Mobile 2D codes are inevitably fascinating to marketers even as they remain relatively obscure to many consumers. I have had mobile marketers tell me that virtually every brand rep who comes into their office asks whether he or she should have a code.
This is understandable. The promise of using mobile technology to link the physical environment with the vast pool of data and service we have accumulated in digital media for the last two decades is just too delicious to ignore. At the first OMMA Mobile show in 2007, we dubbed the model a “clickable world.” Ideally, some trigger (whether it is a scan code, image recognition, near-field communications, augmented reality, Bluetooth or geo-location) can turn the phone into a computer mouse that makes anything in the physical world capable of linking to a trove of information. The potential here is staggering. The world becomes the Web.
Graduate students in Media and Cultural Studies are salivating at the prospect of writing the big book on how mobile media will redefine how we experience physical reality once mobile devices augment everything. Believe me -- I came from the academic world. At least a dozen dissertations on it are probably in the works, and each might actually be read… by the other 11 authors.
But while scan codes seem ubiquitous to the marketer’s eye (we see them everywhere), consumers may be less familiar with such codes than we think. In a recent study of consumer behavior and QR codes, cmb Consumer Pulse found that only 21% of over 1,200 consumer surveyed in October 2011 knew what the term “QR code” meant. Arguably, more consumers would know codes by sight, because 81% recognized them when shown an image of a QR code.
Whether consumers know what to do with QR codes is another puzzler. As I covered in the last Mobile insider column, marketers like Etymotic were finding even early adopters much less familiar with codes than they had hoped. The cmb study suggests that the ramp-up will be pretty quick, however, since 50% of smartphone owners responding said they had already scanned a code.
Whether the code experience is delivering real value remains the open question, however. While 18% of survey respondents said that the information delivered by the process was not useful at all, another 42% had a mixed reaction. With 41% saying that they found the data delivered useful, the glass is still not even half full.
Interestingly, there may be a missed opportunity here in a bit of a disconnect between what consumers want and what the codes are offering. Among those who clicked on codes, only 18% received a coupon or discount. But when asked why they would like to use their smartphone to scan, 43% said they wanted offers and discounts. Only 26% showed an interest in scanning to get more information about a product.
My own feeling is that the code itself is never enough -- it must be married with some kind of messaging that manages expectations. Creative needs to get creative in finding just the right few words that say more than “for more.” Sometimes simple product specs are all a user wants and needs, but I think more needs to be done on the front end at the code level to make that clear.
Don’t expect users to click on the cool new thing anymore. That is so eight months ago. In October, 46% said they clicked on a code out of curiosity, and only 41% scanned with the expectation of getting more information. If a majority of the curious were disappointed in what they got, then how much longer will they be following their curiosity and scanning codes just because they are there? At this point, delivering disappointing experiences with a mobile 2D code is just diminishing the platform’s potential for everyone.