The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 81 · 1 month ago

Video QR Codes: Sticky Notes for the TikTok Generation

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

QR codes have made a furious comeback in business circuits over the last couple of years.

The folks at spokenote saw a unique opportunity for marketers: embed QR codes with personalized videos for a targeted audience.

We spoke with spokenote’s CEO, John Weschler, and CMO, Mike Harmon, about the potential for personalized QR code videos in the higher ed space.

In an age of short form content, can the humble QR code maintain its renewed momentum?

Join us as we discuss:

- How the pandemic revived QR code applications (5:15)

- Practical applications of video QR codes in higher ed (14:02)

- Spokenote’s roadmap for enhancing the custom video experience (21:41)

Check out these resources we mentioned during the podcast:

- spokenote

- john@spokenote.com

- mike@spokenote.com

To hear this interview and many more like it, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website or search for The Higher Edge in your favorite podcast player.

You're listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, donor relations, marketing trends, new technologies, and so much more. If you're looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to this week's edition of the Hired Marketer podcast. Today, Bart and I speak with John Westler and Mike Harmon. Both of them are from Spoke Note and with full transparency, Bart has relationships going back to them along ways Mike and John have come together. They have a new product that when Bart described it to me, I was excited. We started brainstorming of how it could be implemented within higher ed marketing circles and and that's the reason why we are bringing them onto the podcast today. And let me say that if you've listened all the way to the end, you will have four or five nuggets that you can implement immediately. And I should shut up part because I'm so excited. Please take it over before I talked for thirty minutes. Troy, You're right it's such an exciting episode. I've known John and Mike for probably twenty to twenty five years. Mike worked with me at a previous place that I was an owner at and uh and and we were doing websites in the late nineties together. He had done a lot of work at our c A and and launching the r c A dot com website and had a tremendous work ethic and we hadn't brought on and we did some work with Notre Dame and and Anderson University and others early on. But Mike and John have kind of come up with this idea of QR codes and video, and we've had a lot of conversations about video, We've had conversations about personalization. A lot of that comes together in this episode. It's been featured on My Friday finds of cost effective ideas for under...

...five dollars that you can implement to make a big impact in your highered marketing. And so let's bring him in. Here's John Wesler and Mike Carmen of Spokene. John and Mike thank you for joining the podcast today. And before we get into the conversation on how to effectively utilize QR codes and video together to make impressions within higher ed. I would like to know if one of you could share something that you've learned this week that would either be interesting, unique, or surprising to you. Yeah, thank you both for inviting us to be on the podcast. It's great to be here and to be with you all today. The thing that I learned most recently, I was at a an event up in Madison, Wisconsin on the university campus and it was a pitch review from a an accelerator. They're called Generator and one of their portfolio companies is involved in producing a new form of grain called Karnsa and it is this intermediate wheat grasp product that has a lot of tributes that people are getting excited about as a as a perennial grain. So here in the Heartland, those sorts of things are important to us and I was I was happy to learn about it. We also learned something today, so thank you. We're excited to have you and that both of you have a product called Spoke note I guess that's the company and you'll explain the product. But what intrigued Barton I is how you're able to combine video and QR codes and make the experiences for your customer, enabling them to better connect, better make first, second, and third impressions with the people with whom they're sending correspondence to. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, John, if you would tell everyone about spoke note and a little bit how it combines video and QR codes together for excellent customer experience. Thank you, Troy. What we do is spokenote is we give you the ability to add video to anything. The way...

...it works is you scan our code, you record or upload a video, and then wherever you put that sticker or the code, your video plays. So we are the utility for the creation and sharing of ad hoc video at the end of the day, and we do it right now with these little stickers. That's pretty exciting. And I know that when I first saw it on LinkedIn and I recognized you guys as behind it, I knew that it was going to be pretty exciting because I know some of the back story of you guys, and we might get into that, we might not, but I think that one of the one of the cool things that I just want to kind of tease out with both of you is the idea that, you know, I think that two thousand nineteen, I was still kind of telling people, hey, you ought to you ought to do some things with QR codes, and and and I was seeing my kids use them at school and and do some things with that. And I kept getting people like, well, isn't that so two thousand ten? I mean, that's kind of come and gone, what's the deal? Who cares? And then we had the pandemic, and all of a sudden, every restaurant in the world's using them. So tell me a little bit about the backstory of of QR codes and and that research. It's funny that you mentioned that, Bart, because you know, I have often called, or since the pandemic, really called the QR code the comeback technology of the pandemic. Right it was. It was it was on its way to just a slow and steady decline, and all of a sudden, we needed a mechanism for contactless sharing of information, links to websites, menus, et cetera. And uh, you know, surprisingly, the QR code has not really been around that long in terms of technology per se. I think it was a mid nineties, uh invention of a company in the automotive industry, and it was a way to locate, uh something or get a quick link out to another piece of data. And so you know, it kind of run its course, and I think when you look at where we were over the last couple of years with menus, you know, then we started getting into some special offers and ways to kind of connect with consumers. We're all now pretty comfortable pulling our camera out, you...

...know, our smartphone and scanning a code, and so you know, that is unquestionably one of the drivers I think of the adoption of SPOKENOE. When you look at the ability to scan our code and without an app a download or registration record or link a video to that sticker, that's a truly unique value proposition, And the comfort of the general public with the QR code is really that big driver. It's always had this unique ability to kind of bridge physical space and digital space. But I do think that that awareness of the and the availability of the scanning technology on the phone. You used to have to have you just have to load a QR reader onto your phone, and now it's just embedded within most of the cameras, at least in the new models. So you know, it's It is kind of that comeback technology because of the awareness of it, the availability of it, and people starting to see these interesting and important connections between physical and digital space. You think about it too. You know, my wife and I watch a Hulu episode every evening. They all have QR codes now, and you know, you're supposed to be sitting there you either you know, use your row code remote and click on it, or you can scan it. I know the big Super Bowl ad this year with with the QR code, and you know, a lot of things have come back, and so I mean basically we've got this perfect opportunity that's come up. So tell us about you know, with this you know, technology comeback, with the change, with the importance of personalization, with video, tell us a bit about how Spoken got started. Yeah, it's uh, it's an interesting story. A friend of mine had a brother that was serving overseas in the military, and and he used to send care packages to his brother, and and my friend wanted the ability to somehow get a video in that box. And he had always had this desire to be able to show his brother what was going on at home, or share a story, or make some kind of connection that would be meaningful. And...

...so he really came up with this idea six or seven years ago, and he was thinking, I wish I could get a QR code but then link it to a video so that when he got the box on the other side, he could open it and scan it and and I could share a story with him. And for years he sat on that idea. And if if you rewind the clock from today back to kind of spring of of twenty one, he and I were at coffee and we're talking about life and where we are and startups and just in general. And my buddy said, you know, I've had this one idea and I've always wanted somebody just to run with it because I'm never gonna do it. I don't know how to do it. And he explained this concept for the code and the video, and I thought, first of all, I'm really surprised that doesn't exist. Let me look into it and and and I got back to him over the weekend and I said, surprisingly, there's nothing out there. I cannot find anything that does what you're saying. Do you want me to invent one? And seriously, over the weekend, I used some some components and a little bit of hacking, and and that's kind of what I do. I'm kind of like the mcdiver of some early tech where I can rubber band and a and a piece of bailing wire and and some bubblegum and make something happen. And so I built a demonstration example of scanning a code on an independent little sticker that you could then link to a video, and and I proved how this would work. And I started showing that to people, including my buddy, and everybody was just amazed with it and like, this is really a cool idea. And so we socialized it a little bit further, and my buddy and I made a handshake deal and we said, all right, I'm if you want me to all do this. I'm not in the business of taking anyone's idea, but if you want me to take this and run with it, I will, and actually made him a part of the team. So he's he consults with us a little bit, and he's a shareholder in the enterprise. But that is how it got started. And it's further proof that every...

...one of us have great ideas for businesses, right, all of us. But it really boils down to somebody taking an action and and I'm the one that took the kind of the impetus to move forward and kind of start this thing. And then we've attracted an amazing team, including Mike and others, and you know, we're now building a company a year and a half year. A year and a half later. I remember when Bart first came to me with spoke Note, and our initial conversation was how it really gets people's attention, and then immediately went to what types of applications this could have within higher ED because one of the challenges that high ED marketers have is getting gen Z's attention. So Mike would like to know, either from experience or from ideas that you have, of how spoken Note can be be implemented within the higher ED marketing space. I am unbelievably excited about the all sorts of applications of Spokenoe within the higher ED UM experience. UM. There are a few stories that I can share, UM. You know one right now, we have a campus in uh in Indiana using the product as part of the admissions process, and they're using student ambassadors UM to record a message to an incoming student to give them some tips or you know, help build up build a bridge as they make this important transition in their life. UM, I've seen spokenoes. There was a hilarious example the other day. One of our customers, UM, he's a parent and his daughter. He was outside of his daughter's dorm rooms and he posted a spokenoe on the door, UM, insisting that there be no boys in the room. UM, which we'll share it. We can share that or pop that in a think if anybody wants to...

...see it. But it was it was really clever. But you know, on the flip side, you could also use those for folks to make introductions about themselves, you know. And and what I have UM seen and experienced QR codes are gen z catinet. They are very very curious about what's behind that, what's the prize behind that code, and they engage with it. And when they get something on the other side that is personalized at them, regardless of what type of impact you're trying to make, whether it's an expression or an instruction or whatever, there is absolutely that um, that magic moment, and and they're ready to engage. Ring Digital is a digital marketing firm that specializes in boosting lifting yield for higher education. They start with a list of your interested students and send specialized messages directly into the devices inside their homes, nurturing them through the entire stan's funnel. If you're looking to better maximize your top of funnel list or increase you're accepted to deposit yield rings, cutting edge technology makes digital marketing transparent and accurate. Not only can they put you in front of your exact audience, but they also demonstrate who is responding. In the end, they can prove a real rate of return on your AD spend. Go to Ring That Digital and check out their case studies. I think that's really cool and and I think that you both know. I think I've actually introduced you guys to Ethan Butte from bom Bomb, and we had him on the show, you know last year talking about you know, the humanization of of of communication and how you know, personalized videos and kind of what you're just saying, they're the idea that there's something behind this QR code and if it's personalized for me, wow, all the better and and how exciting that is. And it makes me think about just as as the use of video and higher AD I'm seeing a lot more schools kind of leaning toward...

...that video email delivery with with bom bomb, or they might be doing it on their own. I know that there's a president at West Texas A and M Inside Higher Education had an article about him sent out third three thousand videos congratulating the acceptance of their students, and so, you know, I think about the way higher it is starting to use video, but then also to recognize the fact that, you know, being able to use QR codes and then personalize it. You know, I imagine just like an admissions counselor being able to send out a quick, you know, birthday card and you know, do something with a with a spoke note on that card just to kind of get it out the door and and communicate in a personal way that it's different than you know, maybe three other schools are sending out the same birthday card, but this one had his personal video from the person. I just think that's really an incredible way to go with that. And I'm guessing you guys are seeing those kind of applications and even more with some of your customers and the folks you're talking to. One one thing, Bart, You're right, one thing we did see that I thought was really an amozing application high school here in Indiana that was using our spoke note stickers to recognize and honor their student of the month. And each teacher in the high school sent a postcard home recognizing the student of the month. And and the thing that was different about it is that, you know, our daughter has been student of the month before, and it's a great honor and it's it's really cool to see. But when that happened, we we got a letter from the school on their letter head that was signed by the principle amazing honor, right, and that stayed on the fridge for you know, probably a few weeks, maybe a month. We celebrated it as it should be. But what I saw these other students received with a personalized video from their teacher was a a very heartfelt message about why that student was the student of the month and how their compassion for others or they're in ventiveness or their creativity, and they're looking...

...right in the camera, and I was putting myself in the in this chair of the recipient parent and thinking how cool must that be to hear that heartfelt? Uh, Like we had one French teacher that that did the the entire thing in French and I was like, I don't know what she's saying, but it's really cool and she really means it. And so the point there, I think it's long form way of saying that, you know, if a picture is worth a thousand words, I don't know what a video is worth, but it there's some real heartfelt connection that can be made. And there it transcends the written word or you know, a tax or an email to be able to say something in video to someone and and that to me is really powerful. It reminds me of the of the past that I think, you know, as a gen x er, you know, and I think that you know, we all have different experiences, but I still have a few either notes or letters of you know, of significance to me in my life, whether it was a high school teacher wrote me a note or you know, someone else. This is kind of the currency of this generation. I mean, it's it's that same, that same idea. I mean, they don't get mail, they don't get letters, nobody sends letters anymore. It's all electronic. But this is a way to kind of have that same momento, to be able to kind of stick, you know, keep keeping their keepstake box to build on what you just said, Bart, I mean it also helps, you know, folks who are competing for students to get outside of the main stream, to get outside of that flow and have a differentiated moment um. You know that that is outside of that. But with respect to video, um, you know, we have to recognize and that that this is the way of life, This is the way content is both created and consumed, especially for this generation. And so you know, having a platform that does that, that hits them with the type of content that they're most likely to enjoy, but getting it into a different stream of communication has the opportunity to have that breakthrough moment where you're you're just trying to...

...get someone's attention. And ultimately, as I've been thinking about and building Spokenotes brand, you know, what we really do is we solve the problem of attention. It's the currency of this generation. I mean, you think about TikTok. More people go to TikTok than they do to Google, which just blows my mind and I can't get over that. But that that tells you how important video is. And I saw a Pew Research UM study that came out last week about higher ed and they were talking about the students and the social media channels that they use, and they obviously were tracking TikTok and Instagram, you know, sixty. But the outlier that they didn't talk about was YouTube. I think people don't think about YouTube being a social media channel. They don't think about it. They just think it's it's like the utility, it's like water. And I think that that right there, that of gen z s use YouTube. That's the way they learn, that's the way they go and research, the way they do different things. As we think about that, tell me a little bit about what does this roadmap look like. I mean, we talked a little bit about Okay, you admissions counselor is gonna put a sticker on a birthday card, or maybe the the the advancement officer is going to drop something with a major donor. Uh, there's a lot of applications in that. But when we start looking at it from a you know, when I'm talking about an institution that has you know, ten fifty students, you know, maybe even a lot more than that, as far as you know applicants and accepted students, how does that start to scale for for you guys? As you start looking at the roadmap for spokenote. It's really exciting for us because, as I mentioned at the beginning of our discussion, our focus is becoming the utility for the creation and sharing of ad hoc video. So the infrastructure that we are building is really agnostic as to where that code goes, whether it's on a sticker, whether it's on a sticky note, whether it's digit produced and then set somewhere else and printed,...

...or whether it's purely digital asset you know from the outset and always stays that way. And so we are looking at ways to enable organizations to to do this and do it at scale. Uh, some of it I'd file away under trade secrets and some of the special sauce that we're trying to build. But I guess the confidence that I'd like to engender with any listener or someone thinking about spokenote is that it transcends the sticker. It's well beyond just the sticker. That's our first entry point in helping people understand how you create and share video. So our our next product actually that we're launching is a card. Think of it as a high end stationary item, and so you would have a card with your branding on it your institution, your university, your brand, your club, your team, and and then our code is on that card printed and it's it's stationary grade, uh, really premium feel that gives you the ability to kind of combine a written note with activation of a video. That's kind of that's the next step in the progression. And we're actually beginning to launch that now with some of our early customers. And we kind of launched it earlier than we expected because we do thank you notes to all of our customers and of course they have spoke notes in them and build into them. And our customers would get our stickers and they say the stickers are awesome, I want to buy more, but how do I get these cards? And so we very quickly are you know, being quite entrepreneurial as a core value of the company. Um, we listened to the marketplace that we said, you know what, we'll get back to you, and we got back to those people and they actually bought our cards. And so we're starting to introduce new products and other products that will use the Spokene engine that will power that creation and sharing a video. And there's a whole lot more to come in that space, so we're spending a lot of time on the roadmap. I will tell you that I just see it as being a really...

...really powerful UM tool and and there's sort of like that. And one more thing about this that I'm excited about, which is, you know, how often do you get to use a product that the intended recipient will look at it and be like, well, I want to use that product. You know, I've got ideas for this. I can make use of this. You know, this is this is aimed really at me. And there's that that personal relevance UM that I think is really special and really rare and and really something that I'm super excited about, you know, having spoke not as part of or within higher ed. Yeah, I agree with you on that, Mike, And that's I think that's what got me so excited when I first saw it. I mean, I all of a sudden my head exploded with youth case ideas. And I think that the day that I saw it, I wrote a LinkedIn post with you know, a bunch of ideas, and I've I've put it in a couple of newsletters, and I know that the three of us had coffee with the with the fourth individual, just who was also in education, and just I think we spent the whole our coming up with ideas of of how this could really apply to us to hire ED. And so I love the fact that you guys not only are doing something creative and innovative, but you also are coming with the ideas for how it can work for higher ED and actually making it work. And I appreciate that. So that's been great, Mike and John. Before we move on, I also want to let you know another reason Bart and I were so excited about spoken Note is that we both realized that gen Z is very used to being communicated to in a customized way, and you're providing college, universities and really anyone to be able to communicate either one on one to the masses, but in a unique and very customized way through video via QR code, and uh, we want we just want to help spread the word. Well, and we've heard it called actually kind of the Dickey note, uh to the...

TikTok generation. You know, so this is the again you get into kind of hey, and oh, by the way, quick message, a really quick serve video message, and it seems very kind of relatable to to that audience and that generation that you just scan this really quickly, you smile and share and there you go, and they're very very prone to consuming uh this type of message. Well, we're happy to be able to spread the word before we move on, Mike, did I interrupt you on a point you were making? Well, I was just um excited to share that. You know, we we feel very confident that that engagement will take place. And then you know what you have done by um not only getting the attention, having the code scanned, having that personalized video experience. You know, there are then follow on experiences that we're starting to make available based on whatever objective is that that marketing group is trying to achieve, whether it's a sign up or an application or um you know, attending an event or something along those lines. So you know you can um it does nest nicely into all sorts of different campaigns inside that prospect funnel. Thank you. Yeah. So that that custom, that custom call to action is a really really big thing that people have been asking for. So if if I'm on video talking to you about a great program or a special event or donations we're trying to fundraise for a particular organization or even broad university outreach. You can have a call to action at the end of the video, which would be a donate now button. And that's something that we are seeing getting tremendous traction, and we've had a lot of interest from from the higher ed world. Thank you, John, And with that, that was an excellent segue. We love leaving our...

...episodes or closing our episodes by asking the question of our guests, is there some piece of advice that our listeners can receive that could be implemented right away that you would give to both of you? And I guess I'll start with John. If there is a piece of advice please let us know, or maybe something we didn't touch on during the episode that you want to make sure to include. Yeah, I would first of all, I love I love the idea that give actionable, quick, quick hit opportunities to everyone to learn something. I learned something here about my new brain. Um. But I would say, you know, in our perpetual research of QR codes and and you know, looking into just ways you can use them, I actually did uncover, uh, something that I thought I remembered seeing before, but I still haven't seen it really in widespread use, So I'll throw this one out. You can actually configure a QR code to enable log on to a WiFi network. So what that does is eliminates the signs that are everywhere. Typing in a password that's upper case W, lower case jtilt, the dollar sign, comma, all these like. You know how hard it is. Anytime you visit someplace and you want to get on the WiFi, you can actually configure a QR code to do that. And so it's a simple single scan. It drops the WiFi on your phone and there you don't thank you, John, That is awesome. And when we have an opportunity to have people or for you to give people your contact information, I'm sure you will get questions about that, Mike before we go, do you have anything you would like to offer? Yeah, Well, first, thank you both for having us on um This has been a real treat. I'm going to be slightly more self serving as the person responsible for marketing spokenoe um Bart. You have...

...a piece of communication that you send out to your audience of low cost things you can test. Right here are things you can see and try and do. And I just think that spoke note is a perfect example of that, right, you can buy start with a pack of ten for ten dollars and buy him on spoke note dot com. And maybe you can take a student inside your funnel and and send him a personalized note and see what the impact is. UM. This is eminently testable and triable and doable, and UM I think that's what makes it UM such a powerful product. Yeah, thank you, Mike. While we have everyone's attention, would like to give both of you the opportunity to share your contact information in case any of our listeners would like to reach out to connect Mike if you would please sure anyone can reach me at Mike at spokenote dot com. And Troy Bart, thank you very much for having us on. John Wexler's my name lad seem a spell W E C H S S and Sam L E. R. And I am John at spokenote dot com. Thank you both, and it's a pleasure of having you on. And actually Bart and I were excited because we feel this is something that is very usable for our hired marketing listeners that they can't implement right away. Bart, do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share before we end the episode? Once again, thanks guys for being on. It's been a pleasure and an honor to kind of get reconnected with you guys. I've I've I've been honored to know you for so long and really respected what you've done over the years, and so thanks. I guess a couple of things that I would leave my audience with as we kind of wrap up the show and think about things. I really liked what Mike said there at the end. Um, you know, go on spokenoe dot com and and grab a grab a pack just so that you can try it out. I mean, you can even pick the color that's closest to your school colors. I mean, they've got to think about six or seven different colors that you can choose from, try them out and and kind of get a feel for it and start to kind of experiment with yourself. I mean that's the way we all learn is experimenting a little bit. And I think that's,...

...you know, even more the case here. And then I think as you as you do that, you know, provide them some feedback. I mean, you know, I think that these guys are open to that. I think that you guys are going to be in the trenches, whether you're an admissions counselor or whether you're vice president enrollment, when your presidents listening to this. There's a lot of different ways that you can try those out and provide some feedback. And I think that as you start to do that, get comfortable with with filming yourself and being on on video and being authentic on video. I think that's one of the skills that we can all learn and and try to do a little bit better. And I think that's something that's gonna give you some practice as you do that. And so a lot of great comments in this in this episode, you might even want to rewind and listen to some of them, um, But I think overall, I really want to encourage everyone to kind of lean into some of these new things. While you might say, well, it's not that big a deal for me to you know, click on a QR code and watch a video, it is for your perspective, students, and so we have to stop thinking like you know, you're the audience, because you're not. And so I I really appreciate it again you guys being on the show. Um, we're gonna put some notes in the in the podcast show. And then also Mike had referenced the what I'm calling the Friday Finds. Once a month, I send out kind of the you know, latest ideas that I'm finding for under five hundred bucks that could impact your enrollment or your advancement. This was in my inaugural issue. If you go to digest dot Keiler's dash solutions dot com, you'll find all of my newsletters and you can sign up there. But those are gonna come out each month and you're gonna discover things like Spokenoe and bomb Bomb and other things that are gonna cost you that much but can make a big impact in what you're doing. So guys, thanks again, Troy. It's been a pleasure having you with me as well, and so thanks guys, Thank you all, Thank you. The High Rate Marketer podcast is sponsored by Kaylor Solutions and Education Marketing and Branding Agency. Thank you everyone for joining this week's episode. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscrib ib to the show in your favorite podcast...

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