What is the point of QR codes?
QR codes have been sneaking into print ads, store windows and even billboards over the last two years. These bar-code boxes seemed to promise a specialized, quick response to marketers... except they didn't.
QR (Quick Response) codes are matrix barcodes originally designed to track parts in the automotive industry. Marketers grabbed hold of the concept and began inserting them into ads, flyers and campaigns. The problem is that they did it rather willy-nilly and without any particular strategy. And marketing lacking a clear strategy will always be doomed to fail.
To date, QR code usage has been rather like that of those early brick cellphones: the people who bought them and used them in public thought they looked cool, but really, they just looked like giant d-bags. It was easier, far less expensive and less pretentious just to walk to a pay phone. Essentially, a lot of development in terms of thought leadership, design (thank you, Steve Jobs) and best practices for usage needed to happen before those bricks became household essentials.
The same is true for QR codes. Having a bar code that is scannable to a URL is a cool idea, but... so what? It's a tool, and the marketing community at large hasn't yet found the best way to make use of this particular medium.
Let's do a quick survey. How many of you have whipped out your smartphone and scanned a QR code somewhere? Did the scanned URL EVER provide any material, information or offer that was unique or engaging in any way.
Yeah, me, neither. In fact, in a survey of 300 people, only 11% even knew what the QR code was. Of those, only 45% were able to scan the code correctly using their phones, and it took them an average of 47 seconds to do so.
So there are a few issues here. The technology isn't known nor easily recognized, and it isn't easily accessed, either, despite its name. But Derek Johnson of Tatango points out that there are some more relevant metrics we could be looking at, such as 40% of consumers aged 25-34 have scanned a QR code and that one out of three consumers who have scanned a QR code have an average household income of over $100,000. Any advertiser ears perking up yet?
Marketers are doing it wrong
However, the adoption and use rate of the technology isn't the biggest issue preventing QR codes from becoming the Next Big Thing. The biggest issue preventing the QR code from becoming the next cool thing is that marketers aren't making its use engaging, innovate or revolutionary.
Linking to your website? Not that exciting.
The good news is that some practitioners have made strides in QR code marketing that is both engaging and effective. In this post, Sean Cummings recommends a few creative uses for the QR code, including using them to clue a scavenger hunt, which would hit both the buttons of engagement and curiosity. Also, the aforementioned Johnson has put out a video demo on a currently successful best practice for QR codes: opting in to SMS marketing campaigns.
Tatango, an SMS marketing company, has also put out a beginner's guide to QR codes and SMS marketing that shows some ethical creativity in their use.
No argument that the technology hasn't been fully adopted by a large percentage of the population. However, within the folks that do participate in the QR trend, there is a vast reserve of untapped potential for brand communication. Within QR codes lurks a huge array of possibilities for engaging those consumers, if marketers can put their creative minds to use and think like... well, marketers.