In the past, I’ve written a little about Quantity Resource Barcodes - which are more commonly known as QR Codes. Over the past six months, I have been working more extensively with QR codes, looking at new ways in which these can be incorporated into plant signage and labelling.
A QR code is a special “two-dimensional” barcode which can be read by smartphones and tablets. QR codes are highly reliable: they can be read at an angle, from a distance, and even in lighting conditions that are not ideal. These days, most smartphones come preconfigured with QR code recognition software and there are plenty of free QR code recognition apps available for all makes and models of smartphones and tablets. Using QR code software is simply a matter of pointing your phone’s camera at a sign, billboard, or in our case a plant label, and giving the software one or two seconds to analyse what is seeing.
But why would anybody want to point their smart phone at a QR code? The reason for this is that QR codes encode links to the Internet. These links often point to web pages, but can also point to social media, YouTube videos, downloadable audio and pod casts, PDF files and manuals, or any other resource you can imagine. If it can be stored or displayed on the Internet, the QR code can link to it!
This means that your marketing and sales efforts are no longer tied to just what you can fit on a plant label, sign or even an advertisement in a magazine. In the virtual world of the Internet, you can provide whatever is needed to help your customers. So you can think of QR codes as gateways between the physical world and the infinite universe of the Internet.
Which brings me back to what I’ve been working on for the past six months: QR codes on plant labels. What started out as a pet project for my parent’s business, has become a fascinating journey into the many possibilities of linking physical labelling to online resources. Some of the ideas that we have generated are:
The most basic use of QR codes is for simple branding. Each QR Code can contain a link (also known as a URL or universal resource locator) to your website’s home page. This is ideal for landscaping services and retail and wholesale nurseries. Every label and sign that you produce can carry the same QR code which, when scanned by a smartphone, will take a customer to your homepage. Once at your homepage, the customer can see pertinent information about your company, such as the products and services you have, and most importantly your phone number and location!
If you decide to use QR codes for this purpose, be sure that your website is built using a “responsive” design. This means that your webpage will look fine on all devices, from small smartphone screens and tablets, to desktop PCs. Most new webpages are built using responsive design techniques. If you have an older website, you should first check to see how your homepage would look on a smart phone and tablet. If the page looks a mess, then you’ll need to postpone using QR code branding in this fashion until you get a new website, or develop a special page on your website just for mobile devices.
Expanding a Label to Plant Databases
A QR code can also point to a webpage that describes the plant being viewed in far more detail. The link could be to an online database. For example, you could have a QR code link directly to the Royal Botanical Gardens Sydney’s plant database, taking the reader directly to a page containing full information about the specific plant they are looking at. The benefit of this approach is that you do not need to have your own website to give your customers lots of information. And the more information people have, the more likely it is they are to buy.
Of course, you can create your own webpages for specific plants and host these on your website. The upside of this is that you can embed your own branding and local knowledge into the webpage. The downside is that you need to create individual webpages for each plant that you sell. For specialty growers and native specialists this is definitely worth the effort. Imagine how compelling it is to a buyer who scans a plant label and receives a webpage telling them exactly where and how to use the plant in their local area!
Worth 1000 words…
A picture is worth a thousand words. This is doubly true for flowering and ornamental plants! By using QR Codes on a plant label, you can take consumers directly to a number of images that show the plant in a variety of settings and seasons. The easiest way of doing this is to upload various pictures of the plant into an album of a photo sharing service such as www.flickr.com or www.instagram.com. The customer can scan a label’s QR code and immediately see the beauty of the plant in all seasons, along with any comments you, and potentially others, have made about the plant. The beauty of this approach is that it’s free and easy to maintain.
Being of Service
The above uses of QR codes are relatively simple. Powerful, but simple. You’re basically pointing the user to a webpage that gives information about your business or the plant itself.
However, if you want to build a deep and ongoing connection with your customers – and who doesn’t? – then you should consider how QR codes can help you be of service to the customer and their community.
One of the challenges of the nursery industry over the past decade has been the declining number of hobbyists. While gardening is of interest, skills are lacking. Just like cooking in the past decade, gardening needs an injection of youthful enthusiasm and passing on of skills. This gives you an opportunity to educate the next generation of gardening enthusiasts.
You can use QR codes to direct your customers to a range of online “gardening classes” and “plant care workshops.” These online resources can be webpages hosted on your website, where your experts write about gardening and plant care. Make sure there are lots of photos and illustrations. Consider videos of how to prune, water, and apply fertilisers. These educational resources give you the following benefits:
First, they provide a potential buyer with a tangible course of action, turning the buying of the plant they are holding in their hand, into a small project. The customer will begin to think immediately about how they will plant it, how it will look in the garden, and how they’ll go about raising it to a thing of beauty! The plant in their hand becomes aspirational.
Second, having this type of content on your website is what is known as “Google juice.” It is great information that can improve your website’s ranking in Google. Google loves detailed educational content.
Third, the detailed plant care tips not only give a novice gardener the confidence to buy the plant, but also creates an opportunity to sell other plant care products, such as gardening tools, fertilisers, and soil wetters.
Fourth, and most importantly, this education encourages repeat business because once the consumer recognises your retail centre as giving good advice, they will return to shop with you, both online or in person.
Building a reputation
You can also use QR codes to link customers to social network pages that you create on Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Google+. This is particularly effective for labels on specialist plants or collectables. Now people can have a direct line of communication to you, the expert grower, to discuss various products, plant care, or even just to rave about the exotic plant they purchased from you.
Social networks magnify your reputation and the more people communicate with you via your QR codes links, the more people hear about you. Again, it’s all about being of service to your customers and having them spread the word.
In conclusion, I encourage every grower – especially native and specialty growers – to consider a strategy to link their labelling and signage with a “being of service “ sales and marketing campaign. QR codes are an incredibly powerful tool in this strategy.
Joseph Sweeney, aka, the Green geek, has recently developed the TyTags Online Labelling solution to provide online creation of labels, including QR codes options.