An evolution on the standard linear bar code, QR codes are very handy digital tools that allow marketers and businesses to encode a wide array of information (and actions) within a standard format. Phone numbers, URLs – things like that.
Japan and Europe are all over QR codes.
The idea here is that users will scan the code with their phone and then the information or action is automatically taken by the software in the phone. In some applications, they are quite useful. Realtors, for instance, will often use QR codes on their street signs to allow a “looker” to instantly go the Multiple Listing Service page for the property in question. Hotels can use QR codes to take folks to a reservation page. Same with restaurants.
Sounds great, right?
Well, the problem is that virtually no one in the United States actually uses them. According to Forrester Research only 5 percent of Americans scanned a QR code between May and July of last year.
It’s a technology thing. Both Europe and Japan leave the US in the dust when it comes to cell phone technology. In the US, the average user has no idea that they can scan these codes. It used to be that a specialized scanner app had to be downloaded. Few took the time. Nowadays, you can use the standard Google app to scan the image. Most users have no idea. Of course in some audiences and niches, they can be very effective. But when I ask most marketers about the actual measurement of scans (something that makes QR codes quite awesome for determining efficacy) they are almost always shocked at just how few people bother to actually scan the code.
My feeling is that as long as the native camera app can’t scan QR codes, they will be basically useless for most purposes.
So should you bother with QR Codes? Know your audience. If they are very tech savvy – try out a campaign or two with them. Follow best practices, and measure.
However, for most businesses, I’d say to invest time and money in more high return-on-investment type of activities. SEO, local search profile enhancement, social media content production, and email newsletter development will often produce vastly greater results for the same time input.