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Brand Protection: The Value of Serialized QR Codes

There are several reasons and advantages why global brands use serialized QR codes as part of their brand protection strategy. In this article, we will explore what is driving the widespread adoption of QR codes and how global brands can use this to their benefit as part of their brand protection strategy. Second, we will examine different types of QR codes and detail why serialized QR codes offer the optimum “at scale” solution to protect against counterfeiting, grey market diversion and other illicit activity challenges faced by brands.

QR codes date back to 1994 when they were created by Denso Wave to track vehicles and provide efficiencies during the manufacturing process. Today, QR codes are ubiquitous and seen everywhere. The growth and popularity of QR codes is the result of a combination of factors.

  • Worldwide Smartphone Adoption – 6.6 billion people around the world now use smartphones.
  • Ease of Consumer Use/No App Required – Across different smartphone providers, users simply point their smartphone camera at a QR code, and it will be automatically read.
  • “Hands Free” Applications – Smartphones and QR codes provide the perfect solution to the movement away from shared or repurposed resources (i.e., menus, documents, etc.) as are result of the pandemic.
  • Scalability in the Supply Chain – QR codes are unobtrusive and integrate easily with existing scanning and logistics systems across all stakeholders throughout the supply chain.
  • Printability – Advancements in digital printing technologies make it easy to print serialized QR codes with zero or limited impact on the print process.
  • Cost effective – The printing and application of serialized QR codes on consumer goods is extremely cost effective.

The fact that QR code application is much more widespread is one thing, but to be scanned by consumers is another and this is where global brands can clearly benefit from changing consumer perceptions and behavior. In the US alone, 75.8 million people scanned a QR code in 2021, 59% believe they will be a permanent part of their smartphone usage, and 75% are eager to use more QR codes in the future. As a result of scan activity, the greatest benefit to global brands is the shear amount of both product and market engagement data captured which in turn drives powerful analytics used to understand and solve brand protection challenges in real-time.

Before we dive into the data more, it is important to recognize different types of QR codes and the significant differences in the amount and quality of data realized.

Type of QR Codes and Why Serialized QR Codes are Key for Brand Protection

Static QR Codes

A static QR code has one fixed URL address and is identical across all products and product lines. Typically, they are used to take consumers to the brand’s main home page. While consumer scanning is not limited and widespread activity will occur, the data is poor and does not support analytics for brand protection use. Essentially, all consumer scans will appear as the same product.

Secure QR Codes

Secure QR codes may or may not be serialized and are differentiated by a security feature preventing copying, replication, and placement on counterfeit goods. One would think that this is the best of both worlds but unfortunately there are critical drawbacks which prevent secure QR codes from being applicable at scale. First, even with advancements in digital printing technologies, secure QR codes cannot be printed in volume rendering them unusable for high volume global applications.

Second and more significant, secure QR codes require the downloading and use of specialized smartphone apps to read the security feature. 78% of smartphone users across all age demographics (higher among the younger age group from 18-24 at 87%) will abandon a scan if required to download and install an app. This presents two concerns. If not scanned, the additional security feature is rendered useless and even when scanned the volume is too low to effectively run analytics and solve challenges at scale.

Consumer App Abandonment

The bottom line – Without sufficient information and data, regardless of how impenetrable the brand protection solution, it will not solve the challenges faced by brands globally at scale.

Serialized QR Codes

Serialized QR codes resemble a static QR code in appearance but are differentiated by cryptographically secure serialization added to the URL making each code unique to every product – Essentially, giving each product a unique identity. This is important as serialized QR codes open the door for many applications including brand protection.

Serialized QR Codes

Even though the QR codes are serialized, consumer scanning is not affected meaning that serialized QR codes benefit from the same open format consumer scanning (i.e., no app required) seen with static QR codes and deliver high volumes of data. And – Since each code is unique, the data quality is high.

What Completes the QR Code Serialization Strategy

If market scan activity and the subsequent data achieved is key, analytics completes the strategy by providing awareness and visibility into the overall size, scope and nature of illicit activities occurring across a brands product lines and supply chain. GPAS Brand Protection Services puts the data to work by identifying patterns in illicit activity unlocking insights allowing brands to fully understand their marketplace and be able to respond with strategies in real-time that protect their brand and their consumers. GPAS business rules and alerts drive interactive dashboards helping brands profile counterfeiters and counterfeit activity as well as significant changes in grey market movements. Data is fundamental but proven robust analytics services such as GPAS complete the strategy.

In conclusion, we have used the term “at scale” throughout this article. There are a myriad of brand protection solutions and service providers offering a variety of technologies. On the surface, some will appear stronger than others but if they don’t solve the challenges at scale on global level, then their worth is limited and should be questioned. Serialized QR codes are the only type of QR codes that when combined with powerful analytics services such as GPAS can significantly disrupt and shut down counterfeiting, grey market, and other illicit brand protection challenges globally at scale.