Do you remember when QR codes hit the scene in the early 2000s? Marketers around the world added them to ad campaigns with the hopes of attracting thousands, if not millions, of views. The thought was that QR codes would make it easier to access information about a product or service than a website URL.
We all know what happened next. Many were quick to blame it on smartphone cameras and the need, at the time, for a separate app to read the codes. The more likely truth is that consumers didn’t see enough value to drive organic adoption from QR code promotions themselves.
It took a few years, but brands eventually switched gears and began using QR codes operationally instead. From concert venues to airline tickets, delivery tracking, return shipments, and more — QR codes have quietly crept into our everyday purchases and have become digital platforms that make us more efficient.
Now with safety concerns at play due to Covid-19, QR codes are being used by restaurants instead of physical menus. What once was a campaign novelty now has millions of consumers pulling out their phones to scan QR codes every day.
Why is something that initially failed working so effectively now? Because companies have seamlessly integrated it into their business operations.
New Tech Must Be Operationalized To Be Successful
Restaurants are no longer handing out menus, which ultimately forces QR code utilization. It takes more than just putting the QR code on the table, though. The restaurant staff has to encourage the desired behavior. It would be easy for customers to complain about the missing menu or ask the server what they have available. Instead, many restaurant employees have been trained to explain the new process and highlight how it provides a safer interaction.
The pandemic has forced businesses to get creative and try all sorts of new technologies. But, as we saw with QR codes, it isn’t until you operationalize the capabilities that utilization takes off. It is not a “launch it and they will use it” scenario. New technology should be woven into the fabric of what you do to reap the full benefits.
The auto industry is another great example that I have firsthand experience with through my work at Roadster. Many dealerships across the country have had the capability in place to sell cars online for years. The mentality that if you plug it into your website, customers will engage was definitely at play. However, like the early days of QR codes, they put the option out there, but it wasn’t folded into the operation itself. In fact, dealership personnel would often encourage people who started digitally to leave that process and head into the showroom for more information or to complete the transaction, putting the operation at odds with the technology itself.
Until the Covid-19 pandemic, when many dealerships could only sell online, digital retailing was seen as just a promotional vehicle. The pandemic forced dealerships to integrate it into their sales process with every customer in order to survive. Now, salespeople are using platforms like ours to send customers interactive deal sheets, walking them through their finance options and discussing the various service and protection plans available, all before the customer comes into the showroom.
Much like concert venues and airline companies, dealerships have realized that this digital capability has significant efficiency advantages. Not only have our clients seen a material reduction in consumer time spent purchasing a vehicle, but they can sell more cars per person due to the streamlined process that the technology has to offer.
Marketers Must Embrace The Right Mindset
As marketers, we need to have an operational mindset versus a promotional one when it comes to new technology. It isn’t easy, and it requires us to get involved in areas beyond our sphere of immediate influence. However, the results may pay dividends.
Start by mapping out your company’s existing process and find the friction points where the technology may provide the most benefit. Is there something that is being done manually that can be automated? Are there steps in the process that take longer than they should? In my dealership example above, time to purchase was the biggest pain point for both customers and salespeople. Consumers were spending several hours in the showroom, which limited the number of customers a salesperson could work with. Finding these friction points will open up the conversation around what is possible.
Once you have identified the friction point, the next step is gaining internal buy-in. Bring the observation to those involved in that task and get them on board. Let them be the voice of change across your organization. They’re likely to want to be the champions for the technology you are bringing to the table.
Last but not least, make sure everyone is trained properly on the new technology. This is a vital step in having a consistent experience that customers can rely on. As a marketer, this is huge — the last thing you want to do is promote something that your company cannot consistently deliver on!
Once new technology becomes the platform that the company leverages with every consumer interaction, utilization goes through the roof. These digital platforms can transform the customer experience and create efficiencies for your business that have positive long-term effects beyond the promotion itself.
So, the next time you come across new technology, ask yourself how it can be leveraged to streamline your business operations. Perhaps it is time to evolve the saying from “build it and they will come” to “operationalize it and they will use.” It may not sound as sexy, but isn’t marketing all about results at the end of the day anyway?