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Buggy whips. Cassette tapes. VHS. QR codes. What do all of these things have in common?
If you said, “Why, they’re all antiquated pieces of technology that people no longer use save for recluses who live in the mountains,” you’d be correct.
Many of you probably remember QR codes – the funny-looking black-and-white symbols that started popping up all over the place in the latter half of the first decade of the 2000’s. They were promising, the golden symbols of what the Internet could mean for us all: faster communication; more effective information sharing; all the data you could want with just one, quick scan.
For marketers, QR codes held even greater promise: a better way to get people to go to a website or a landing page. For a few years, everyone scurried to take advantage of QR codes.
But then, for whatever reason, they inexplicably fell out of use. Now, they sit gathering dust on direct mailers, social media profiles, emails, virtual business cards, and other places. The QR code scanners we all downloaded to our cell phones have long since been pushed to the background – or just flat-out deleted.
The QR code, it seems, is dead.
…Or is it?
Could the QR code actually be making a comeback?
QR codes could make a comeback – if marketers decide they ultimately have use.
After all, they do have advantages. It’s easier to scan a QR code than to input a website’s URL, especially if you don’t know the URL. You can make QR codes quickly, and can distribute them in a wide variety of places. They’re also cooler to use, frankly, than clicking on a link.
The amount of info that can be conveyed in a QR code is impressive. With one swipe, you can be taken to anywhere in the virtual world, and can view marketing collateral, like a landing page, from your cell phone or tablet no matter where you are. This includes videos, dynamic graphics, links, text – you name it, QR codes can do it.
Of course, there are barriers to QR code usage, too.
One big barrier: People have to have QR code scanners. That means going through the whole rigmarole of downloading and installing one, very specific app that does just one, very specific thing.
That’s actually one of the reasons why QR codes flamed out like they did. People didn’t like the inconvenience of using the apps – not that they’re particularly hard to use. But the incentive to whip out your phone and snap a picture of a QR code that is on, say, a real estate “For Sale” sign (one common use for QR codes) just isn’t there.
Another barrier: unfamiliarity. Even today, years after they were first introduced, people honestly just don’t know what to do with them. The percentage of people who see QR codes and wonder, “What in tarnation is this contraption?” is still staggeringly high – and without a concentrated education campaign, one that says, “Here’s what they’re for and here’s how to use them”, that percentage won’t decrease. And we tried that, five years ago, when they first burst upon the scene.
So, can they come back? Or like Betamax and Segways, are they doomed to be good ideas that just never got traction?
A marketer has to be smart about he or she uses these codes. Putting them on billboards, like many have done, doesn’t make a lot of sense and is a misuse of the technology. You need to be able to take a steady picture of the QR code, so any medium that doesn’t provide that opportunity is a no-go.
In 2011, most people who used QR codes did so to learn more about products, and to quickly and easily order them and have them shipped. Retail giant Target provided a great example of this when they put QR codes on the top 20 hottest toys they sold for Christmas a few years back. Parents could use QR codes to easily order the product in the store – even if they were sold out – and have the toy shipped.
That, perhaps, is the hidden promise of QR codes – things that allow you to perform a task, like order a product or sign up for something, and take care of a bunch of small steps in one fell swoop.
Instead of thinking they belong everywhere and should just direct people to a company’s website, which was by far how most businesses used them back in the day, QR codes should have very specific, very targeted purposes. They should lead to even more information, or truly engaging content, or should be used to order products or sign up for services or participate in contests and promotions – things that would make people actually want to download and use a QR code.
Bottom line, there has to be some real value behind a QR code, enough to entice people to go the extra step to use them.
(That, and have Apple and Google create proprietary one-touch QR scanners that come included with every phone. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?)
QR codes may not make a comeback. They may silently go the way of the dodo, a dodo that is dressed in baggy MC Hammer pants carrying a Walkman while rollerskating. They could fade out of existence without a struggle.
But perhaps there is some use we can find for QR codes. What do you think: are they gone for good – or merely waiting for their next big opportunity?