Thursday, November 10, 2016

Does Anyone Actually Still Use QR Codes?

A few weeks ago I took part in a business case competition for a local Indianapolis brewery. The goal of the case was to suggest a unique way the brewery could showcase the positive relationships it had with local non-profit organizations. Being a loyal (and biased) employee of Lumavate, my team and I presented the concept of a mobile experience that could be tied to bar coasters and other printed marketing material.

Presenting our idea to the panel of judges, one of them interjected with the question: “Does anyone actually still use QR codes?” I looked around the room full of young professionals and saw no more than a few hands raised.

In that moment, I started to wonder why? What was it about QR codes that caused the people in that room to give them such a bland reception? What is a QR code in the first place?

The QR code, or Quick Response Code, was first created in 1994 by Denso Wave, a part of the Toyota Motor group. Its purpose was to track vehicle components during the manufacturing process. The QR code’s signature matrix design was able to hold over 200 times more information than a traditional UPC barcode and came with the unique ability to self-correct so it could be read even if up to 30% of its image was dirty or distorted1. These characteristics spurned initial growth of QR code usage as an information access point in various industries such as manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and life sciences as an application for product traceability, process control, and information management.

The use of the QR code to point more to content, as we typically see it today, began to surface in the late 2000’s with the growth of smartphones. Marketers saw an opportunity to use QR codes to link real world objects to online messaging about their brands, giving them a digital channel. In theory this idea made a lot of sense, but in practice it often lacked in execution.

Marketers started putting QR codes on anything and everything in attempts to appear technologically savvy. However, most of these QR codes led to broken links, poorly optimized mobile websites, or generally unengaging content.

In short, they provided little value to consumers who were already aggravated by the need to download a mobile app to scan them. It was here that the QR code earned its bland reputation. Marketers failed to understand that the value of the QR code was not inherent in itself, but rather fundamentally based on what was behind the code, what it could provide to the customer.

What was it about QR codes that made so few people in that room raise their hands? It was the content they expected to find behind the code.

So as the presentation came to a close, I could sense a shift in the room. Members of the audience had scanned our QR code off the screen and were curiously playing with the uniquely designed Lumavate microsite it linked to on their phones.

“Ok this is pretty cool and new” the judge said. I couldn’t have agreed more.

When used correctly, QR codes can provide rich experiences for consumers and valuable analytical data to companies. Look out for my next blog post to read about companies that have achieved success using QR codes the right way.

1  “QR Code Essentials”. Denso ADC. 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2016.