In Defense of QR Codes

About a month ago, we discussed the possible end of QR codes, citing an article from Business Insider by Dan Frommer which detailed the “confusion” of QR codes and how image recognition services such as Google Goggles, or NFC technology would/should replace them.

Now, CEO of NeoMedia, Laura Marriott, defends the QR code, also in an article on the Business Insider site. In her article, she cites four steps in order to further develop the success of the mobile barcode industry:

  • Consumer education
  • Industry collaboration around open-standards
  • Industry wide guidelines and best practices
  • Metrics for both barcode readers and campaign success

Stressing Consumer Education
Her list makes a lot of sense—consumers, especially those in North America, still need more education around what a QR code really is and all of their possibilities. And by consumers, I don’t just mean your average joe, I also mean Marketing Managers, Vice Presidents and C-level executives—you’d be surprised at the number of decision makers that don’t know about, or are scared to implement “such a new technology.”

However, if they knew all of the possibilities and that the technology has actually been around for years, they may be more inclined to spend the time and money to develop a well thought out campaign, using a standard QR code (not a proprietary brand), best practices and metrics in order to see the success of their campaigns. It is mind boggling that even some large, publicly traded companies would “test out” a QR code in an ad, but just used a free generator to create one and did not put any effort into getting metrics or developing a mobile site—there’s no “test” unless there’s real numbers that prove real success.

Downloading an App is Simple
Also in her article, she refutes statements from the previous article that QR codes can be confusing and downloading an application is a hassle. If marketers were educated about QR code campaigns, made them compelling and tested the QR codes before and after final printing, the user experience would be more pleasant. Also, I agree with Frommer’s article that in this day and age of the need for instant information, it can be annoying to stop and download an app, but that is with any application.

Marriott makes the case that apps are downloaded by the billions and consumers are comfortable with the process, but adds, “Consumer confusion can surface when determining which barcode reader to download based on the type of code symbology. However, if marketers choose an open-standard symobology when selecting their barcode campaign, compatible with all universal scanning applications, this reduces confusion for the consumer when downloading their reader and allows the campaign to reach the largest audience possible.” It is this quote that I could not agree more with—while some proprietary 2D barcodes, like Microsoft TAG, are easy to use for marketers, they can definitely cause confusion in the consumer marketplace.

Getting to the Campaign
In defense of QR codes, Marriott also points out that they are able to be scanned from farther away than NFC technology and also addresses consumer privacy concerns. One thing I do disagree with is her statement, “From a marketer’s perspective, the process of developing a mobile barcode campaign is simple.”

Yes, in fact it is simple once you arrive at the decision to create a mobile barcode campaign, but the journey there is a complex one. As I mentioned earlier, many CEOs, VPs and Marketing Managers are still in the dark about QR code campaigns, and convincing them to even consider implementing one can be frustrating, often involving layers of leadership approvals before even getting to the actual campaign development. And therein lies the main problem, going back to Marriott’s first bullet, of consumer education.

However, Marriott ensures, “The time it takes to educate people about how to use mobile barcodes will cease to be a problem as marketers develop new innovative and inventive ways of using mobile barcodes. This innovation will, in turn, drive consumer awareness and adoption of this cutting-edge technology. Ensuring all brands using mobile barcodes are following best practices and guidelines will guarantee that all consumer interactions are rewarding and enjoyable, thus promoting repeat and long-term usage of mobile barcodes.”

The Solution
Ultimately, education and time are the key to creating compelling campaigns that consumers can actually look forward to. But what about NFC, social media and other apps replacing QR codes? I received a comment from our reader Sam, that couldn’t have said it best:

The best thing that can happen to QR is NFC.I know that sounds counter-intuitive. But, the root of the problem with QR has been that not enough interactive and mobile people, or dollars, have come into the picture. Creative teams are anxiously awaiting NFC, where they’ll find that combined NFC and QR campaigns, with real dollars attached to them, result in both higher scan and swipe rates. It’s not the QR code that’s failed to capture mainstream consumer’s attention. It’s the fact that nearly all of the applications of QR codes for the past year have been dull and unimaginative. There are a few exceptions but not nearly enough. Look at how NFC is being presented to European consumers — It will change their lives. People are excited about it. QR can be a part of the pie getting bigger if it doesn’t get into format arguments or continue to hawk the notion that Microsoft TAG is causing confusion in the marketplace. Conceptually, we should see the first hybrid campaigns of QR and NFC later this year. QR may even get more traction at first. These are interesting times.

In the mean time, I’ll hope for greater consumer education and enjoy the journey until we start seeing compelling, integrated campaigns. Still think QR codes will die? Or NFC will never fully come to fruition? Speak up! Comment below, or on our Facebook or twitter pages.