QR Codes in Real Life

QR Codes in Real Life

As a marketer, I know quite a bit about QR codes. I mean, it’s my job to know about the latest marketing trends. But what about everyone else who doesn’t work in marketing? What do they think?

I never really thought much about it until a couple months ago when I was having lunch with some friends. There was a table tent sitting in front of us and it had a QR code on it. One of my friends picked it up and asked everyone what it was. I, of course, knew, but thought it would be interesting to just sit back and see what they had to say. This was better than a focus group. This was an honest, unbiased conversation about one of the biggest trends in marketing right now.

All of my friends are in their mid-twenties. They’re a fairly tech savvy group of people. They all have smartphones. Most of them Tweet. I mean, for the most part, they get technology.

But apparently there’s one thing they don’t get, and that’s QR codes.

All of them either said that they hated QR codes or that they just can’t make sense of them. Here were some of their chief complaints:

They don’t understand how to scan them. None of them really knew how to scan the code. For a bit they debated on whether the camera on their phone could read the code or if they needed an app. After some trial and error they realized they needed an app and this brings me to their next complaint…

Smartphones don’t come with QR readers. Once it was determined that you needed an app to read the code, they didn’t see them as ‘convenient’ anymore. This is a major barrier to earlier adopters. To them, there are too many steps required to access this info. Even though they’d only need to download a reader once, to them it’s too big of a hassle. In theory, a QR code is supposed to make accessing additional information easier, but to them it’s easier to just type in the url.

They don’t know what they’re called. When referring to them they kept saying statements like “whatever they are” and “whatever you call them”. This might be a problem when it comes to downloading the right app to read the code.

They don’t see the immediate benefit for scanning the code. During this conversation, one of my friends decided to download a reader so that they could scan the code. After they scanned it, it took them to a site that wasn’t optimized for mobile. It was hard for them to read and there was no actual value for visiting this site.

Just to be clear, the point of this post isn’t to bash QR codes. It’s just to make marketing managers think about their target audience and how they’re interacting with them. If you’ve decided to use QR codes here are a few quick tips that will help to make sure you’re using them as effectively as possible.

  • QR codes are still in the early stages. You may need to explain how they work, and the steps needed to access this information.
  • Do not rely solely on them for your call to action. Remember, not all people have smartphones or QR readers.
  • If you’re going to have someone take the time to scan a code there needs to be a payoff. Don’t just thoughtlessly slap one on your marketing materials. Take time to think about where you’re directing people and the value it’s going to provide the viewer (and make sure the URL you’re directing them to has been optimized for mobile!).

In all fairness to QR codes, I think it’s too early to determine their fate because someday soon all phones could come with pre-installed readers and become part of our everyday lives. Time will only tell if they’re this week’s latest tech trend or the next evolution in marketing technology.

UPDATEAs it turn’s out, Erika’s friends aren’t the only ones confused by QR codes. According to a recent Ad Age article, just 5% of mobile phone users in the U.S. scanned one of these ‘quick response’ codes over a three-month period in 2011. Melissa Parrish, senior analyst for social and mobile marketing at Forrester Research (who conducted the study) calls marketing’s frequent use of QR codes "another instance of shiny-object syndrome." Kelli Robertson, director-strategy for digital agency AKQA, adds, "Marketers fall in love with tools and forget the reality of how they're used." If you do decide to add QR codes to your marketing strategy, make sure you keep the end user in mind and follow the best practices that Erika points out in this article. 


image Erika Cruse is an Account Manager at Atomicdust, and works with businesses to develop and execute marketing strategy.

Erika Cruse

Erika Cruse

Erika Cruse is an Account Manager at Atomicdust, working with our clients daily to develop marketing strategy. She’s also a vegetarian and sports ‘jeggings’ from time to time.

More posts by Erika Cruse