QR Code Mania

Does everyone automatically have QR code mania?  It seems like they do in my world.  The last two weeks have been filled with questions and examples and tweets about QR codes.  I’m even planning an initiative with QR codes (more to come on that in the near future!)  Everywhere I turn, I’m hearing and thinking about QR codes.

I’ve seen some good examples, like the recent Detroit Red Wings program, that enables users to watch an exclusive  video from their mobile phones.  The call-to-action is clear, informative, and the Red Wings even play an instructional video during their games.  They’re seeing success and even thinking of ways they can extend fans’ experience beyond this initiative.

I’ve seen bad examples, like the Weather Channel on-TV code, that enables users to automatically download the Weather Channel app.  This execution falls short on a number of levels, most notably originating from a TV screen.  I think the beauty in these codes is that they’re able to extend a non-digital medium into a digital medium in a seemless fashion.  Aside from that, the call-to-action isn’t clear and the app is only available on Android devices.  And you would think that a television network would have ample opportunity and resources to share instructional videos on new technology that they want their audience to engage with, even more than a sports arena.

And I’ve seen future examples that I’m about to experience myself.  SXSW is including QR codes on name badges to instantly connect attendees with other attendees.  I will be interested to see an audience like this, completely up on technology, interact with it and each other.  I’m also interested to see how SXSW introduces them to attendees on-site and the resources that they make available for all of us.

On the surface, I’m happy that I’m in the midst of QR code mania, but like all emerging technologies, QR codes can easily be more ineffective than effective.  Especially in North America, where this technology still has not caught on, despite its acceptance and success overseas, particularly in Japan & Southeast Asia.  A huge barrier is our mobile phones and the various platforms and inconsistent reader applications.  One app can interpret the data as a V-card, while one can interpret the data as a text message, one only operates on the iPhone and one can work across most mobile platforms.  And, oh by the way, each one of these reader apps must be installed by the user before they can be used.

I think these particular barriers are all relatively minor for the potential return.  Installing the right reader application on my phone is not a laborious process.  It’s certainly worth it when I can simply take a picture of a code and experience some sort of deeper, personal engagement.  And QR codes, themselves, are so easy to make that anyone can really incorporate them into any initiative in a matter of minutes.

What we have to consider though – the thing that makes the difference between ineffective and effective – is the complete experience.  The devil’s in the details, so they say, and they can either make the Red Wings experience or the Weather Channel experience.  To be effective, the user needs to know exactly what to do.  They need to know what to download on what type of phone and once it’s downloaded, what exactly to do then.  It seems simple, but the call-to-action must be clear and concise.  These types of experiences are not website-like experiences where users know what to expect on a click, and even then, users need to be encouraged to click that particular box or image or text.  This is a new experience.  Most people don’t even know what QR codes are.  But they can accept them and will even interact with them if they’re given clear instructions and expectations.  The payoff has to be there on the other end, too.  That’s another element of the experience that can make or break these initiatives.  What content is the user going to see or interact with once they take a picture of that QR code?  Is it a video?  Is it a pre-drafted tweet?  Is it an app?  Or better yet, is it something that is only offered in this particular way through this particular channel? 

QR codes can enable immediate interaction with meaningful content in a unique way.  They can enable extremely rich experiences and in doing so, can help build trust between brands and their audience.  But to be effective, they must be used the right way.  They must be thought through.  And in the end, they must not be done just to be done, just because they’re the mania of the day.

What QR code executions have you seen that are most effective?  What are the least effective solutions you’ve seen?  Let me know!

7 thoughts on “QR Code Mania

  1. Penny

    “And QR codes, themselves, are so easy to make that anyone can really incorporate them into any initiative in a matter of minutes.”

    Where do you make your own QR code? Do you have a recommended site or generator?

  2. Mike Cearley Post author

    Penny- Adobe’s free Q-Air application generates QR codes quickly and easily, and you can code various content in a snap. Then, there are various apps that read the codes. iPhone has a couple (Neo Reader & QR App), and then there’s BeeTag, which is available on most mobile platforms. Some of these readers can only read/process particular pieces of data, though. MS Tag, which I did not speak about in the post, might be the most universal option with the most capabilities. Let me know if you have any other questions :)

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  4. David Crowell

    Hi. I’m making a website that shortens QR codes. Allows you to manage your codes and lets you attach QR codes to sms messaging campaigns. Let me know what you think.

  5. Antony McGregor Dey

    Hey Mike, Thanks for the post. We are the team behind the QR code initiative on the registration badges at SXSW. We’ll have a booth at SXSW on the trade floor offering support and answering people’s questions, be sure to drop by and say hi! If you have any questions or want to get in touch I can always be reached antony(at)qmcodes(dot)com

    Cheers, Anotny McGregor Dey – CEO, QMCODES

  6. Mike Cearley Post author

    I sure will, Antony. We’ll be having some fun of our own with QR codes, too. Look for posts before SXSW re: exactly what we’re doing. I look forward to the chat. (And nice job on the SXSW initiative!)

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