QR Codes work well, except when they don’t – but they can! Following my New Year’s Resolution to stop doing dumb things (wish me luck), and coming on the heels of multiple successes in which QR codes have helped my clients win new customers, I offer herewith my take on the value of QR codes.
I love QR Codes and all 2-dimensional (“2D”) codes for two reasons. First, they help to combine the best of the physical world with the best of the digital world. Second, they make life easier by eliminating the need to memorize, type, or otherwise manually translate a URL in order to render content digitally. The highest use of 2D codes is to bridge an excellent real world experience to an excellent online experience.
As of this writing, however, we are in a place where their use is not widespread, so be aware of situations in which your printed content and your online content probably should not substitute and, rather, might need to be a bit redundant. Each version must still stand on its own, since many people just haven’t added the QR code app on their phones and are thus not yet acclimated. As businesses continue to slowly adopt QR codes, the inflection point where more widespread adoption occurs will probably come when a large consumer market play embeds it into the way they do business. Think: retail.
Marketers love QR codes because they make interaction with the physical world clickable and, therefore, measurable. I get to do more of what I love, too: obsess about large CRM data sets, mining and combining it to detect the faint signals of user behavior that can help our clients personalize the customer experience and delight people. Everybody wins!
What’s Broken – Why QR Codes Disappoint
According to Forrester Research, however, those who do click on QR codes – primarily young, affluent males – generally hate them. This is mainly due to the bumbling mis-steps of marketers.
Firstly, QR codes are ugly – – although plenty of people have found ways to fix that (read on).
Secondly, many people are confused about how to scan them. This is exacerbated by the walled gardens created by competing companies. Microsoft (just one example) has/had its own unique 2D code technology, which require(d) its own unique reader app. How lovely.
Third: the various free downloadable apps required to read QR codes don’t all function the same way, although that condition is improving.
Last and worst: user disappointment. Simply being redirected to the same byzantine website available via large screen device is uninspiring, to say the least. People typically avoid browsing websites on a small phone screen, so why use a QR code to force them? Effective QR codes don’t link to ordinary websites. Instead, they link to an instantly satisfying, sharable experience – on a par with music, photos and email, or content that is uniquely useful wherever the QR code is displayed.
Try thinking of a QR code as new type of “share this” or “dig deeper” button, a way to augment enjoyment of the real world, and a delightful sharable experience. That thinking alone should keep you out of the weeds, but to be thorough, here is a list of best practices.
How to Fix It – Turn QR Codes into a Viral Experience
Here are some basic items to consider when contemplating use of 2D and QR codes.
1. Audience awareness. Again, most people are not acclimated. Do the obvious: include instructions to help new users engage. Even savvy users need to be informed on what rewards to expect. Include a caption below the QR code explaining where it leads. For some examples, see the last page of this QR Code usage guide I created for a print / QR code campaign promoting an iPhone app.
2. Usage patterns. If you plan to use QR codes multiple times for multiple campaigns, treat each as its own campaign – complete with strategy, goals, success measures, etc. Then, for each instance, caption each code with the URL, app instructions, Call to Action and reward info. Set the stage for fulfillment by setting user expectations before they scan your code. See the example linked in section 1 above.
3. Size and placement. Your 2D code must be of sufficient size, placement and proximity to be easily scanned. This excludes TV (too fleeting), subway (no wireless signal means no way to access the online content) and Billboard (too distant; depending on which reader software you use, your own pulse may cause your handheld phone/camera to shake too much to reliably scan the code). Ideal: printed material or flat surface, within arm’s reach, up close and personal.
4. Visual Appeal. You can beautify a QR code, either through free experimentation, or for a price using a reputable designer. It’s not just a nice touch, it’s also a branding opportunity, so we can expect this beautification trend to increase. Whereas the lowly barcode has faded like a footnote into the borders of package labels, the comparatively prominent physical placement of a QR code could harm the beauty of your content or its location – a slippery slope, indeed. Who wants a future where a physical, beautiful world is obscured by electromechanical codes? Fine for robots, not for me. Moral: beautifying and right-sizing your QR code makes it buzzworthy and increases sharing.
5. Mobile-optimized. Create an experience that is based on portability, location, SMS, sharing, or instant fulfillment and feedback – anything but an ordinary website. The destination content must be consumable on a mobile device and, preferably, enrich the user experience or advance the user toward fulfillment of an expectation or promise that motivated their interest.
6. Convenience. Think: Is a 2D code the fastest, easiest and/or only way to access the content, share it, and/or fulfill some need? If so, great; go for it. If not, think about other ways to deliver content more effectively. Again, an ordinary website is not a value-add experience and not a fulfilling one. Please stop that.
7. Engagement. Make it memorable. Reward users, rather than disappoint them. Make your destination content instantly useful and satisfying. Include share buttons so your audience can tweet, email, post and rave about the cool experience you provide. Give users an experience that makes them feel connected, excited, curious, interested and productive. Want viral? Do that!
My take on QR codes: end of a fad! They are here to stay. QR codes and 2D codes can help you create a satisfying customer experience and, done well, convert sales.
- 9 Unique Ways to Generate Leads With QR Codes (hubspot.com)
- Where Not to Put a 2D Code (Knotice blog)
- Mobile barcodes drive traffic to brands from print (eMarketer)
- Top QR Code FAILS of 2011 (Mashable)
- QR Codes: What, Why and How to (vodafone.com.au)
- What Are QR Codes and How Do You Use Them? (michaelhartzell.com)