QR Codes have been a hot topic for several years. In this #ThrowbackThursday Daily Golden Nugget, I'd like to jump all the way back to my second Nugget ever, which was on QR Codes. That was July 27, 2010!
That Nugget was the number one most popular post I had ever made, until I started writing about screen resolution and setup directions for Google M Business. It has since dropped to the 5th most popular Nugget on all of jwag.biz.
So what are those square, dot-like bar codes? You can scan them with your smartphone to quickly access more information on a given topic. Instead of typing in a website address, you could scan these "quick response" (QR) bar codes to take you to the information much faster.
QR codes were quickly adopted in the UK and throughout all of Europe long before 2010. In fact, they were already a seamless part of information dissemination in France by the summer of 2010, which is why I first wrote about them when I did.
The concept behind QR codes makes a lot of sense. They are meant to save someone time and the trouble you have typing in website addresses. Sadly, the QR code implementations I found in the USA were mostly a horrible waste of money.
Here's a short list of what a QR code technology can do:
- Share contact information instead of trading business cards
- Launch a web browser and go to a URL
- Open the telephone app and dial a phone number
- Share a short written note
- Open the map application and go to an address
- Share an email address
- Send a text message
- Schedule an event that will get saved on your phone
- Open several different applications and go to specific profiles
- Jump to a YouTube video
That might seem like a long list, but that's only the list of common things QR codes are used for. As you can see, they can be extremely useful.
Sadly, in the USA, the marketing guys saw the QR code as a way to enhance marketing tactics using a newfangled technology, but they failed to understand why they should use it, or if they should even bother.
My experience with QR codes in Europe has always been satisfying. Here are some examples:
- Retail stores put QR codes in their windows to lead people to Facebook pages.
- Restaurant menus use QR codes to lead patrons to nutritional information for specific meals.
- QR codes in weekly circulars lead readers to more information about specific products.
- QR codes printed on grocery packaging leads consumers to recipe suggestions.
- Parking meters have QR codes on them that give walking directions to local attractions and public restrooms.
- Signage in public areas, like at a newspaper stand and bus stop, have QR codes that lead people to more information about that specific ad, or even a behind the scenes video of how that ad was created.
- Perhaps my favorite is the placement of QR codes on public monuments and through parks to help you discover the world around you.
On the other hand, my experience in the USA has been quite appalling. Here are some example:
- QR codes on signs in subway or train stations. This would work if those stations had cell phone reception.
- Advertisers attempted to put large QR codes on big billboards, and even paint them on the side of a building. Sadly, the camera lenses of a smartphone could never read a QR code unless it was 30 feet tall or taller.
- Placement of a QR code at the very top of a window sign, making it impossible to reach.
- Placement of a QR code at the very bottom of a sign or poster, forcing you to crouch down and hold your phone to the ground in order to scan it.
- QR codes that were too small in a newspaper ad and were impossible to scan because the dots bleed together during the printing.
- Instead of leading me to a specific mobile website with more information about that ad, I am lead to the home page of the desktop site without any clue where to tap next.
- Instead of bringing me to a mobile website, I am brought to a website that uses Flash, making the entire experience a waste of my time.
The first 4 in the above list are the failure of the marketing agency with regard to out-of-home placement. The last 2 are an implementation failure.
Before implementing any QR code, you should be asking yourself what value the person will get out of it. QR codes help bridge the real world with the digital world and that bridge needs to be safe and secure.
The advertising agencies in the USA approached QR codes incorrectly. All the attempted implementations I've seen in the USA were trying to force consumers to simply go to a website home page. That's not at all useful. You should always direct people to a specific page that will provide additional related information.
One of the other reasons QR codes have not worked will in the USA is because so few companies have adopted mobile websites. Directing a smartphone to a desktop site is certainly an implementation failure of a QR code.
In the USA QR code usage in marketing never achieved the widely adopted level that it has in Europe. I even started to notice a decline in QR code usage in US marketing in 2014, but that's okay since most of those implementations were horrible.
Now that the QR code bubble has burst, I don't want you to completely forget about them; instead, consider using them in creative ways to engage your customers. The truth is that very few people will scan these codes, so don't spend a lot of money on implementing them.
Make sure the content at the end of the quick response trail is worth the effort. It can be a big reward for those who took that extra effort, or it can be part of a larger engagement plan that customers can also find through other means.
Now that the marketing fad has passed, I really hope to see a move into the casual usage that provides correct information when and where needed like I commonly experience in France.