QR Codes: Dying Fad or Creative Marketing?

In the last few years we have seen QR codes become increasing popular. Their presence would indicate an impressive adoption rate among marketers. There is even a website dedicated to some of the most ridiculous places QR codes show up. Advertisers seem to love them but the questions remain as to how many users actually scan them. It’s important to take a look at both sides of the debate over QR codes to see if they are a creative tool or an annoyance for your brand.
Lets start with a simple question, what is a QR code? A QR code or ‘Quick Response Code’ is basically a bar code that stores encoded pieces of information that can be decoded by a reader app. When a smartphone reader scans a QR code it actually takes a picture of the code and then identifies the code patterns to produce a desired result. In most cases the result is a website landing page or specific web content that is opened in the user’s mobile browser. Some smartphones do have QR scanners built in however the more popular phones, like iPhones, require a 3rd party app.
The real pitch with using QR codes is that they are ‘fun’ and require user interaction. There is a sense of anticipation as to what the output will be for the user. Today you’ll find QR codes in the strangest places. QR codes have been spotted on shirts, giant billboards, belt buckles, produce and just about everything else you can imagine. There really are no barriers to entry either. Just google “Free QR Code” and you will see a variety of different websites that will generate a unique QR code for you quickly that can be pointed to website or landing page.
Although they serve a great interactive and creative advertising purpose some will argue that the QR code is a fade that is slowly dying. When you think about the rate technology is moving this argument holds some weight. Success in mobile is all about speed. Devises are getting faster, more intuitive and asking a potential customer to launch an app, point it to a QR Code, wait for the app to process and produce a web page seems a bit arbitrary to some. The user could have been reading your content a lot quicker by typing a url into their browser. The whole QR experience seems anything but quick and convenient from this perspective.

Consumer Behavior

QR Codes were present in 1% of print advertising in January of 2011, a number which shot up to 6% by December of the same year. Advertisers obviously like them but the real question is are consumers actually scanning them. A report titled “9 Things to Know About Consumer Behavior and QR Codes”, released in January 2012 by Consumer Pulse, provided some insight. According to this report, 79% of respondents had never heard of a QR Code. However, when shown a picture of a QR Code, 81% of respondents claimed to have seen one before. The report also claims that ½ of smartphone users have scanned a QR code before and 70% did claim it was an easy process and 42% had mixed feelings about how useful they were. There figures do not convincingly support the argument in either direction but it does provide some solid evidence that when presented with a QR code, the majority of smart phone users will know what to do with it but roughly half may actually scan the code.

QR Code Best Practices

What this study tells us is at worst QR Codes are a fad that will fade quickly and best case, a great way to grab the interest of smartphone owners, but you will need some convincing that your target market is ‘QR savvy’ and will want to scan your code. The real problem for business owners comes down to how the code is used. Setting up a QR code to simply launch your website homepage is a waste of time for both you and the consumer. In order to get a user to want to scan the code you need to get creative. If you are placing a QR code on a product for example, have the code launch a page on your website that explains that product in more detail. If the QR code is going to be placed on an ad, have it launch to a specific landing page geared towards that ad or a page that generates a coupon. Envision the QR as a call-to-action on your website. By serving a specific purpose you may see better conversion rates.

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