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QR Codes: Why use them, then a QR Code How-To.

February 20, 2011

QR Code Cupcake

Image by clevercupcakes via Flickr

Matt asked me to do a “How-to on QR Codes”. I’m just thankful he asked me back to blog.

It would be easy for me to tell you to go to the zxing project, follow the instructions, and POOF. A QR Code appears. We’d be done. And I’d ride off into the sunset.

That’s not why I come to Matt’s blog. And I hope it’s not why you do, either. Let’s start with a background, some uses, and finish with a challenge you can take back to your cubicle.

Background: Two Dimensional Barcodes.

There are 19 different 2-D Barcodes (mobile tags) out in the market that I can count. A few of them are backed by some big players. Google has Goggles. Microsoft has Microsoft tags. Stickybits allows you to share and contribute content. JagTag works on just about any mobile platform (and does cool customization). The list is as long as it is diverse. But all of them have some commonalities. You place them in some environment, a users scans or takes a picture of them. Something amazing happens on the user’s phone. And a client gets an award at the end of the year for “breakthrough use of technology”.

I started working with 2-D barcodes back in 2007 when I was at a mobile start-up. And they were even cooler way back then. But there was one big drawback. In order to activate a 2-D barcode, you needed a mobile phone with a 2.0 mega-pixel camera or better. And those models weren’t available/didn’t exist in the US at the time.

Fast forward 4 years, smartphones occupy 30-50 percent of the market, and mobile tags can be generated by anyone. This, to me, is a problem.

A mobile tag is a mobile Easter egg. It’s a benefit. It’s a deeper reward. Today, right now, it’s a surprise for those people that have downloaded the app, know how to use it, and are intellectually curious. It’s a power play we, as marketers, can give to our most inquisitive consumers to reward them with valuable content that puts them in a position to broadcast this rare knowledge to their friends. It is not a drive to web.

Unfortunately, many marketers are using 2-D Barcodes as gateways to homepages that offer little to no reward. We owe it to our creative teams, our clients, and the public to defend against this willy-nilly mentality. So how should we use 2-D Barcodes?

Uses of 2-D Barcodes:

Below are five reasons to use a 2-D Barcode. There are probably more…I’m no expert. These are just a few of the criteria I use when positioning the 2-D Barcode discussion with clients.

1. Bringing the Physical World to Life

What value can you add to a sign? Could you make it a destination that people want to associate with? Now all media can drive to engagement over informative boiler-plate info. Think about how mobile tags can amplify your paid media efforts. Deliver value at the spot.

2. Improving the In-Aisle Experience

Think about what you could do if you had the ability to broadcast a TV spot demo-ing your clients’ USP in the aisle of Home Depot. Send me to a site that has a sales sheet and you’ve lost me. But show me how this product improves my life over other options in that aisle, or give me a one-time discount, and I’ll buy.

3. A Better Entertainment Experience

Putting the movie trailer on a movie poster is cool. Putting behind the scenes, deeper, richer experiences is even cooler. Think about all the assets you can leverage, and choose the ones that can’t be accessed elsewhere. Reward those in the know so that they’ll share. People like to share.

4. Being in the Now.

Are there extenuating circumstances that influence whether a customer buys (or uses) your product? If I was a resort, the weather might be important. Or a webcam to a dance floor on spring break. Think about the drivers for purchase/use and the real-time data you have access to. Think experience over (sales) form.

5. A Social Interaction

“Follow us” on Facebook or Twitter is work. Especially from a mobile device using an app. Using 2-D Barcodes on out-of-home to initiate interactions makes sense. Why? A social platform isn’t a static page, it’s a forum of user-generated content.

The 2D Barcode Challenge:

If you have any say into how work is prepared or reviewed, I challenge you to ask these four questions before hopping on the 2-D Barcode train.

1.  Is scanning a 2-D Barcode a better experience than directing the user to a URL? If your answer is “the QR Code goes to the homepage, www.nike.com,” then send them to nike.com in type. Even with fat thumbs and sticky fingers, I can type nike.com faster than launching the code.

2. How can 2-D Barcodes deliver exceptional value? Let’s be ambassadors for this platform and defend it. Let’s avoid bottom-feeding. Every valueless 2-D Barcode experience reminds the user (who get’s it) that it’s not worth their time (to get it) or their effort (to pass it on).

3. Is the payoff optimized for mobile? If the site isn’t optimized for mobile (has flash, broken images, slow page loads, or lots of zooming-in and zooming-out), challenge the destination/payoff.

4. Is it appropriate? And is it the right 2-D Barcode? I recently read on Marketing Vox that MediaPost suggests “Adding them to email and forum signatures…Each of your outgoing emails should feature a QR code at the bottom in the signature spot in order to assist readers in linking to your subscription or selling pages.”

Why would we migrate people from a faster page load and a larger screen to a subscription form on my mobile phone? And if I happen to be reading it from my phone, what good does it do me?

Finally, Setting up 2-D Barcodes:

Go to http://zxing.appspot.com/generator/ follow the instructions, and POOF. A QR Code appears. I have to ride off into the sunset, now.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 9:59 am

    I think QR codes to video are the future. People can easily play video on the devices in their pocket. Also, QR code to contact info is smart (Pizza places should put them on their boxes).

  2. February 21, 2011 8:06 pm

    Nice post. Next time you create a QR Code, try http://www.socialqrcode.com which has been designed for businesses to promote their social media properties with QR Codes. Users can also create coupons that are sharable on Facebook and Twitter.

  3. March 7, 2011 10:22 pm

    Thanks for this useful info. I will take it to a friend who understands the language better than me, and will begin making use of the codes. And, of course, I’ll spread the word:)

    • March 7, 2011 10:36 pm

      Thank you, Cheryl! Good luck, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

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