QR Codes: The Real Deal

By | March 8, 2011

I don’t know what form QR codes are going to take in the next 5-10 years, but I’ve decided that — until something else replaces them — they’re the real deal.

Forget the clumsy YouTube videos of how hard they are to use. I’ve seen those videos, and there was a time they represented the real user experience. Not anymore. I take out my iPhone, launch i-nigma, hold the phone over the code, and before I’ve even got it centered, the browser has launched. I’ve scanned pretty much everything that’s come across my path lately, and only problem I’ve had is when they link to larger videos that take forever to play on my 3G phone.

In case you’re wondering which of your competitors are inundating me with these codes, I would venture to say almost none. I’ve been scanning QR codes on my direct mail here at the house, most of which is consumer mail. Here in the Pennsylvania heartland, I have trouble finding QR codes out in “real life,” but fortunately, they come to me in my mailbox.

But the codes I’ve been most impressed with are not from my mailbox. They are in the field and have some kind of really functional purpose. One of my favorites is the QR codes now being put on building permits in New York City. You walk by, and if you want to know what’s going on, you snap the code and find out. You aren’t going to type in something like www.newyorkstate.gov/housingdepartment/newyorkcity/2011buildingpermits/hotshotbuilders/project102938484747474747. You’ll snap the code and be taken directly to the permit.

Other personal faves (from a functionality standpoint) are codes designed to take you to pages where you can download apps for your phone. Like the Sherwin Williams Blackberry app that allows users to capture real world colors on their cellphones and then mix up a paint to match.

Marketers using QR codes are already moving quickly past novelty to real functionality. Even in the past three or four months, I’m seeing widerspread adoption and greater functionality. Marketers are figuring this thing out — quickly.

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14 thoughts on “QR Codes: The Real Deal

  1. Dave

    Here is a great site for QR Codes. Mobilinkpro.com has re-linkable QR codes that allow you to change the URL destination of a code online. This is ideal for solutions, for example, where you want to make one sign but be able to change what a user is linked to each time you use the sign. Check it out, there are also Print-It-Yourself PDF signs you can print and play with the service for free. http://www.mobilinkpro.com.

  2. Brian R


    I’m curious if you’ve looked into Microsoft Tag. I’ve been in the printing business for some time. We’ve been looking at this technology for a couple of years. We’ve talked with many customers about QR Codes and have found that simply is just too complicated for the average marketing company to really grasp for usability. Your example of the housing permits is great, however, they don’t really care how effective it is. To really use QR Codes effectively someone has to build the turn-key service that generates codes, tracks codes, manages codes, etc.

    The Microsoft version has taken the roadblock that is “setup” out of the equation. For now it is free, but it allows you to not only create the tag but modify it’s behavior after the fact, modify it’s effective and expiration date, and graph the response.

    Personally I think the barrier to this entire tech is nobody knows what it is. The average person walking by that building permit has no idea what that weird bar code does. I’m interested to see where it goes but at this point I’d put my money on the MS Tag tech over home grown QR Codes until some builds a Microsoft Tag type service based off of QR Codes.

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    MS Tag is simply a proprietary 2D barcode. QR codes are 2D barcodes, too. Just not proprietary. They both basically do the same thing, except to read MS Tag, you need the MS Tag reader. To read QR codes, you can use a generic reader like i-Nigma.

    There are plenty of tracking resources for QR codes (interlinkONE’s QReate&Track comes to mind) that are reasonably priced. interlinkONE also offers a free QR code generator (I use it all the time), so that part is free and couldn’t be easier. You can also find free generators all over the Internet.

    This is not a difficult, expensive technology. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it’s really quite easy. It’s just a matter of it “clicking” in terms of when and where it makes the most sense to use it.

  4. Brian Badillo


    I was at a networking event where some of the developers of the Verizon LTE 4G network were presenting and they mentioned to me that image recognition was going to be “that” replacement technology and wasn’t too far away. In the mean time, I still think the QR code is the most universal and familiar code and will most likely become the go to code. With sites like qrjumps.com or mobilinkpro.com as mentioned above, you have the ability change the destination so I think that is no longer an issue. Like you, I scan every code I get in the mail, but it is still seldom. To me that just means a great opportunity to engage the mobile consumer by those brands that utilize it before their industry competitors.

  5. David Williams

    Thank you for a great article on QR codes. I also have find them easy to use for finding information. I use them on my iPhone with the QR Reader App. Is there a good tool for reading them with a webcam within the browser on a PC?

  6. Yoan Georgiev

    What about DigiMarc Discover? It’s appointed to replace the QR before they spread their wings. The service is more user-friendly, even beautiful than the scary black rectangles, secure, measurable but paid.

  7. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    @David. I don’t know anything about using webcams. I’m sure you could Google it and see what’s available. Let us know!

    @Yoan. I think “appointed to replace” would certainly reflect the company’s goal, but the marketplace will decide. At least right now, the value of the “scary black squares” is that people know what they are and, increasingly, know what to do with them. Invisible watermarks like DigiMarc’s require an explanation “Scan this tree with your smartphone,” along with an explanation of what software they need and where to download it (as opposed to generic QR code readers) or something like that which take up room, too. Lots of it. Widespread adoption of QR codes will certainly drive this technology in the long run, however.

  8. Jim Olsen

    Lots of great info on QR codes in the Linkedin Group: 2D Codes for Global Media. There are other QR code groups but that seems the like the best one.

  9. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    I agree. I am also a member of that group and get huge value out of it. Not just the expertise from those actively using the technology but also the huge volume of case studies that go through there.

  10. John

    I agree that QR codes are great and will be the wave of the future however at least here in Canada I believe that either not too many people are familiar with them yet or just have no interest. A client of ours (major press manufacturer) dropped 5k on an add in a print magazine (which I would assume most people would know what to do) and in 3 months got 1 hit…

  11. David Roberts

    My company is embracing QR Codes full-force, and can integrate them with any campaign, either as a data-driven variable PURL generated by XMPie, or as a simple static link on print pieces. It really is not that difficult as Brian R suggests. Is the QR code technology useful? Yes. The real question becomes how can this technology be used to improve the effectiveness of Direct Mail. Also, if you want to direct people to a purl via QR Code, you should adjust the way your online experience works to compensate for smaller mobile device browsers.

  12. Frank Hudetz

    Nice to read that you feel these code are the real deal. I’ve felt that way for a long time as you know and now the proof is definitely showing up in every industry. One of the best analogies I read recently to address the doubters of QR Codes was how many people thought 800# could never serve a purpose and as we all know they became ubiquitous. I feel the same thing will happen with QR Codes but to be honest I think the biggest use will occur out of home not with direct mail or magazines. Which kind of goes to your point about reading a permit sign on a building.

  13. Chris Stone

    Our clients love the idea – haven’t taken the plunge. We’ve given them specific examples of how their companies could utilize – yet they haven’t. My guess is it is the designer not wanting the QR code to interfere with their design – even though we have shown examples of how QR codes have been stylistically imbedded.

    Too bad Microsoft’s technology didn’t catch on earlier – it is better using multiple colors for more data – we do live in a colored world and most QR codes I see while being B&W are printed on a color piece.

  14. Brian R


    I agree it is proprietary. However, it is more fully featured than any QR Code “tracking” service I’ve seen. From qreateandtrack.com:

    If you create the QR Code in our system, and you direct it to a page on the web, you will absolutely be able to track those scans. However, if your QR Code simply presents a text message to person or directs people to a QR Code that simply displays contact information as a meCard, you will not be able to track those. If you do want to track scenarios like that, we would recommend putting that information on a web page, and then pointing the QR Code to the corresponding URL.

    You can only track Webpages. MS Tag also lets you give effective and expiration dates for your data as well as change the behavior at any time. There is nothing that can be done with current QR Tech to achieve those results with behaviors other than URLs.

    The argument that you must use the MS Tag reader doesn’t hold much water since it is free and available for all platforms. I should also mention that the MS Tag standard requires that you display how to acquire that software with the tag.

    As far as ease of use, to me, QR Codes are easy. I can write the software to integrate it. I can write the software to track it. The concepts are well within my grasp. However, to the consumer or the producer effectively using the tech past a link to a website is more complex. MS Tag’s service offers a more turn-key solution that is just as accessible to the end user and, for the moment, free.

    In my personal opinion the size and possible design considerations make MS Tag’s less of a sore on the printed piece. Viewing the difference between a QR Code on a business card:

    Compared to the MS Tag on a business card in this video:

    And competent designers can actually build MS Tag’s that fit much better with the design of a piece:

    Leaving out that tech when discussing the options to “engage mobile users” seems to serve no real purpose. As gatekeepers to tech, marketing firms and designers should offer both options to clients. The cost and use in the wild isn’t notably different other than the “proprietary” argument about which the end user could care less.

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