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QR Thoughts

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If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a fan of QR codes. As a matter of fact, I just received my three newest business cards from Moo, all of which have QR codes on them (one lets the user automatically download all my contact info to their phone, one points to a client case study video and one points to a video of me explaining “What We Do“). Still, I’ve been underwhelmed by the results of most QR campaigns thus far.

I came across this blog post, written by the folks over at Archrival. It addresses the shortfalls of QR codes, particularly amongst the make-or-break demographic of college students. The agency surveyed 500+ students about QR codes (seemed like the survey was mostly done via questionnaire) and came up with some interesting results:

  • 81% of students owned a smartphone
  • 80% of students had previously seen a QR code
  • 21% of students successfully scanned our QR code example
  • 75% of students said they are “Not Likely” to scan a QR code in the future

Clearly there is a large valley between students’ awareness of QR codes and their willingness to interact with them. The authors provide their insights into why this discrepancy:

“According to our findings, students simply struggled with the process. Some didn’t know a 3rd party app was needed, many mistakenly assumed it could be activated with their camera, and others just lost interest, saying the activity took too long. This could be why 75% of students said they were “Not Likely” to scan QR codes in the future.”

I’d like to add a few of my own insights and recommendations here:

1) When we recently ran a word of mouth campaign for a client that included a QR code, I ran a few tests with my immediate social circle to see my friends’ reactions to being asked to scan a code. Most knew what they were, a couple already had barcode scanners on their phones, most didn’t have any apps downloaded just yet. There was definitely some confusion as to if one specific scanner app was needed or if you could use any one. Also, people weren’t sure if a “barcode scanner” was the same thing as a “QR code scanner”. But once I explained the scanning process, everyone understood easily and quickly downloaded apps to their phones. From there, scans went very smooth, with three different phones (iPhone, Droid, BlackBerry) and three different scanner apps all working just fine. QR codes are still new to the general consumer and, therefore, any marketing campaign utilizing them absolutely needs to include an educational element. According to various sources, 30 million apps are downloaded each month, worldwide. Once someone understands the need for a scanning app (most of which are free) and downloads one, the rest is easy. Hopefully, one day all phones will come equipped with scan-capable cameras as standard practice.

2) Now, if you’re a wise marketer, you’re already shaking your head at the thought of having to explain how to scan a QR code, then ask the consumer to download an app, then scan the code. That’s a whole bunch of actions to ask of someone who is probably in a rush, passing your QR code on the move and on about their 464th marketing message of the day. And you’re right for having this initial concern. It’s a big one and, as this study showed, part of the reason people give up on these codes (especially with college students, who have less time and less attention than most). This is where my favorite saying comes into play – the juice has to be worth the squeeze. Understanding the extra effort you are asking of the consumer, you damn sure better make it worth it. The worst QR code moment is when you scan a code and get directed to the homepage of the company’s regular old website. BORING! Give me something good – a special offer, a cool video, a landing page designed solely for me, etc. If you’re making my life momentarily more difficult by downloading an app and scanning a code, you should be making my life easier with whatever is on the other side of that scan. This is where the majority of QR campaigns fail.

3) Finally, once you’ve educated the consumer and built a kick-ass customized offer, you have to sell the scan! Communicate – concisely and clearly – why a passerby should stop and take action. I was driving behind a truck the other day and it had a huge QR code decal on the back. That’s it – no messaging whatsoever. What the hell?! Tell me what adventures are behind that funky little black and white image. Tease the journey so I get excited about it. Make me want it, damnit.

I wonder how the numbers in this survey would have looked if there was a significant incentive presented to the students (a 6 pack? free pizza? 50% off a textbook?)…

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Growth obsessed startup co-founder (MusicBox) and strategist-for-hire. startupgrowthguy.com mymusicbox.me

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