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QR Codes Losing Luster with Marketers – It’s Time for Proof of Value

Tuesday, 06 August 2019  
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Innovation can simultaneously be a marketer’s best friend and his greatest enemy.

On the one hand, no marketer should ever relent in his quest to identify new, exciting technologies and media that facilitate better customer interactions with improved cost-efficiency.  Inertia is simply incompatible with the marketing function—while some business leaders and units are able take pride in sticking to tradition, a marketer’s refusal to stay on the cutting-edge can often equate to a refusal to be a better marketer.

But a marketer who refuses to curb his excitement over new trends and view them through a lens of rationality—if not skepticism—can be just as flawed in his approach.

Sadly, there are far too many examples of that misguided marketer; far too many who mistake a quest to be “hip” and “trendy” for a viable strategic vision.  For proof, just look to the thousands of marketers who half-heartedly register their brands on every social network imaginable without any concern for the impact on customer relationships or what really defines a successful social strategy.

There are many direct and indirect, competitive and non-competitive reasons why brands need to implement certain marketing strategies and participate in certain media.  “Everyone is doing it” is almost never one of those reasons.

The concept of the quick response (QR) code has separated the metaphorical “men from the boys” in this regard.  Far too many businesses are haphazardly stamping QR codes on promotional material because “everyone is doing it.”

Luckily, marketers are finally beginning to question the sanity, or lack thereof.

As marketers—and their media sources—think about how their evolution will continue in 2012, significant emphasis has been placed on the disappointment most have seen from the codes.  Though the concept presents so much flexibility and potential—when scanned, the images induce action on consumers’ mobile devices, including sending messages, playing videos, providing discounts on an e-commerce storefront, redirecting to websites or installing apps—few have achieved meaningful success from QR marketing, with failure and disappointment evident on many grounds.

AdAge, for example, cites a study confirming that only 5% of Americans with mobile phones scanned a QR code in Q2 2011.  Even if a brand put a phenomenally-effective lead generation tool on the other end of its code, with such a small adoption level—and one that skews heavily towards the singular young, wealthy and male demographic—noteworthy success would still be hard to fathom for many businesses.

And that logic, of course, is making the bold—and false—assumption that the QR codes bring up something of value.  In reality, most QR campaigns provide little-to-no value to consumers, a fact undoubtedly responsible for the poor adoption level.

Though not quite on the level of Twitter handles and Facebook URLs, the QR code has indeed found itself caught in the “everyone is doing it” trap.  Many brands, out of obligation, include a QR code on their business cards, billboards, brochures and television commercials but do not feel the same obligation to affix value to the code.

As a result, their code displays often lack a relevant call to action, and in the rare event that they are actually scanned, call up generic media like the brand’s official website or official app.  Disappointment over the result of the scan discourages users from scanning in the future, contributing to the sour attitude so many possess towards the marketing tool.

In essence, the QR code struggle is a result of marketers mistakenly believing they are being judged on the progressiveness of their campaigns (“what kind of lame, backwards marketer would dare release a subway billboard without a QR code?”) rather than on the campaigns’ ability to convert.

“Something becomes trendy or sexy, and marketers feel they have to jump onboard to position themselves as innovative and make sure they don't fall behind,” articulates Forrester’s Melissa Parish in the AdAge article.

But cracking the QR code puzzle is not as simple as a universal marketing commitment to putting more valuable tools behind the image.  In rushing to implement QR marketing as a means of staying trendy, brands have failed to question fundamental notions of the strategy that could be crippling its adoption.

For starters, because the smartphone is increasingly becoming an extension of the consumer’s right hand, the assumption has emerged that QR codes can logically be placed everywhere.  That assumption is errant.

SG Entrepreneurs’ article on common QR code “sins”identifies illogical placement of QR codes as one such sin.  Sure, consumers riding the subway are likely carrying their phones, but are they always going to feel comfortable actually pulling their phone out, opening up their QR app (which highlights another major issue—the lack of uniformity regarding QR scanning) and scanning away?

And even if they do, are they going to be in a position to actually interact with whatever media pops up on their phone as a result of the scan?  The same logic applies to QR codes placed on media like public bathroom artwork and billboards on skyscrapers.

That line of questioning only applies to media that could produce societal and network-connectivity related inhibitors.  What about media that is very time-sensitive, such as a 15- or 30-second television commercial, a moving bus or a billboard on a highway?  Even if the call-to-action were immensely compelling, is it not quite irresponsible—and consequently devaluing to the campaign—to assume some interested mobile users will miss their window of opportunity to scan the code?

Given the low adoption rate, it is also perplexing why so few brands believe they need to accompany QR campaigns with a powerful call-to-action.

In 2012, it is somewhat reasonable to expect customers will know what a Twitter handle represents (though brands should certainly not refrain from providing calls-to-action for their social media sites), but the same cannot be said for QR codes.  And even if one would contend that the QR code is a recognizable currency, the campaign still needs to induce the customer to act before the image is out of his line of sight.  In trying to drive the consumer to instantaneous action, how could a brand even consider refraining from selling the value of said action?

In a society predicated on creativity and innovation, no one wants to be the voice responsible for slowing either down, especially within the marketing realm.  So many brands owe their success to clever, outside-the-box strategies and technologies, and a marketer’s strict adherence to tradition risks creating the perception that he will be unable to identify and seize burgeoning opportunities.

But the marketers who have achieved success from innovative strategies did not mistakenly confuse “trendiness” as a performance benchmark.  When luck was not the case, these marketers were simply looking for more viable and more valuable ways for communicating the message to customers.

With such a philosophy driving their performance, the marketers were able to identify new technologies and strategies that presented real value—and adopt them in the most advantageous ways.

QR codes represent a potentially-groundbreaking way to drive action from consumers, who are becoming exponentially more excited about engaging with brands on mobile devices.  Thus far, however, far too many brands have squandered the opportunity.

With the right strategy, message and call-to-action, a QR campaign can be very successful.  But, in its current state, it appears the QR code is not so obviously a ticket to success that the “everyone’s doing it” motivation carries any meaning.

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