QR codes ask a lot of prospective users.
- Possess a smart phone
- Download a QR reader app (or other format like Microsoft TAG)
- Have the phone nearby and usable when you encounter a QR code (easy in a magazine ad, perhaps less so for QR codes now appearing on highway billboards)
- Be motivated enough to actually perform behaviors 1-3
While nifty, QR codes are often not the easiest and most convenient method of information retrieval, and when utilized to convey data that could be more seamlessly delivered in another format, they become downright head-scratching. This is the case with the increasingly popular use of QR codes in place of Web URLs.
It hasn’t been all that long since URLs began to appear on advertisements and other communication components. I vividly remember debating whether we should use www.internetdirect.com or http://internetdirect.com on a series of ads my first online company ran in PC Magazine, Net Guide, and Internet World in 1994. Now, however, all but the most brand-driven and obtuse ads include a URL, in the way that the prior generation of marketers included a phone number, and before them, a street address. So to replace a perfectly good URL with a QR code requires changing behavior that’s pretty well established at this juncture.
I’m not so sure people are ready to abandon written URLs. After all, with URLs you don’t need a smart phone (or a phone at all), or an app, or a data plan or anything whatsoever other than a modicum of short-term memory. Thus, unless you are in the pharmaceutical marijuana trade, I believe replacing a URL with a QR code falls into the category of ordering pizza online – doable, but more trouble than it’s worth.
When QR Stands For “Quite Realistic”
So where then does the QR code fit? When should it be used? In short, QR codes should unlock information, not a destination. I recently stumbled upon a terrific use of QR codes, at Scotty’s Brewhouse in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. Scotty’s is a 5-store chain of sports pubs rightfully lauded for their social media prowess, burgers, special hot sauce, and for generally having their act together in every respect. In fact, owner Scott Wise recently won the MIRA Award in Indiana for new media excellence.
I love this use of QR because it unlocked information that was contextually important to me at the time I encountered the code. I cannot overstate that characteristic enough. People need to stop what they are doing and in the absence of any other activity, grab their phone, turn it on, open the app, point the camera, wait for the code to register, visit wherever it takes them, and then decide what to do next. For all that, there better be some immediate payoff, and an extensive beer list qualifies.
Scotty’s of course still has printed lists for patrons who are not on the QR express, but they are printing far fewer than before (green! sustainability!) and because their beer offerings change frequently, it’s easier to keep the electronic list current (just-in-time data!). Perhaps even more impressive is the 32-page takeout menu which is also available via QR code at the front counter, and once snapped is stored on your phone.
Of course, as I wrote about in “Does QR Stand for Quasi-Ridiculous” and “Using QR Codes for Instant Sampling,”, it’s a requirement for what lies behind your QR codes to be perfectly formatted for mobile devices, as both the beer list and takeout menu are in this instance.
3 QR Code Must-Dos
- Unlock information, not a destination
- Lead the user to information that’s relevant immediately
- Perfect mobile formatting of the information delivered