QR codes have always struck me as a solution in search of a problem. But that hasn't mattered to legions of dutiful marketers, eager to show their savvy by exploiting the next whiz-bang gadget. In far too many cases, though, marketers have been so caught up with whether they could use QR codes, they forgot to ask themselves if they should use them.
Technology and Education Gap: The two biggest hurdles to widespread audience utilization of QR codes is the stubborn facts that relatively few people know how to use them, and if they do, the darn things just don't work all that often. Or at least not conveniently. Most people have to download an app for their phones to read QR codes. Say you have an app that actually works (I went through several on my Blackberry and Android that didn't) - you'll still need to take the time to open that app, try to position your phone's camera to take a picture, and hope that the QR has scanned correctly. After that process, you can finally access the content the QR creator intended. But that's another problem.
Lack of Original Content: I can't tell you how much it bugs me when a QR code simply links to a website. Especially one that is not built for mobile. (Yes, they do exist.) A QR code must link to content that is only useful for consumption on a mobile device. Your website almost always doesn't qualify. And given the acumen young people in particular have for texting, you are probably further ahead simply listing your URL, if that is your target audience.
The Future is Dim: Speaking of young people - if these nifty QR thingies are supposed to be the wave of the future, shouldn't the future be using them...now? I found this study of college students' experiences with QR to be enlightening. Among the key findings:
Poke holes in the methodology of the study if you like, but it's rather difficult to square a 60 percentage point gap in the number of students who owned a smartphone and those who could actually scan a code.
81% of students owned a smartphone 80% of students had previously seen a QR code 21% of students successfully scanned our QR code example. 75% of students said they are “Not Likely” to scan a QR code in the future.
C'mon, Really?: Another complication for QR code use - use along highways.
Obviously, there are some great examples of original QR code thinking. This is pretty cool. So is this. My employer puts them on business cards to allow people to scan our contact information right onto their phone. That seems to make some sense, too.
Which means there is still a chance I could be wrong about QR codes. And I hope so, because I'm always a fan of truly effective ways to give valuable content to an audience. But until we see a whole lot more in the way of unique thinking (with technology that actually works) and less in the way of pure marketing self-indulgence, I'm not inclined to hold my breath.
What do you think? Will QR codes ever gain mainstream (usability) status? Or will they always be the marketers' plaything?