Why people suck at using QR codes

QR codes are hot these days!  Everyone is trying them out: including companies like Cavin Klein and Verizon.  (I live in NYC and they really are everywhere). Axe is in on the QR game too.  Here’s the problem though – most QR codes are used in ways that make no sense at all!

QR codes aren’t used naturally

When a QR code is up on a billboard or on an advertisement, what are the chances that someone will take out their smartphone to interact with it other than the sheer novelty?  Successful advertising runs on relevancy (queue brand awareness arguments here).  I still take the lean startup methodology over branding any day.  Coke and Apple can worry about that- the rest of us need to actually sell things and educate consumers.

Examples where QR codes succeed

My favorite example of a successful use of a QR code is at bus stops.  This is a real value add- everyone wants to know when the bus is coming!

Here’s a long list of examples from Ian Gotts via Flyteblog.com.  The key to most of these is that the information gained from the QR code augments the physical setting.  It is also information that user in that physical location seeks out.  My favorites from the list are:

4) On historical sites and on walking trails. Sure, a plaque is fine for grandma, but I’d like to delve deeper, whether with a wikipedia entry, or an video of a local historian explaining the significance of the site.

6) On For Sale signs. Whether residential or commercial, for sale signs could include codes that had all the information a sell sheet includes, plus video walkthroughs. (Similarly, I loved the interactive real estate window display in Raleigh.  Working on getting an image from them).

9) Next to packaged food in groceries. Give shoppers quick access to recipes that include the ingredients they see on the shelf.

31) On wedding invitations instead of RSVP cards. Scan a QR, save a tree. And a stamp.

People want more information and their smartphone is sometimes the best way of getting it

To me, it sounds just like search marketing.  Use a QR code to help people find more information about things they care about.  Don’t use them as a novelty gimmick in places where people wouldn’t normally use their phones.  Why do people put QR codes on websites?  Wouldn’t a link there work just as well?

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