You’ve probably noticed those black and white squares of jumbled pixels—reminiscent of a maze-like barcode—plastered on just about everything these days. The advent of these ‘QR codes’ (stands for Quick Response) provides us with a new method of communication. And what’s more… they’re free!
Unfortunately however, the vast majority of QR codes I’ve ever seen in use have been impractical and even quite silly in their application. Here are the common pitfalls of QR code usage, some of the worst examples I’ve seen and some pointers for effective usage:
“Throw enough **** at a wall…”
That rather crude idiom may never have actually passed the lips of the guilty parties, but the mentality was certainly there. I think the hype around QR codes made people eager to use them without really understanding their value or the risks and sacrifices inherent in their use.
I drove down to London, through Birmingham, one day around Christmas time. I was on a particularly fast, bumpy, busy and narrow section of motorway where giant billboards were erected every 1,000 yards along both sides. Imagine my surprise when I saw that one of them had a giant QR code on it. I must admit that I wanted to scan it and see where it took me, but only so I could find out what was so important that it was worth risking my life for! Clearly there was little to no appreciation or consideration for the actual demands and needs of the target users. Last time I checked, that wasn’t a great brand ideal to promote.
But forget the detriment to the brand on a philosophical level… in terms of pure design it was branding suicide. The brand in question (I won’t name names) had a very soft, simple and clean design style with pastel colours and soft edges on everything. But taking up half the billboard space was a huge, bold, black-and-white, square with pointy edges and a messy interior. Given that only a tiny fraction of people on that stretch of road would ever use the QR code yet everybody on that stretch of road would get a sense of the visual brand from the billboard, it seems incredibly inefficient to sacrifice visual branding for the QR code. It’s really not rocket science.
This isn’t a lone example. See this great article for some more: QR Codes – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
The smarter approach…
The golden rule is this: A QR code rarely constitutes a start-point for customer journeys, but it can add value to a customer already on that journey!
There are a number of ways that you can use the QR code. They can give your customer instant access to detailed product information or a promotion that they can find out more about. They can be used to direct customers to other platforms or even just deliver something with entertainment value. All you have to do is decide where the customer should be when you want to deliver that content, then put the QR code there.
There is an argument and some evidence to suggest that sometimes even a completely anonymous QR code can deliver results: Our natural curiosity seems to be a driving force in their growing popularity. It can be hard to resist scanning that random code we see inside a shop or in advertising that we see (when it is appropriate of course). However, the following bullet points list the areas where you can best utilize QR codes in a tactical and strategic way; adding real value to your every day business materials.
- Business Cards
Including a QR code on your business cards can link valuable coupons and offers or direct people to your website where they can find out more information. We’d suggest getting them designed professionally, although codes only have to be 1cm² and could be placed within otherwise unused space on your card so that you can still use your current card stock.
- Direct Mall Marketing
Oftentimes the return on your investment with direct mail can be minimal; and sometimes your efforts feel like hit or miss. Is your data any good or are all your mail-shots addressed to the wrong people and therefore ending up in the bin? A well-placed QR code with a strong call-to-action can actually aid in keeping track of the effectiveness of your campaign.
- Brochures and Flyers
All of your company brochures should include contact information and a QR code to scan for more in-depth details about who you are and what you have to offer. A great benefit to using the QR code is how it can guide your customer (via GPS) right to your front door!