QR codes can be a great response mechanism for mobile users, and have many potential uses for brands. 

Here is a rundown of the pros and cons of QR codes, as well as some examples of how to get it right… 

Pros

Ease of use

QR codes can be added to just about anything, from cereal packets to adverts on the Underground, and this versatility can be very useful for marketers.

Range of uses

There are hundreds of potential uses of QR codes. Here are just ten suggestions for marketers, but they can be used to extend the user experience in restaurants, museums and more.

QR codes are trackable

Using web analytics, and by using unique codes for different placements, marketers can gain some valuable information about how well campaigns are going, and what works and what doesn’t.

Easy way to send mobile users to online content

The QR code offers, as the name suggests, a quick response mechanism which saves users the effort of typing in a URL or an SMS shortcode.

Used well, and in conjunction with a mobile optimised landing page, it can grab consumers at the exact point where they have shown interest in an ad or video, and get them signed up for an email, tempt them into making a purchase etc.

They appeal to mobile users’ curiosity

Perhaps this will change once the novelty wears off, and codes become ubiquitous, but on seeing a QR code, I have the urge to scan it, just to find out where it leads.

QR codes can be cost effective

Creating the QR code itself doesn’t have to cost anything.

Cons

Other options are available

There are alternatives to QR codes which claim to offer a better user experience. For example, Blippar uses the creative itself, whether this is a logo, product image etc, and makes that the trigger for interaction.

Users need to download a QR code reader

This is the big drawback for many. Mobile users have to download a (normally free) QR reader app before they can even begin to use them, which limits the audience.

There are ways around this though. Some retailers, such as Best Buy in the US, have QR readers in their apps, while we my find that smartphone manufacturers will start to build this in to future devices.

Scanning can be a long process

As Tim Dunn outlined in his recent article on QR, the actual process of scanning a code can be a pain. Users have to get their phone out, fire up the code reader, before scanning and waiting for the landing page.

With a fast internet connection this may work fine, but on a variable 3G signal, many users may lose patience.

Lack of awareness

I’m seeing more and more QR codes being used (I saw one on the BBC’s Good Cook programme for instance), but only a minority of people are using them.

For example, while comScore’s figure of 14m US consumers scanning QR codes sounds a lot, it represents just 6.2% of US mobile users, and also mixes up barcode and QR scanning.

People scan barcodes for different reasons (most obviously in store price comparison) than QR codes, which makes the figures a little misleading.

Best practice examples

There have been some excellent, creative uses of QR codes, and these generally have a number of common factors:

Give customers a reason to scan.

Curiosity alone may be enough, but if you can provide a more compelling reason, then users will reach into their pockets and scan the code. This AXA TV ad is one great example, but more obvious tactics like discount vouchers and games can also work well.

Create some added value for users

This doesn’t necessarily mean special offers, but extending the experience for mobile users. Radisson Edwardian’s use of QR codes on their menus is one such example.

Another is using QR codes on products in store, as Best Buy does. Customers scanning tags can see reviews and further information about products.

Get the landing page right

People are on mobile, so landing pages, as well as subsequent purchase or sigh up processes, need to be optimised for mobile users.

This is an obvious point, but not everyone gets this right. In the examples here, both MI5 and VK haven’t thought this through.

Mistakes to avoid

Not optimising your landing page is the obvious one, but there are other common mistakes to avoid.

Not including a call to action

Explaining why people should scan a code and what they can expect to find helps…

Give people time to scan the code

They can be a great response mechanism on TV or video, but you have to give people time to pick up their phone, launch the QR reader and scan.

How long this process takes may depend on the dexterity of the mobile user, but I’d say at least 10-20 seconds.

I applaud the BBC’s use of QR codes on the Good Cook programme to allow users to access recipes, but the code isn’t on screen long enough, less than five seconds. Unless you can pause, it’s useless.

Don’t just use QR codes for the sake of it

If you use these codes, it should have a purpose, not just to show off to your clients or customers.

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