March 8, 2012

QR Makes Conference Mobile-Friendly

Posted March 8, 2012 by Brian Klais

The AMA annual marketing conference held in Madison this week, may have been a small event by national standards, but it was special to me – partially because I had the pleasure of keynoting, but also because it presented a great home-town opportunity to test a QR use-case I’ve wanted to see tried for some time.

The QR Conference Hypothesis

If you’re anything like me, when you attend business conferences, you really dislike lugging around heavy agenda catalogs, right? As an environmentally concerned citizen, you may also feel a sense of guilt even receiving these tomes – knowing you’ll soon be throwing away so much wasted print material.

As a mobile-toting professional and business insider, I’ve begun to wonder recently what would happen if conferences mobilized their “product” for their customers – nearly all of whom carry their smartphone device during conferences.

The benefits of integrating QR technology with conference materials seem compelling:

  • Reduced print cost
  • On-demand mobile access to content
  • Potential to drive dynamic engagement – be it to the conference social profiles,  local venues (via Maps), or even video consumption
  • Greater potential for post-conference digital engagement
But how would these play out in reality?

AMA: The “Paperless” Conference Test

After being asked to kick-start this year’s conference, I was intrigued to hear how the progressive home-town AMA-Madison organizers were already planning to go “paperless” with their conference agenda – keeping the single-day conference agenda to merely one page. That meant there wouldn’t be enough room to print each session description, speaker bio, or links to slides within the one page document. Attendees would be required to get that information from the website.

This added up to a perfect opportunity to test my hypothesis, and for the AMA to demonstrate mobile leadership! (As I would cover in my keynote, Think Mobile First, 20% of smartphone consumers scanned QR codes last year, 73% of the time scanning for more product information. In a conference setting, that means session info, bios, and slides.)

AMA Conference QR

So Pure Oxygen happily supplied a QR Code to help connect mobile attendees with the session info web page.

This QR was integrated in two locations:

1) The upper right side of the printed agenda, printed at approximately 1.5″ x 1.5″ dimensions for scanning from short distances.

2) On the breakout session posters outside each room, printed at approximately 3.5″ x 3.5″ for scanning from further distances.

(Technical specs: The QR code’s density was minimized using Pure Oxygen’s URL shortening/management technology. The URL was converted at low Error Correction settings into a 25 x 25 QR that used 27% fewer characters than the destination page URL. And unlike standard URL shorteners, Pure Oxygen’s QR gave the AMA the ability to control the QR should the destination page change later.)

Immediately above the QR were instructions with an implicit call-to-action reading “Session info, bios, slides.” No additional instructions were provided by the conference organizers or sponsors to drive usage.

(See the 2012 agenda with QR here.)

QR Adoption Results & Conclusions

What we found was that 26% of attendees scanned the QR (as in uniques) during the conference. But earlier during my keynote I polled the audience to find out how many had a smartphone with them. Approximately 75%-80% of the roughly 85 attendees affirmed. If my count was accurate, that means that as a percentage of smartphone-owning attendees, roughly 35% scanned the QR where the payoff was simply to gain more information – as opposed to cashing-in on some advertising gimmick.

To put it in context: that QR “conversion rate” is 175% greater than the percent of US smartphone owners who reported scanning QR codes in 2011 (20%, according to Competitrack 2012). If my hunch is correct that most US marketers are ahead of the general population in smartphone adoption, I would conclude the QR hypothesis has been validated and that it’s time for more conferences to follow the lead of AMA-Madison in “Thinking Mobile First.”

How to accomplish that at larger scale certainly requires some strategy and technology to execute. But thanks to the folks at AMA-Madison and their progressive thinking, cooperation, and QR leadership, I believe conferences everywhere now have at least some no-risk proof points (and starter blueprints), on how QR technology can make their conferences more accessible, more dynamic, and more friendly to today’s mobile-first, environmentally-conscious consumers.



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