Leveraging a Quick Response for Social Media Strategy: QR Codes and Readers

QR Code
In healthcare, technology and marketing go hand-in-hand. Think of how recent technologies opened up new marketing opportunities: arthroscopy, open MRIs, digital mammography – all had ramifications for widening our audience and changing the messages we shared about our services. A new technology that has the potential to open up new opportunities in terms of distributing and sharing information and engaging patients is the QR Code.

What is a QR code?

A QR code, short for “quick response” code, is similar to a bar code except it can be easily read by mobile phones and can store much more information, like URL links, text, phone numbers and geo-coordinates. The barcode-like data matrix consists of a pattern of black squares on a white background, with larger squares at three corners. The white border is part of the code.

QR codes can be read by smart phones, mobile phones with cameras and specialized scanners. The QR code was developed in Japan to inventory car parts, but has spread to many other applications. It has emerged as a marketing tool in Japan and Korea and parts of Europe, and is quickly emerging as a new marketing tool in the U.S. market.

It looks like this:

Why are QR codes useful to marketing professionals?

As media choices grow, there are a staggering number of ways to reach target audiences, yet audiences have become highly segmented. However, the commonality that nearly all audiences share is that they have a cell phone.

Pew Research Center reports that 82% of adults own a cell phone. The adoption of smart phones is so rapid that Nielsen projects that by this time next year, there will be more smart phones in the U.S. market than feature phones. The prevalence of cell phones and the availability of free software applications have made the cell phone increasingly useful as a marketing tool, especially when paired with QR code technology.

How could QR codes benefit hospital marketing?

QR codes can be used for a variety of uses in hospital marketing.

Enhance Print Campaigns

Used on business cards, posters, newsletters or any print materials, QR codes direct people to additional information without requiring them to type in or remember a complicated URL. QR codes can bring your print ads to life. For example, an ad introducing a new physician could use a QR codes to direct readers to a YouTube interview with that physician.

Engage Your Community

Community relations and outreach programs can get a boost from QR codes. For example, consider a hospital’s annual 5K fun run/walk. Work with your sponsors to add QR codes to the walk’s route for increased engagement. Codes can direct walkers to: a sponsor’s website where they will donate a fixed amount for each entry; or to a digital coupon for a free Gatorade at the local grocery store (preferably just before they round that corner near the store) or a coupon at the race’s end for a free dinner at a local restaurant.

Introduce a New Service or Facilities

Marianne Aiello wrote about Middle Tennessee Medical Center and their use of a QR code in an ad promoting their building campaign. Although a traditional ad, next to their QR code they explain, “To experience the new Middle Tennessee Medical Center, use a free QR code reader on your smart phone. For Android devices, use ZXing from the Android Market. For iPhones, use the AT&T scanner from the App Store.”

Support Patient Health

What if every CPAP from your sleep center or every breast pump from your birthing center were marked with their own QR code that linked the patient to instructions on how to use it and a direct contact number at the hospital for who to contact in case there are questions?

Promote Education

There’s no other group that is more active on their cell phones than teens, so consider creating a QR code-based education program. Creating a high tech mystery game may just be the ticket to having teens learn about nutrition, steroid use, eating disorders, sexual health, mental health or other important topics.

Consider joining forces with your local high school and having their students participate in a school-wide, semester-long scavenger hunt for health information and use QR codes to lead them to the hospital website to find the answers to questions and more resources.

Foster Dialogue, Interaction and Buzz

Use a mall kiosk to pose a question and use a QR code to direct passers-by to online resources. For example, for breast cancer awareness month ask, “How many minutes does it take to get a mammogram?”  Then link the QR code to the hospital’s online resource for women.

Interactive Directories

Add QR codes to in-hospital directories to give people directions to the office and phone numbers, hours of the pharmacy or even the menu of the cafeteria. Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Florida blogged about why they started a QR code program throughout their hospital.

What other benefits do QR codes offer?

  • Connect your offline marketing efforts with your online efforts.

Using QR codes, you can direct people to your website, Facebook page, YouTube video channel…anywhere you have an online presence.

  • Ease your customers to online content.

Because of the ease to get to your website (no typing required), it removes an obstacle for people to get to your online content and increases the likelihood that they’ll access it.

  • Simplify the look of your print materials.

No more long and awkward URLS to print (your graphic designers will thank you!).

  • Reduce paper waste.

Conference agendas, employee handbooks, anything that can be uploaded to the web can now be accesses via a free QR code.  This can help you meet your sustainability goals while saving on printing costs.

  • Metrics through analytics. Google and Bit.ly provide a QR Code for each shortened URL generated.
  • It’s free!

How can I enable my phone to read QR codes?

Simply equip your phone with a reader. Some newer phone models have readers built in, but for most phones, you’ll have to download a free app. AT&T has their own, Mirascape, QR Reader, Inigma, ScanLife, Kaywa, Zxing and QuickMark are some. Here’s a link to more of the top QR reader applications. You can read which ones work best with your phone. Some reader applications do cost, but you can get a perfectly functional one for free, and install it in just a minute or two. If you have five more minutes to spend, there’s an informative YouTube video comparing five apps for the iphone.

How do I generate a QR code?

There are many commercial sites that will generate a code for you for free: Kaywa, Zxing, QR stuff, i-nigma, delivr, mobile barcodes, BeQRious, and even Google.

The future of QR codes

In Japan, where they started, and in Korea and parts of Europe, QR codes have been used in campaigns for Volvo, Pepsi and building-sized codes are on two museums in Germany and England. Ellie of RBtech has a straightforward video about QR codes and, near the end, she walks down a New York City Street reading them with her phone.

Like any other new digital tool, QR codes are only as useful as the marketing strategy that supports it; but the possible uses are as plentiful as the creative strategists that employ them. How will your hospital use QR codes in marketing efforts?

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  1. […] website where they can get complete information on their new medication? Consider printing a QR code directly on the sticker to make it easier to locate the […]

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