QR codes as they are most commonly called, were initially created by a subsidiary of Toyota in Japan in 1994, Denso-Wave. The QR codes helped track the status of parts that were being shipped.These barcodes are big in Japan and South Korea and are just now gaining steam in the United States. However, I believe that marketing campaigns have taken the QR code hostage and are now abusing it. Here are the main qualms about using QR codes in marketing campaigns:

Using it For a Basic URL
If a person wants to create a QR code for a website such as TheSocialRobot.com, do us all a favor and don’t. Isn’t a simple URL to a home page much easier to remember rather than trying to scan the QR code at that exact moment to view their mobile site? What if I’d like to browse the site when I’m back at my computer? For those instances, a shorter URL that is easy to remember or write down would be a lot more effective.

As Martin from the Web 2.0 Blog states, “Advertisers who embed desktop URLs in a QR code are missing the point of real-to-mobile interactivity. People interact with their mobile devices with significantly shorter attention spans than they do on their desktops. Once a QR code is scanned, the resulting view should be thumb-interactive, easy to read, and purpose-driven.”

The only time a QR code would be useful is when sending users to long URLs of specific product pages, such as www.example.com/shop/toys/barney/small-4693482032. Using the QR code can allow a user to read more about the Barney toy and share the link. The same goes for cars at a dealership– they work great for price stickers when a salesman isn’t there. A user can view the internet price, check specifics, and using the online payment calculator to find out costs.

Targeting Mobile Smart Phones
Some websites just don’t translate well to mobile phones, no matter how big the screen is. If there are a lot of interior detail pages or the website doesn’t have a mobile version, using QR codes don’t make a lot of sense.

Many websites on smart phones are either for social networking, online shopping, or current events, like the mobile version of CNN.com. According to Opera, the 10 top mobile sites in the United States in 2010 were:

  1. Google.com
  2. Facebook.com
  3. Myspace.com
  4. Wikipedia.org
  5. Youtube.com
  6. My.opera.com
  7. Yahoo.com
  8. Espn.go.com
  9. Accuweather.com
  10. Nytimes.com
As you can see, these sites are mainly for searching and basic informational needs, like the weather and news. Even if a QR code was created for a popular website, like Mashable.com, what are the chances someone will actually use it? The “click through rate” of QR codes has to be low, especially when taking into consideration bounce rate and time spent on the website. While it’s nice to know that QR CTR and other metrics can be directly measured (thus allowing marketers to track print URL conversion to the web), the actual proof that QR codes work for regular website URL conversion and other online information just isn’t quite there yet.
QR_Code_Structure_ExampleWeb to Mobile Doesn’t Translate Well
Using a QR code on a printed material can be useful, but when it comes to posting it on a website, as a TwitPic, or other digital medium? My main question is, Why? Why would someone who is already browsing the web on their computer want to scan a QR code to take them to another website on their phone? That is almost the equivalent of writing an email on a laptop while texting the same person on a phone.

Of course, there are exceptions. These may include:

  • QR code to download mobile app page
  • QR code to Google Map directions to business location
  • QR code to mobile contest, which may include taking location-relevant photo or texting a phrase to a monitored number.

That’s it. No QR codes on websites to regular pages. No QR codes to Facebook pages. No QR codes to an online shopping cart. As Martin further notes, “Old habits die hard, so it will take some time for people to get used to engaging the real world with their phone, but the unique look of a QR code, a strong call to action, and valuable rewards will help further their surging popularity.”

Additionally, users’ inexperience with connecting to the mobile web as referenced above can also lead to a high instance of human error, especially if they are unable to get the code to scan and no other URL or call to action is offered. The user may simply “give up” and not attempt to access the information again.

Just Because It Is the ‘Next Big Thing’
Just because QR codes are the hottest thing to currently hit the social and mobile web, it doesn’t mean that they are right for every website, business, or marketing campaign. Don’t create a QR code for you, your business, or your website in order to keep up with The Joneses. The problem with this is that The Joneses could understand and actually utilize QR codes the correct way, which may make a company that doesn’t understand pale in comparison.

The same goes for Facebook and Twitter- having a profile or page on these sites doesn’t mean you are just as relevant as your competitors, especially if you aren’t updating them regularly. (But that may be another article entirely.)

On a final note, for a few great ideas on how to use QR codes in marketing, check out this post by Brennan at FreePromoTips.com.au


Images courtesy of http://bloggertone.com/marketing/2011/01/05/qr-codes-will-they-be-big-in-2011/ and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:QR_Code_Structure_Example.svg


Kelsey Jones

Kelsey Jones

Founder/Chief Marketing Consultant at Six Stories
Kelsey Jones helps clients around the world grow their social media, content, and search marketing presence. She enjoys writing and consuming all kinds of content, both in digital and tattered paperback form.
Kelsey Jones
Kelsey Jones