A few days ago, I was quoted in an article in Mobile Marketer about QR codes and whether they were losing their magnetism. I had about twenty minutes to dash off a suitable response and was of course limited to just how much I could pontificate on the topic. Thankfully, this being our own blog, I am freed from those strictures!
There’s no doubt that QR codes have gotten a bad name amongst the media cognoscenti. Much ado has been made about the Tumblr blog Pictures Of People Scanning QR Codes (spoiler alert: the site’s empty, implying no one does it). The fact is that QR codes have been abused and misused by so many people that it has created a backlash against them (if you’re curious to see just how bad QR code implementations can be, take a look at qrackd.com).
It is true though that QR codes have lost some of their shine – their magnetism even. And yet…according to a survey conducted by Pitney Bowes, fully 19% – or almost a fifth of the US population – have used QR codes. Twitter, by contrast, has only been used by 12% of the entire US population. And according to eMarketer, when you look at adults aged 18-34, 36% of them have used a QR code at least once. Like it or not, QR codes are here to stay – and to not add it to your arsenal of tools as a mobile marketer would be shortsighted.
As I mentioned in the Mobile Marketer article, the fact that QR codes have lost their shine is not necessarily a bad thing. Because they have been so overused in the past, the hope is that mobile marketers today will be a lot more judicious in their use of QR codes going forward. No longer will they slap QR codes onto any piece of collateral much the way McDonald’s serves fries with everything. No longer will they send unsuspecting victims to non-mobile optimized websites. No longer will they obfuscate the call to action and just assume that consumers will do what they want. Marketers are finally coming to the realization that like all technologies, QR codes are only enablers – and at the end of the day, its not the technology you use, but how you use them that matters. And that if they want to get users to utilize QR codes, then they have to respect the effort that users are putting in to do so and respond in kind, by providing them with a payoff commensurate with the effort.
QR codes also aren’t the only games in town anymore. As my colleague John Fauller pointed out, over the past couple of years we have seen a proliferation of mobile response options available to marketers. Even as little as two years ago, you pretty much had to choose between text messaging and QR codes. Today you have a wider palette with image recognition, NFC, AR, digital watermarks. So as a marketer you can now choose the technology that best fits your specific needs – further ensuring that marketers only use QR codes when they are best suited for the task at hand.
QR codes can be a good way to build engagement and drive interaction, but certainly aren’t the only way to do so. QR codes work well in utilitarian contexts – as identifiers (e.g. in loyalty cards), for providing dense amounts of information (nutrition info on packs) or for getting access to very specific pieces of content.
When used appropriately QR codes can indeed build engagement and drive interaction. The problem is that because QR codes are free and easy to generate they’re being thrown onto everything – reducing their overall perceived utility for customers.
Probably the single biggest issue with QR codes today remains the need to have an app to scan the codes and the need to launch the app to scan the code. It’s a process that is time consuming and inelegant. The Holy Grail for QR code marketing would be a passive, always-on QR scanner such that all one has to do is just point the phone camera in the direction of the QR code to launch the content.
Are you listening Apple and Android?