QR Codes – Unfulfilled Potential: The Next Big Thing or Robot Barf

The possibilities seemed limitless. QR codes allow consumers with mobile devices to access great content, in-depth information and a higher level of engagement. Yet, companies consistently botch the execution of QR codes.

Back in August of 2010, The Side Note wrote about QR codes for the first time. The inspiration for that article was a Calvin Klein billboard in New York City linked to a video that could not be aired on broadcast television in the U.S. At that time, we saw QR codes as a cutting-edge way for businesses to reach consumers. Little did we know, the Calvin Klein billboard would be one of the better executions of a QR code. It teased to create interest, it clearly identified the sponsor and it delivered content that could not be accessed in another way.

Frankly, the blame for QR code failure lies with marketers. QR codes are simple to use, however the delivery of content requires more finesse and significantly better execution by marketing experts. Since consumers don’t know what the QR code does before they scan it, companies need to reward them for stepping into the unknown.

These errors are frustrating because the majority of these mistakes are the marketing version of basic blocking and tackling errors in football. We’ve categorized errors into three types: stupid, lazy and ignorant.

  • The stupid… the content linked to the QR code is not optimized for a mobile device – this is forehead smacking stupidity.
  • The lazy… businesses use a QR code to direct consumers to their business website – too boring, you have to include more engaging, exclusive and interesting content; Bonus error: if the website is not mobile optimized – that error is both stupid and lazy.
  • The ignorant… simply putting a QR code on an ad with the assumption that consumers know what to do – a friend recently said to me, “These things look like a robot barfed, what do I do with it?”

A little more about the ignorant errors, you would assume that college students would be on the forefront of innovation. Research company Archrival surveyed 500 students at 24 colleges and universities. In the study, Archrival found that although 80 percent of the students owned a smartphone and had seen a QR code, only 21 percent were able to successfully scan the QR code used in the study. A legitimate argument can be made that preloaded software on smartphones with an easier way to scan the codes will increase understanding and if people understand it, they will use it.

However, I believe that the payoff needs to be better. The content someone receives when scanning a QR code needs to deliver undeniable value. For example, give me a discount on something I want. Make something available to me because I scanned the code that others cannot get. Show me something amazing that I can’t see everywhere else. Too often the result of scanning a QR code (assuming I’m successful) is a massive letdown.

Today, I mostly see QR codes sending me to a standard company website. The same website I can get with a simple Google search. This key insight is most succinctly stated in this article from Sean X Cummings, “People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces.”

Overall, the message to fellow marketing professionals is…step your game up!

14 Responses to “QR Codes – Unfulfilled Potential: The Next Big Thing or Robot Barf”

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    I love checking in on WTF QR Codes: http://wtfqrcodes.com/.

  2. 2 Mark Plumb
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    Katie, these are hilarious! Thanks for sharing the QR code mistakes.

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