Are QR codes living up to their potential?

by Gemma Maidment on 19 August 2011

Over the weekend I introduced my grandfather to QR codes, perhaps a little ambitious and I have to admit that although he loved the concept, I don’t think he will ever have the technology to really use it. It really got me thinking though. I know how amazing QR codes could be, they could facilitategreat interactive and cross-channel customer and brand experiences, and performance is easily measurable (brilliant!) but I can’t help but be a bit sceptical. Who actually gets their phone out and scans these codes?

A quick bit of crowdsourced research on social media showed that other people have had the same thought. As marketers we love the QR code, but the consumer is still a bit ‘take-it or leave-it’ about them, and don’t naturally interact with QR codes yet. So, should you be rushing out and putting QR codes on as many marketing platforms as possible? Maybe, but I think there are a few things to really think about first.

There are 2 areas in particular that I want to think through before I jump on the QR code bandwagon.

1.    Is it right for the target audience?

If you are targeting tech savvy, early adopters then get QR codes in your marketing tactics quick – you are probably behind the curve. If your target audience is unlikely to have a smartphone then I suggest you leave QR codes in the corner and think of something else for the time being. But what if your audience is somewhere in between? For this audience group then a layer of QR code education and facilitation needs to be added to your marketing plan to help people to get up to speed on what they have to do to ‘use’ the code. Even a quick sentence ‘scan this with your smartphone’ would be a good start.

2.    What is the purpose or objective of the QR code? More importantly, what is in it for the customer?

A QR code is really just a call to action. We would never advise our clients to design their websites or any other interfaces with the ‘buy me now’ button hidden in a corner like a bar code on packaging so why are QR codes positioned that way? To encourage use it might also be a good idea to provide the customer with something extra, some sort of promotion or special if they scan it, not just a link to your website. This should motivate people to go the extra step to download an app and get scanning. If you want the customer to access information immediately using a URL QR code remember they will need wifi or 3G.

Most of all I think QR codes just need a bit of good PR. I’d like to see more creative uses for QR codes to keep the buzz going, and the more novel and useful places QR codes are used the more consumers will get excited about them and pick them up as a daily tool for their own benefits. It is rumoured that the iPhone 5 will have a QR code scanner built in, that will definitely help the QR code cause!

Have you seen any great uses or epic QR code fails? Have you implemented them to great success, or been using or considering them and had other worries on your mind? Thoughts, advice, questions all welcome in the comments below!


QR code: Scan me with your smartphone to get to the Webcredible homepage!

Picture: Tesco reinvents grocery shopping with QR-code ‘stores’ in Korea via

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