QR Eye For The Regular Guy

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.

5 comments about "QR Eye For The Regular Guy".
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  1. Roger Matus from Nellymoser, Inc., January 5, 2012 at 1:20 p.m.

    Steve -- great post. I also get asked the same question. My answer is similar, but a little different.

    A QR code is nothing more than the updated form of a "Call To Action." At a minimum, you need to do the same thing as you would for an 800 number or a web address -- you must give a reason to act. "Scan to see a demo" or "scan for a discount" or "scan to enter a sweepstakes" are ideal calls to action.

    You may also want to educate the consumer about where to get a reader -- but that need will surely go away as more are educated. The need for a call to action will never go away.

    Although we have entered the second decade of the 21st century with smartphones, the rules of Marketing 101 still apply.

  2. Brian Raines from linkblots, January 5, 2012 at 1:24 p.m.

    The biggest point of failure of QR code campaign implementations is landing the user on a non-mobile optimized web page as the scan result. The best method is to point your QR code to a mobile optimized page but the development of the mobile platform can be expensive. Use a service like ours at linkblots where you can manage both your QR codes and mobile landing pages.

  3. Antony McGregor Dey from Link.Me, January 5, 2012 at 1:39 p.m.

    At we're working with all the top book publishers in the USA, Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette etc, we deliver what we're calling 'DVD Extra's for books'. This is bonus content related to the book such as interviews with the author, book tour dates, alternate ending and other titles in the series. We're seeing very high response rates, as high as 20% of the total number of titles sold especially in the teen titles, like LA Candy or Vampire Diaries. If people are interested in case studies please email us at and we'll be happy to send some examples.

  4. Dave Lafontaine from Artesian Media, January 5, 2012 at 2:45 p.m.

    One of the problems with jumping on the QR code bandwagon is that there has to be real training & resources allocated to where the QR codes are going to be put into use. I'm finishing up a case study right now where one of the glaring examples is of a retail electronics chain where the sales staff were never taught how to use the QR codes.

    So when customers came up, scanned the codes on the displays & had problems, the staff 1) wasn't able to help, 2) gave wrong advice, turning off customers, 3) became annoyed and ignored frustrated customers and 4) ultimately reacted by tearing down the displays and hiding them behind the counter, so they wouldn't have to deal with questions they couldn't answer any more.

  5. Drake LaDue from fused180, January 5, 2012 at 6 p.m.

    QR is the way to go and take a look at this for an example of what Mobile tagging Networks can do using a QR as a access point. This model works on all platforms and requires no app download. Book mark the networks and it looks just like an app. tag along an SMS plan and open the world to feature phones as well. try the text palsies to 96362

    Drake at fused

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