Bring Back the QR Code
What happened to this marketing tool?
Several years ago, QR codes were everywhere. Marketers loved them and so did the general public - albeit the smartphone-carrying members.
Although they had been popular for fifteen years in Japan, they were slow to take off in other countries, especially the States. Yet now, we hardly ever see them.
This is such a shame because they were a fabulous low-cost marketing tool.
We created QR codes that had so many different uses and went onto so many different items - can you see what the one shown here is? But today, I can't remember the last time I used one which is a shame because, had they made their appearance today, their effectiveness would be so very different.
I'm writing this for two reasons.The first is that I would love to see this inexpensive promotional tool return to popularity. The second is:
There are still unscrupulous salespeople trying to sell QR codes to unsuspecting small businesses. Do not be fooled.
All images on this page designed by and © of Tropical Sun Design.
Here's an example
Here we have a simple keychain - the sort of item that can be bought for pennies. But what isn't simple is the branded QR code it contains. Businesses have been using these for years simply to keep their brand in front of people - every time you pick up your keys, you see their logo. So far so good.
But here are two simple scenarios.
The first is that you're just leaving work and getting into your car. You really don't feel like cooking this evening so, remembering the QR code on your keychain, you scan it with your smartphone.
You are immediately taken to the phone-friendly website of your favourite Italian takeout - to the page where they are showing today's specials and bargains. Hey, that pasta special looks great - and what a low price. You click the link on the page and your phone is immediately connected with the takeout. Dinner problem solved in minutes.
Now, let's use the same example but this time your car won't start. But they keychain has been given to you by the local repair shop. Scan, click and within seconds you're speaking to them. Just couple of minutes after you discovered that the car wouldn't start, the mechanic is on the way.
So why did the QR code die out?
The QR code arrived in America before the general public were ready. Marketers loved the idea and were inclined to leap in head first without fully understanding that they were doing.
- Um ... we're talking about an internet service here. I have seen QR codes placed in subways and similar places where wifi wasn't available.
- Some marketers were so carried away with the idea they forgot that the user must be taken to somewhere useful that adds value. Also it has to work. In those early days many codes simply took the user to the company's circa 2005 website that was impossible to use on a phone.
- They were being added everywhere without thought. I've even seen them on bumper stickers. Now that might work for classic vehicles that are in classic cars shows (just) but nowhere else.
- One of the silliest uses I have seen is a QR code on a website. I reach for my phone, scan it, and I'm taken to the very page I've just scanned. Truly. Many times.
- The tech world didn't help. Microsoft developed its own code which had complex rules of usage. Built-in scanners were promised (or rumoured) for the Android and iPhone but never materialised.
So how were they used?
- People like coupons and bargains. But you have to cut them out of a newspaper or print them from your computer. Not too good when we're trying to save trees. See the example above - all the user has to do is scan and show the coupon on their phone. Quick, easy, no trees cut down - plus good for the consumer and for the business.
- Another thing that people enjoy are contests. For one, we ran a draw to win a racing driver's helmet. It had to be via QR codes and smartphones because it look place at the race track (few people lug their laptops to circuits). All they had to do was scan and put their email address into the form they were taken to. Easy and quick for the race fans and the driver collected all those lovely email addresses for his newsletter.
- Our realty clients loved them because the codes were a great way of leading to virtual tours. The same applied for places such as wedding venues. Behind the scenes glimpses were successful too - 'see our chef talking about today's special'.
- QR codes add a call to action that paper ads can't. An ad in a magazine might say 'call us now' but a QR code that gives further details about the product, a link to press to call and a money-off coupon is far more effective.
- They are great for exhibitions and shows. Staff can't get round to talk to everyone at such events but visitors can scan a code to see a video of the artist talking about his or her work, see further examples or even the full inventory.
- The same applies in-store. When staff are busy, users can scan a code to get information about products, for example. With one specialist food store, we had weekly recipes that users could download - featuring products from the store, of course - plus suggestions for wine pairings.
- At their most simple, they can be used to direct your potential clients to your social media. We did several 'scan here and like us on Facebook to get an instant 10% off your lunch'. If people are hovering outside a restaurant, that's a great way to fill seats.
- Adding a map to your business in an ad, or having static map on your website are slightly useful. Scanning a code that takes your customer to an interactive map is vastly superior. See below.
Beware of old technology
About five years ago, we received a letter.
The local college was determining its syllabus for the coming year in the subject of web design. The college was requesting our input.
The letter said that they needed to upgrade the syllabus because 'the internet has changed lot in the last ten years'.
That set me off. 'The internet' I proclaimed to anyone who would listen 'has changed a lot in the ten hours'.
Learn more about marketing on the internet with the book below.
If you're reading information about promoting your business or your freelance work on the internet, then be warned.
The majority of the information on the internet is remarkably out of date. I have just seen a book for sale on Amazon - about internet promotion - that was written in 2000.
The one you see here is bang up to date.
The QR code bridged the gap between old marketing and new - this magazine ad is a typical example. A picture, certainly, tells a thousand words, but the web can offer much more.
America wasn't ready. Those who were loved using the codes because they gave so much - information, money saving opportunities, fun and more - but they were just for the smartphone cognoscenti.
So many more people are using phones these days. Had QR codes not exploded into American culture - and disappeared so quickly - then now would be the time for it to happen.
QR code campaigns were such a cost-effective way of promotion.
Is it too late now? It's a curious phenomenon when a technology actually manages to shoot itself in the foot. But I would love to see the QR code make a return and see what could be done with it today.
But that's in the future - if at all. If anyone approaches your small business to show you this 'latest technology' please show them the door.
How things used to be - I wish the QR code would make a comeback
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