QR Codes Need to be Better Understood

I always keep an eye out for article​s​ about QR Codes, and recently noticed this one tit​led “QR Codes Need to be More Use​r-​Friendly.” See my comment and questions in bold throughout.

QR codes need to be more user-friendly
By Ethan Hawkes
Posted on April 22, 2014

Cal State Fullerton, which just passed a fee that will increase campus technology, is still riddled with alien-like relics across its campus. Pieces of paper with multiple square-shaped objects, known as QR (quick response) codes, printed on them litter campus advertisements.

These artifacts wait for people to scan them, which will direct the scanner’s smartphone to a website. This is the intention, but people hardly ever use QR codes correctly.

MoM: Mr. Hawkes, when you write “…people hardly ever use QR Codes correctly” to whom are you referring? Consumers or marketers or both? There is a big difference between these groups of people and a distinction should be made. Consumers only have one way to use a QR Code, they simply scan the code with their smart phone and react or interact with its content, so I don’t understand how consumers can use a code “incorrectly.” Marketers, on the other hand, can use QR Codes in a multitude of ways and, as is often the case, they use them incorrectly with respect to placement, display, scan resolve content, mobile optimization, etc. So, Ethan, from your perspective, which group is it?

Instead, passing walkers simply read the text above the QR code. If the text conveys most of the information, why should people be bothered to pull out their smart phone and be directed to a website that will give them nearly the same information they already read.

MoM: Mr. Hawkes, I’m not sure I really understand the point you are trying to make here. If the QR Code-based ad is poorly executed and the call-to-action is meaningless, or shun the thought non-existent, then chances are consumers will not bother to read the ad and/or interact with the code. If a consumer scans a code and finds the resolve content to be a rehash of the information provided in the ad itself, or worse that the content is of little meaning and value, then the consumer will probably be annoyed, and the likelihood of their scanning another code will become that much less. For these reasons, brands must think about a QR Code-base ad from start to finish and throughout the process keep asking: What’s in it for the consumer?  And, how will the consumer benefit?

At the Daily Titan, we recently tried using QR codes as a way to drive traffic to our website and its multimedia pieces. Unsurprisingly, out of thousands of copies that were passed out to students only two scanned them.

Why is it that a technology invented alongside some of the earliest smartphones is still being used today?

MoM: Questioning the technology and when it was invented, I believe, is the wrong question or line of reasoning to take in regard to your newspaper only getting two scans. The real questions should be: Where and how were the QR Codes placed in the newspaper or in other advertisements? What call-to-action, if any, was being used? Were instructions provided on how to scan a code and/or where to find a code reader app? Maybe with some self-reflection and analysis the real reasons can be determined as to why the codes you placed were not scanned. I’ve said this plenty of times before, QR Code technology works, period. How the technology gets used and implemented is something totally different.

The easy answer is to say there hasn’t been a better option for sending people to digital media from print media. No one wants to type in a long convoluted URL to head to a website that may not even be worth it.

MoM: You’re right, consumers do not want to have to type in a long URL to gain access to a website, but there are technologies other than QR Codes to help facilitate this…digital watermarks and visual search. Because these technologies work in a similar manner (i.e., require an app, require certain design and UX best practices, etc.,) they are all good at transporting a consumer from the print world to the digital world.

Two major problems I can attribute to the fall of QR codes: Integration and ease of use.

MoM: Mr. Hawkes, when you write “the fall of QR Codes” you make it sound as though they were once very popular and used a great deal but, due to reasons of integration and ease of use, they have since fallen. Did you really mean to say that QR Codes will never be considered a mainstream technology or marketing tool, because there are such issues with integration and ease of use? If that’s the case, I beg to differ, read on.

At the moment, users still have to install a separate app to view QR codes. It’s not built into Android, iPhone, Blackberries or Windows phones.

MoM: In most instances, a QR Code reader app needs to be downloaded and installed to a smart phone, but, once done, the consumer can scan to their heart’s content. And, when a consumer finds a code they want to scan, it literally takes seconds to open the app, scan the code and view the resolve content. Some people believe this is an insurmountable task, but I’ll let you in on a little secret, it isn’t.

To follow on this theme, does having to install a Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn app keep consumers from using these apps? No, they still have to be downloaded before use and they are used plenty once installed.

Only a few apps are officially supported by the software. Google Glass is one of them. While it works well enough, the few times I get the urge to scan a QR code I rarely have it installed.

In order for QR codes to gain more prevalence, an app that will scan QR codes needs to be integrated into the camera app itself. Not only does it need integration but it also needs to be readily accessible, similarly to the ease of accessing the camera from the lock screen.

MoM: Mr. Hawkes, as stated above, it takes literally seconds for me to find, select and open the QR Code reader app on my phone. This does not deter me from scanning a code or two. What does deter me, and I believe others, from scanning codes regularly is that more often than not the code scan resolve content is of little or no use, value and relevance to me, and probably others. So, I believe it’s less of an accessibility or integration issue, as opposed to a content/information and delivery/experience issue. If brands delivered truly worthwhile scan resolve experiences and content this is what will eventually boost QR Code interest and use.

The only downside would be the amount of battery power scanning could deplete. Scanning the codes may take a ton of battery power, but the camera wouldn’t be on at all times.

Realistically, it would use the same amount of energy as taking a picture. Similarly to the ease of use of accessing the camera from the lock screen, QR codes need to be readily accessible.

If all phones had an easily accessible QR scanner integrated into it, more people might actually use it. This could lead to a chain of events where companies see more people are using QR codes so they will come up with better ways to use QR codes.

MoM: Mr. Hawkes, I believe your logic is off here. The chain of events starts with the brand, not the consumer and not the accessibility to a scanner. When a company creates an intriguing QR Code-based advertisement, and links the code to scan resolve content that is useful, valuable and relevant for consumers, consumers will then either share this experience within their networks and/or actually purchase the product being advertised. It’s at this moment that a company will realize the usefulness of QR Codes and keep integrating them in their campaigns.

The Xbox One is actually a pretty good example of using QR codes in a smart way. The Titanfall bundle of the console came with a free download of the game.You could either navigate through a handful of menus and enter a code to redeem your copy of the game, or you could place a QR code in front of the Kinect camera and the console would take you to the redemption page.

MoM: There are dozens of innovative uses of QR Codes,  and what ties them altogether is the brand putting the consumer before itself and ensures that value, meaning and benefit are being delivered through a seamless and frictionless mobile-based experience/interaction (i.e., the scan resolve process).

The idea of scanning a code to shorten the process of getting to a website is sound. It just needs to be used in smarter ways and maybe more people will actually do it. Until then, I suppose simple URLs are the only temporary solution to this problem.

MoM: Mr. Hawkes, what problem are you trying to address by way of your article? In the beginning, it seems like you are trying to address the user-friendliness of QR Codes. By the end of your article, you’re talking about getting to a website using simple URLs. In my mind, this is quite a disconnect.

Here’s the real issue/challenge of QR Codes: What’s the most effective way a brand can use a QR Code, so that a consumer will engage and interact with the brand and ultimately purchase the brand’s product or service. If we can agree that this is the real issue or challenge then it’s a matter of the brand creating a relevant, value-driven experience end to end (i.e., from first point of contact to the last).   Rinse and repeat and the consumer, as well as the brand, should win. Make sense Mr. Hawkes? 


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