QR Code: It’s Just an 800 Number

By | May 18, 2012

In a recent discussion about the value of QR Codes here on Digital Nirvana, a comment from one of the participants really struck me. He said, “I can only remember one campaign when I’ve ever gotten something rewarding from scanning [a QR Code].”

This is the primary complaint against QR Codes I read about in blog comments and discussion groups.  “I keep scanning these codes, but I never get anything of value. Why bother?” There are many iterations of this complaint, but ultimately, they all come down to the same thing.

This particular individual works in this industry and scans most of the codes he comes across. So let’s think about this for a minute.

QR Codes are just a response mechanism like any other response mechanism. If you scan every one that you see, what do you expect to happen? What would happen if you called every 800 number you saw? You would be inundated with irrelevant offers, uninteresting pitches, and badly handled telephone scripts. Maybe one in every — what — 100 would have some value to you personally?

Is that the fault of 800 numbers? No, it’s bad or irrelevant marketing. Why should we expect anything less from scanning QR Codes?

Every day, we’re surrounded by bad marketing. Calling every 800 number you see and complaining that you come away with nothing but a poor experience is like sticking your hand on a hot stove over and over and continuing to complain that it hurts.

People scan QR Codes because they want something. They want what your marketing pitch promises they will get: a coupon, a a mobile app, customer reviews. If there is no text, then they just scan it to see what it will do. It seems to me that the problem is either irrelevant offers or poor implementation on the landing page side — none of which have anything to do with QR Codes themselves.

Just last night, I was going into the library and saw an interesting postcard on the community information rack. It was a bunch of guys in really funky gear with stringed instruments, a cool band name (one I’d heard before), and some text I didn’t read. But there was a QR Code on the front, so in about 15 seconds, I took out my phone, launched the reader, and scanned the code. Then I put my phone back in my pocket.

I still haven’t looked at the website to which the code points, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve been interested in seeing this band perform. I don’t carry pads and paper. If I do, I lose everything I write down. But because there was a code on the postcard, I now have the band’s website in my browsing history — something that wouldn’t have happened without the code. I simply would have walked by.

QR Codes serve a purpose, but we cannot have unrealistic expectations of what they will or will not do.  When we start thinking about QR Codes like 800 numbers, with their value determined much the same way, that’s when the discussion starts to make some sense.

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4 thoughts on “QR Code: It’s Just an 800 Number

  1. Gee Ranasinha

    Pretty much everyone who sees an 800 number knows how to interact with the information – i.e. they dial the number.

    In contrast, the average consumer doesn’t have a clue as to what they have to do when presented with a QR code. Most end up photographing them.

    Yes, the use of QR codes have a place. At the moment, however, that place is in front of people working in marketing, publishing or tech.

  2. Joe Manos

    Great post Heidi.

    Unfortunately the great examples of well executed QR Code campaigns don’t get published often enough. They are out there though…

    We are continuously educating our customers on the best practices and use cases for effective QR Code campaigns. It will take time and the acceptance of well executed campaigns offering some thing of value will drive a continuous increase in the use of them.

    At the end of the day, the issue continues to be the use of best practice methodologies for effective cross channel, cross media marketing and that remains a challenge for all marketers in our changing world.

  3. Gordon Pritchard

    Well, I’ve been looking at real estate and the agent’s signs on the properties that include QR codes sure make the marketing more effective. I can easily get information about the property just by scanning the QR code on the sign.

  4. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Agreed! For that application, QR Codes are one of the right response mechanisms. That’s the key to successful use of any marketing campaign — matching the right response mechanisms to the right applications. I, too, use QR Codes when they are appropriate and I’m glad to have them!

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