What is that?
Head tilted slightly to the side, I examined what looked like a cross between a new-age crop circle and Tetris.
“Scan this code for exclusive content” the sign beckoned.
It was my first run-in with a QR code. It was 2006. Or maybe 2005.
Either way, close to a decade later, it’s safe to pronounce the QR code dead at the scene.
Gary Vaynerchuk blames marketers for the QR code’s untimely demise. It’s hard to argue with him. Unimaginative execution can take even the greatest technology and reduce it to an annoyance.
Just like a good mobile app will leverage the hardware of a smartphone to provide something a website can’t, a QR code should – in theory – do something new. Too many times, it only serves as a clunkier stand-in for a url. Or leads to not-actually-that-exclusive content that can be found elsewhere.
The QR code is the perfect example of a widespread issue in technology – using available technology just to use it. This often leads to using needlessly advanced technology to over-complicate simple things.
But, if you invested in hundreds of iPhones for your cosmetics company and passed them out as ‘mirrors,’ you’d be horrendously under-utilizing that technology. Actually, you’d be giving people ‘mirrors’ that were more trouble than they needed to be.
That example is a little extreme, but the idea holds true and that’s what doomed the QR code in America. Can you use QR codes successfully? Absolutely. There are examples of awesome marketing campaigns that used QR codes effectively. But most of them are in other countries. In America, marketers took the QR code, ignored their uniqueness in bridging offline with online, and started plastering them everywhere for any reason.
Unfortunately for QR code defenders, the issues don’t end there. Go back to the first few sentences of this article. It starts with a confused person staring puzzled at a QR code. It turns out – I’m not alone. Inc. did research and found that 97% of consumers don’t know what a QR code is. That is not a good start. And that doesn’t even hit on the other consumer-behavior drawbacks.
If you don’t know what a QR code is, you probably don’t know how to scan one. You probably don’t know you need an app to scan it. You probably don’t know where to find that app.
Let’s say everything breaks favorably and you’re familiar with QR codes and what you need to use one. Do you want to download an app, scan the code, and navigate a website to learn more about a washing machine? Unless you have free time to spare, the answer is likely a firm “No.”
It’s an important reminder to use new technology correctly. Don’t focus entirely on the ‘what.’ Focus on the ‘why’ and the ‘how.’ Make sure you can answer: “How am I using this technology to address a problem that it alone can address?” As you try to answer, it should clear up whether you’re leveraging your available technology effectively or not.
For QR codes, the answer to that question is probably moot. All signs point to QR codes having run their course and there may be precious few ways to leverage them effectively now (and even fewer that are worth the trouble).
Marketers – don’t fall for the allure of something that looks ‘techy.’ Use technology the right way and your campaigns will find success. Please, please let QR codes rest in peace.