QR Codes: Is Yesterday’s Tech Still Relevant Today?
Posted by Andrew Block on Jun 19, 2012
Let’s get it out there: QR codes aren’t exactly cutting-edge technology anymore. They’ve been around a while, and they don’t exactly scream cool and new (the flames of passion have cooled a bit, so to speak).
In fact, QR codes seem to elicit strong — often negative — opinions from users, and rightly so. QR codes have been abused and misused by marketers over the years, so it’s surprising they haven’t already become extinct.
We’ve all seen it, right? The QR code that makes you scratch your head and mutter, “Why?” I was at a popular electronics store the other day. Someone had placed a QR code on the sliding front door. As I moved within arm’s length, the code slid away as the door opened, rendering the code impossible to scan. Similarly, I’ve seen QR codes situated in such largely inaccessible spots as billboards, buses, trains, people’s shirts…even above urinals.
Besides poor placement, user experience is typically an afterthought when it comes to QR codes. They’re often printed with little or no contextual cues, telling users why they should scan or where they’ll go when they do. Worse, after scanning a QR code, users are often taken to sites that aren’t mobile optimized, or that don’t seem relevant to the source material. I once scanned a QR code with my iPhone, only to be taken to a website that tried to play a Flash video! Of course, since Flash doesn’t work on iPhones, I saw nothing but a blank screen.
A Practical Approach
But QR codes, in this blogger’s humble opinion, still do have some practical applications. They may not be cool, but they can sometimes be useful. Here are six questions to ask before creating a QR code.
- Does the code have a reason to exist? This seems obvious, but there are an awful lot of them that aren’t useful. Sometimes marketers like to create solutions in search of problems. If your objective can be reduced to “Hey, let’s do a QR code,” then the code probably doesn’t have a reason to exist. Make sure the QR code gives users access to relevant, helpful content.
- Does it extend the experience? QR codes work best when they lead to something which supplements what users have already engaged with. For example, a car ad might contain a QR code which, when scanned, links to a mobile-optimized experience where users could browse additional features of the vehicle.
- Is it a natural part of a user’s day? QR codes are often used in odd or jarring ways. Put yourself in the shoes of your users, and think about how they might interact with the code as part of their routine. Imagine a grocer that put images of products on display in a subway station. While they were waiting for the next train, with nothing else to do, users could scan QR codes on the products, add them to a shopping cart, and have the groceries delivered to their homes by the end of the day (this scenario actually played out in South Korea, and it was wildly successful).
- Do users know what to do with it? One of the big downfalls of QR codes is that they require special software in order to scan. Provide your users with contextual information on what they can expect when they scan the code, and recommend a good QR code reader in your copy (a good one is ScanLife). Also, provide a concise URL as an alternate way for users to access your content (e.g., http://scanme.com/123).
- Have you thought about measurement? Make sure your QR codes can be measured uniquely. Create links that are unique so that traffic to your QR code(s) can be distinguished from other traffic.
- Will it be scan-able? The more data that is encoded into a QR code, the more “busy” it becomes, thus making it harder to scan (especially for older phones). Use a URL shortening service to create your QR code links, such as goo.gl or bit.ly.
For the time being, though, they still have their place in a marketer’s arsenal, provided they are used correctly. When in doubt, remember: The content — not the delivery mechanism — is king.
I failed to mention that SnapTags have all of the benefits (and more) of traditional QR codes, but they have a distinct advantage. Unlike standard QR codes, which require special software to scan, users only need to “snap” (get it?) a photo of a SnapTag and upload it to a designated short code, like “55555.” Also, SnapTags are designer-friendly, allowing marketers to created a more branded experience.
Interested in learning more about QR codes? Check out some of these helpful sources.
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