Jim Nichols, Contributor
Emmy winning newsman turned professional message maker
I love QR codes. I was an early adopter of them, having created a QR code generator and tracking system in 2009. I developed a process where renters in Philadelphia could see the availability of apartments and schedule a viewing by simply scanning the code on the building’s front door. QR codes are great for providing quick, simple and timely information, thus the reason they’re called Quick Response (QR) codes. However, I knew that this technology, like all great technologies (think email) could be easily abused by people who either didn’t “get it” or who were simply trying to be cutting edge. I think we are at the forefront of this technology being abused.
The popularity of QR codes is going to be severely diminished by the user’s annoyance. I recently scanned a QR code on a bus station billboard and was taken to a non-mobile friendly site. I couldn’t see anything on my phone. I scanned a QR code on a business card and was taken to another non-mobile friendly site instead of being given a vCard. Why did I need this to go to your website? I knew we reached absurdity when I was driving through Western New Jersey and got stuck in traffic. Up on a billboard was a QR code from a local bank – impossible to scan while driving 55 miles per hour (New Jerseyians usually drive much faster than that) and still impossible to scan even just a few feet from the billboard stopped in traffic. All of these experiences would make me want to give up on QR codes forever if I wasn’t so personally enthralled with the technology. I’m convinced with every lousy QR code produced; two or three users will be permanently put off. After a while that can add up to a lot of people not using a potentially beneficial piece of technology.
So what qualifies as a “good” QR code? Let’s start with the type. Do your users a favor and use the standard QR codes (see above) that most readers can easily decipher. There have been a litany of alternatives requiring special apps and gateways. I recently saw a major food chain feature a Microsoft Tag, a QR Code
that required me to sign in with a Windows Live account (I quickly abandoned it). [UPDATE: Microsoft seems to really believe in their tags. I’ve been contacted by fanboys, PR people and others (who after Googling may or may not be affiliated with MS) about this statement. Regardless of who is behind it, I don’t want to be wrong so I decided to try it again with different codes and I re-downloaded the app. After doing this, I was NOT asked to sign in with a Window’s Live account.] Lowe’s has been using QR codes to communicate gardening information for plants [UPDATE: a message from Microsoft’s PR agency says that Lowe’s is now using Microsoft Tags, but I haven’t seen them in person. My last visit was two or three months ago, so I might have missed them], movie posters use QR codes to deliver trailers to a person’s phone, and there are codes that have been used for coupons and mobile tickets. These are all good examples of how the technology can work. I think some of the best uses of QR codes are still to come: I wish electronic devices such as monitors, TVs, refrigerators, etc. would print a QR code on the back of their devices that points to a mobile version of the device’s user manual. I usually lose those things and rarely refer to them, but it would be an efficient use of the technology. With the upcoming Food Safety and Tracking Improvement Act, I’d like to use QR codes to know where my food came from, if it was recalled and how far it traveled.
There are many smart possibilities for QR codes as long as marketers remember their purpose: delivering additional, valuable information at a specific point of time. Using a QR code to deliver a how-to video, coupon, ticket, vCard, phone number or directions are wonderful uses of the technology. Using codes to repeat the same information already in front of you is a waste of great technology.
Jim Nichols is Vice President – Digital at Stern + Associates, a full-service communications firm that fuses the best of public relations, traditional media, digital, marketing and direct engagement strategies through its Connected Communications SM approach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org