Sunday, 15 May 2011

How to use QR Codes, or rather, how not to use QR codes!

A count of Smartphone users, counting only US users, at the end of February 2011, gave an astonishing figure of 69.5 million! This number is definitely going to rise exponentially and the proof is visible everywhere around us. We find at least a couple of Smartphone users in our circles and others who don’t own one, always eye the new Smartphones from the corner of their eyes.

And along with Smartphone came in smarter things like QR codes. A QR Code is a 2 dimensional matrix code created by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave in 1994. The "QR" is derived from "Quick Response". The creator’s intention was to create a code whose contents could be read at high speeds.

QR code is in the limelight and there are no ways about it. In a horde to use this somehow or the other companies are breaking their head, day and night. QR codes are seen everywhere from an outdoor hoarding to a magazine cover. An example of how the importance of QR codes is growing:

“Along with HTML5, QR codes will become a far more important part of the travel experience.  These barcodes may soon be providing TV channel listings in hotels, in flight entertainment instructions on airplanes and itineraries on cruise ships.” -Ayan Banerjee, Senior Consultant, MindTree Ltd. Read the full article!


The tool is simple to use. Point the camera towards the QR code, and an in-built app will de-code the QR code to some data. This simplicity may have a lot of potential and appeal with the growing Smartphone user segment, but as long as it is not in the face of a user.

Here are some of the direct uses of a QR code:
·         To initiate a browser session – This is the most abused one!
·         To display text
·         To initiate Email Transaction – An email can be initiated and even the message body can be populated
·         To initiate SMS transaction
·         To initiate Audio/Video Streaming

A prevalent use by marketing companies is to replace the sexy looking advertisement with an ugly looking black-and-white QR code. QR codes are supposed to enhance the Mobile Experience of a user. But, this should not be at the expense of ruining the physical appearances and experiences.

Let’s see what happened when some marketers used QR codes in this fashion. Most of the users who still don’t have Smartphone, struggled to understand what it was about. Smartphone users who didn’t know about QR codes struggled to understand how to use it. Smartphone users who had enough of it, passed on! Effectively the marketer lost on the customers, who looked at that advertisement, and could have read on about it but moved on, since it was either not understandable or too boring! What we also observe is that most of the marketers end up using the QR code as an alternative for people to click links. Therefore, it is not surprising when people perceive QR codes as just a link to the main advertising page of a company!

Is this what the advertisers/marketers were looking for? I believe not!

Some golden rules to keep in mind when devising campaigns using QR codes:
  • Everyone does not have a Smartphone
  • Every Smartphone user does not know how to use a QR code
  • Smartphone user who knows about QR code may be fed up of seeing them everywhere
Another key lesson for any marketer will be, to realize that QR code is not an alternative to a link. This has been over used and abused in all senses. It’s time that we think beyond this. Innovative use of these codes is the need of the hour!

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