If you ask someone what they think the latest trend is with digital technology, chances are they will say QR codes. But upon a deeper look, these two-dimensional codes aren’t all they’re shaped up to be. With promises of higher levels of engagement and a whole new way of interacting with the passive customer glamorizing the black and white squares, it’s hard to believe that QR codes really aren’t doing that well. But one look at the statistics will tell you otherwise.
14 million mobile users in the USA scanned a QR code on their mobile device, according to a study by comScore
14 million users is a huge consumer base, but in reality, this is only representative of 6.2 per cent of the total mobile audience in the USA. This leaves a whopping 93.8 per cent of the total mobile audience that isn’t using QR codes.
49.4% of the QR code audience scanned from printed magazine or newspaper and 35.3% scanned from product packaging
58% of the QR code audience scanned from home and 39.4% scanned in a retail store
QR code users are not on-the-go, yet marketers tend to slap QR codes in high traffic areas with billboards and street-level advertising, as well as on TV and in movie trailers. Much of QR code usage appears to be when people are stationary and this may be related to the significant amount of effort and time required in actually scanning a code.
What’s the problem?
QR codes have so much potential, yet usage rates are significantly lower than what many marketers had hoped they would reach. Even with this reality, QR codes seem to be everywhere – movie posters, product labels, and shows & conferences. So what is preventing the proliferation of QR codes? The issue seems to be two-fold.
They create a barrier rather than a simplified user experience
QR codes are cumbersome to use. They require a QR code reader in order to be able to scan the code, which then links to a website or information about a product or brand. Companies attempt to place QR codes everywhere – on clothing, on posters, in movie trailers, in television commercials – and never put much thought into the process of actually scanning and reading the code. If an individual doesn’t already have a QR code reader app installed, they would have to find one in iTunes, wait for it to download, and then open the app in order to scan the code. At this point, most customers would have given up or, in some cases, the commercial on TV is long over. Rather than offering added value for the customer, QR codes have created an additional barrier to information making it increasingly difficult for the customer to interact with the brand.
The effort required outweighs the benefits of use
This is related to the above issue of QR codes creating an added barrier for the customers – the effort in engaging with the brand outweighs the benefit reaped. Ultimately, this was the fault of the marketers who were building campaigns around QR codes. Many companies use them incorrectly and simply link to information that was already readily available elsewhere (i.e. a phone number or address) or to a website without mobile capabilities. Where is the benefit for the user? After going through all the effort of downloading a QR code reader, taking out their phone, positioning the code exactly within the middle of the screen, and waiting for the page to load, customers want something useful (deal or promotion) or fun (a game or exclusive content). Customers quickly lose interest and even lose some of the trust in the brand/company and are extremely apprehensive of using QR codes again.
Marketers who attempt to integrate QR codes into their campaigns seem to make a very large assumption about customers: that people are willing and able to interact with advertising and marketing. It takes a lot of effort to have someone pay attention or convey interest in an advertisement, let alone put in the effort to download an app, scan the code, and wait for a page to load, only to be disappointed with the lack of content.
What is the solution?
The latest technology to hit marketers is Mobile Visual Search and Google has been the first to capitalize on this with an application called Google Goggles. Mobile Visual Search (MVS) applications allow users to search by taking pictures — simply snap a photo of anything in the physical world and Google analyzes the image and brings up the most relevant search query. From landmarks and artwork, to text, books, and logos, MVS applications are building off of QR codes and minimizing (possibly eliminating) the need for text and voice-based search.
How successful will MVS be though? In addressing the two major issues hampering the growth of QR codes, MVS also does not appear to have a solution for either yet. Firstly, MVS still requires downloading an application in order to be able to “read” the physical world, thus the barrier for customers still remains extremely high. Secondly, marketers still haven’t grasped the idea of offering incentives for customers who use MVS. The closest brand to successfully use the idea of MVS or augmented reality has been Starbucks with their holiday cups and Valentine’s Day campaign.
What brands are using QR codes well?
Some brands and companies are using the technology well and we can learn from their campaigns.
Sportsgirl “Window Shop”
Sportsgirl is an Australian multichannel fashion brand that recently activated its latest digital strategy: a “window shop.” Working by use of the Sportsgirl QR code system, customers can make an immediate purchase by scanning the QR code on the Sportsgirl products that are displayed on the shop front’s windows.
The products in the window are updated weekly to feature the latest styles creating a 24/7 shopping experience. Moreover, customers who make a purchase are rewarded with a gift that is sent with their purchased product.While the campaign doesn’t eliminate the barrier of needing to download the Sportsgirl code reader, the benefit clearly outweighs the effort. Customers are able to access this shopping experience 24/7 when the physical stores are closed and they are rewarded for their effort with an additional gift with their purchase.
Temaki Sushi “Yoobi” Code Fishing
Yoobi is London’s first Temaki Sushi restaurant. It hasn’t even opened yet and is creating a buzz with their brightly painted, QR code-covered construction boards. The display board outside the restaurant construction site invites passersby to “go fishing” with the help of QR codes. Black fish, each with their own QR codes, have been painted onto the boards and passersby are encouraged to “fish” for free Temaki by scanning the QR code with their smartphone. Each code reveals a different message, such as a Temaki winning message that states “Well done, you’ve caught the freshest fish around” and winners download a voucher to redeem when the restaurant opens in March. The messages generated by the codes are changed each day to keep the game fresh and encourage people to play more than once.
As with the Sportsgirl campaign, the barrier to the customer remains high because a QR code reader app is required to participate, but the incentive for the customer is high and engagement is very high. The display board is creative and eye-catching and attracts passersby. Engagement is very high since messages are changed every day, as such, people are motivated to keep coming back to participate.
The future of QR codes and MVS
The future of QR codes and MVS appears to be bleak unless the two major obstacles of barrier to use and consumer incentives are solved. One way to solve the issue of barrier to use may be to integrate QR code scanners or MVS technology into every mobile phone camera. The logistics behind this idea is immense – which company will develop this technology? Which phone company will integrate it? How long will it be before the user base is large enough to make it worthwhile for marketers to invest money into a MVS/QR code campaign?
The second issue of consumer incentives is already being tackled with innovative companies and brands creating unique and enticing campaigns, such as the Sportsgirl and Yoobi examples above. Brands like these are setting the bar high for future campaigns and are taking a promising step in the right direction towards providing greater benefits and incentives for users that are willing to take part in the campaign.
Until MVS or QR code readers are integrated into every mobile phone camera, the barrier to use these applications still remains very high for the consumer. Additionally, unless marketers can begin to offer creative campaigns with greater incentives, QR codes and MVS usage will continue to decline.