Evidence-based construction marketing: Do the new QR and SMS technologies really work?

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My earlier blog post about QR codes and Bluetooth Proximity marketing

Yesterday, two distinctive and unrelated events caused me to think about construction marketing’s possibilities and follies.

On the advice of my general practitioner, I’ve been seeing an allergist once a year to determine if I should receive an annual treatment where I visit the GP for a supervised allergy shot once a week for several weeks initially, then once every three weeks through the year.  The allergist sells the annual treatment for about $320.00, a good business with a built-in repeat client base.

This old-fashioned treatment (it has been around for many years) co-exists with antihistamines and other drug-based therapies.  In a way, it is highly inefficient, when you consider the  cost (in time and money) in seeing your doctor for more than 20 visits a year.

But the treatment is effective.  My allergies are much less severe than they have been before.  Government medical insurance covers all of the doctor’s visits, so the $320 annual fee is the only annual cash expense.  And, as I mentioned to the allergist, the ability to see my general practitioner frequently, when I am not really ill, allows for some incredibly effective preventative medicine:  If I have concerns about a seemingly minor but potentially serious problem, I can ask about it right away.

Fair enough.  However, in the past year, other family members reported they have discovered they have had hidden food allergies and, with diet changes, are noticing real improvements in their lives.  At one of my visits to my GP, I asked him about the food allergy issue.  He said he doesn’t see a problem, but I could ask the professional allergist at my annual appointment.  So, just before leaving, yesterday, I asked him.  “Oh, that (food allergy stuff) is not evidence based.  Its a marketing ploy to get you to buy stuff, like wheat-free products,” the allergist said, exasperated, sounding like he’s heard the story before many times.  In just a few seconds, he strived to debunk the sincerely-held beliefs of many people around me, including some highly intelligent family members.

I didn’t fight him.  His “shots” treatment has been highly effective and I know there is a lot of pseudo-science crap out there in the alternative medicine/foods marketing space.   (Then again, with marketing dollars, lawyers and patents, conventional drug companies sometimes foist dubious products and overpriced medicines on the public.)

I thought about these matters late last night as I opened an email from a marketing company seeking publicity for a variation of the sign response”approach — where you view lawn signs and can take a responsive action.  In this case, the business is promoting the concept of SMS or text message codes, which take visitiors to a special mobile phone promotional home page.  The marketer says they can provide QR (Quick Reader) codes, as well, but claims these are far less effective, citing evidence”that most people have phones which aren’t quite smart enough for QR code use.

The marketer offers a referral program for his monthly service, which means, if I pitched it and you purchased, I would get a cut of the money.  But I hesitated.  Where is the evidence that this stuff really works?  Can I rush out and recommend it to you right now?  It seemed, to me, one of the litany of sign-marketing programs, dating back from the days when marketers would sell low wattage radio transmitters, which you would access after seeing the sign, or technologically much more simple “Take One” boxes, where you can place your brochures, business cards or other printed marketing material.

However, the “where’s the evidence that this stuff really works” takes on a bigger meaning when you realize that the marketers should have no trouble providing evidence of effectiveness for the SMS or QR Code approaches.  After all, software should be able to quite clearly track the number of “hits” and inquiries and conversions. So, why isn’t this marketing service provider giving us that kind of data?  Maybe, I fear, because the results would not impress anyone.  (Because I’m speaking less-than-positively, I won’t identify the specific organization.  They may prove me wrong, in which case I’ll write an enthusiastic and positive blog profile — and tell you all about the service.)

We may need to allow some time for these services’ effectiveness to be proven but there are arguments for wasting no time in trying them out, if you are realistic about your expectations.  I know of one successful renovation contractor who has experimented with QR codes, and he says he has noticed some interesting and worthy results (but he is an extreme early adapter and power-marketer.)  If you are spending significant amounts of money on marketing in the first place, and signage is important to your results, you can of course  experiment with these technologies.  You certainly can be seen as first-to-market if no one else is doing it (a good reason for any experiment in marketing, if it isn’t too expensive.)

But does this stuff really work?  We’ll need to wait for more evidence.  I’ll continue with my allergy shots.

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