Guest blog for My QR Code Generator
As a copywriter who sometimes works with the food and beverage industry, I see the retail landscape changing before my eyes in a number of ways – some subtle and nuanced, and some blindingly obvious. In my recent article for Food Dive website, I explored how the environmental and sustainability agendas are creating new ‘woke’ consumer priorities – which has meant the packaging we see on our consumer products changing too. The very nature of the relationship between consumer and manufacturer has shifted in recent years. I use packaging to get across a product’s message and information the consumer needs to know – and the importance of this will never change. But what is evolving is the medium this content is viewed in. If packaging is reduced or disappears, then so could my content.
Allow me to introduce one of the leaders of this seismic shift – the QR Code. Originating in the automotive industry of tech-savvy Japan, this 2D scannable label has the ability to take the consumer-manufacturer relationship to a whole new level.
Consider the sheer amount and variety of information that customers demand from their product labels today; when we buy our food, drink and other consumer goods we are more aware than ever of where it comes from, what its carbon or other footprint might look like, whether it’s good for us, and a plethora of other things we might want to know about. This tide of information threatens to overwhelm the label size – as a copywriter who has to fit my words around logos, images and regulatory information, I’m interested in ways of moving the conversation off packaging and on-line. QR codes provide a great way of doing this.
This is a very fast-moving area. A forecast from FMI predicted that growth in the QR industry would average an impressive 8.7% in the years between 2019 and 2027. To stay relevant and continue their growth in the long term, QR coders know they need to keep offering the right content to the right people – and in the right place. They need to find the right mix of ethical information, sustainability data, marketing content, and nutritional facts – or people simply won’t scan. If they’re just going to be given an advert then this wastes a prime opportunity that manufacturers have to engage, educate, persuade and entertain – just the thing that us copywriters are employed to do. QR codes are now also increasingly customisable, with graphic designs and colours to suit individual brands – they’re even able to include logos or text inside them.
What people really like (and I include myself in this) is to be given something unique that isn’t available elsewhere that you really value – a voucher for exclusive limited edition products, or maybe you get free access to an event or gig, or perhaps you see some footage from the production line, an interview with the farmer who grew your coffee beans – or how about your favourite celeb consuming the product and confiding in you something you wouldn’t otherwise know? This really moves the relationship forward, off the supermarket shelf and into people’s lives. When manufacturers start to see that consumers are not just money-givers but that they have lives and needs and fears, they can build relationships with them in a far more nuanced and valuable way than shouting at them from a brightly coloured packet.
The journey that QR codes have been on has not always been smooth, just like any new concept. There were concerns that they may exclude some poorer or more elderly consumers who don’t have smart phones, or that it would mean a lot of scanning of products on every shopping trip. These are valid concerns but are not really based in fact. It’s true that not everybody has a smartphone, but then again not everyone has the internet, a phone, or a TV – and all of these can give important information. Most in the industry aren’t advocating getting rid of all hard and fast packaging and wording – labels, leaflets and posters still have an important role, at least for now. The e-book didn’t get rid of all your books on the shelf – so neither will the QR code industry send someone to remove your labels. But they can provide a window through which you can see a much greater array of content. And as for scanning every item on every trip in every shop? Well, 95% of what we buy each week does not change – people will only scan a product if they want to justify to themselves a change of allegiance to another brand, or perhaps they heard a claim in the media that they want to investigate for themselves to allay their concerns about the credentials of a product.
Of course, it isn’t just consumers who benefit here. Wholesalers and retailers monitor stock more efficiently using QR codes, providing extra levels of reassurance to consumers about product history. And although uptake is strongest in richer nations, there is significant opportunity in the regions of Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa as their populations grow in size, affluence and awareness. There will be continuing opportunities too with the growing global logistics industry, driven by the boom in online shopping.
In the food and drink sector, QR codes have a particular advantage over other forms of labelling – namely their 30% damage-tolerating ability. If part of the code is ripped when crates are packaged together in rough seas, or it is soiled by leakage from over-ripe fruit, then they can still be scanned. (In fascinating tests on the Data Genetics blog, the durability and reliability of QR codes which had been damaged or altered in various ways was tested, giving surprisingly impressive results). They can also hold far more content than traditional barcodes.
You may be wondering whether QR codes can live comfortably alongside copywriters, when we rely on words rather than patterns as the tools of our trade. But QR codes are the vehicle in which consumers can access more of our work. We will always need (and be proud of) the well-crafted rhythm and expression that words give us – the basis for meaningful relationships with customers. But we need to place these words in the right arena – with the right amount of space for them to flourish – in order to do this. Sustainability, technology and time constraints are changing the way customers see and interact with packaging, and we must all stay ahead of the developing curve. QR codes can help us to do this.