable and measurable.

Did you also know that many hospitals use scanners to register/track medicine from their in-house pharmacies to patients at POC (Point of Care)?

What makes QR Code utilization different now?

For the consumer: The world moves fast, and immediacy has become commonplace in the world of digital tools. Now, virtually every mobile device built on the iOS, Android or RIM platform not only has a camera built into it (including the new iPad2) BUT also have app stores which offer scanning apps like, ScanLife, Bakodo, Red Laser and StickyBits, which offer consumers a direct ON DEMAND connection to information they want.

Consumers are already utilizing QR Codes- real world examples:

(Click images to enlarge) Sourced from: PSFK: The Future of Mobile Tagging

Just because it’s cool, doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate or viable marketing idea. Who are QR Codes right for?

In this day and age with so much digital channel fragmentation, it’s important to understand your appropriate audience for your specific marketing efforts. With a plethora of behavioral data to guide us through strategic marketing placement, throwing mass marketing efforts against the wall to see what sticks no longer applies.

As certain audiences turn to digital channels for communication; specifically mobile, we need to go where the fish are.

QR code adoption rates across US demographics

(click on images to enlarge) Source: ScanLife Mobile Barcode Trend Report, December 2010

Now— what about healthcare?

Having already dived into *mainstream consumer use of QR codes, none of that should be dismissed when thinking about applicability with a specific industry such as healthcare. Remember; physicians and patients are “consumers” too (a point we sometimes forget) they are already using/becoming familiar with this technology in their everyday life— who’s to say they wouldn’t want to utilize for health-related purposes too?

*Note: until there is a report or a few published pilot results focusing on the adoption of QR Codes in the healthcare industry, we’ll have to get a bit more analytical than we’d like with a few sets of data to inform our opportunities.

Who’s using mobile technology/devices for health-related purposes?

With so much disparate data on this topic, I find myself defaulting to sources with the most credible research methodology and high n= such as Manhattan Research and The Pew American Internet & American Life Project.

The Pew Mobile Health 2010 was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal article and Susannah Fox, associate director of Pew, was quoted: “People really want to have contact with a health professional when they’re sick, and that’s not going to budge”.

But what is changing is the relationship people have with health information — they way they go about sourcing/searching/requesting information in regards to finding a local doctor or treatment center, treatment options, dosing, administration, patient assistance programs and peer support— and that is happening in the mobile space.

Thinking beyond the mobile URL; what other marketing initiatives exist with QR Codes?

I always start with 3 things:

1.  Brand objectives/marketing strategies (what are you looking to accomplish and how will you do it?)

2.  Reading behavioral/attitudinal insights of patients/physicians in certain therapeutic categories to ascertain their wants, needs and how they want
to be communicated to.

3. Understanding the overall functional utility that a mobile device/platform offers to communicate with target audience

Some ideas to think about:

Understanding what success looks like

Tracking, *measurable engagement, and most importantly a way to effectively bridge consumer’s use of traditional print marketing with mobile engagement. Most credible QR generator services like ScanLife offer dashboard tracking you can track campaign effectiveness metrics such as:

  • Time of scan
  • Location of scan (thanks to open source location-based APIs) to assess regional adoption
  • Type of mobile device scan originated on
  • # of scans resulting in customer conversion (conversion= your intended outcome for the customer to complete/participate in based on your marketing call to action—what is it you wanted them to do?)

*All metrics set in advance of the initiative launch will help set a benchmark to inform marketing efforts/considerations for appropriate regional/demographic usage for future mobile initiatives.

If you’ve followed the strategic framework for identifying your most impactful opportunities, and mobile fits within your marketing plan but you’re still skeptical, it never hurts to run a pilot. Pilot initiatives offer a small-scale approach to understanding promotional effectiveness of a specific initiative. The unique nature of the QR Code allows for inexpensive experimentation to garner rich learnings for future large-scale initiatives.

Important to note: once you’re sold on the idea to execute an initiative involving QR Codes—don’t forget about making sure the user experience is well mapped for an immediate, focused, singular engagement. (i.e. please don’t direct anyone to homepage of non-mobile optimized website, that has zero call to action!) Once you fail someone with a mobile experience, it’s very unlikely they will come back to see what you’re trying the next time. (Mobile UX: topic for future post in series of Mobile Engagement POVs).

I look forward to future conversation surrounding this specific mobile engagement tactic as more healthcare marketers become comfortable with testing out the technology with their audiences.


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