QR codes were once the next big thing in combining off and online marketing, but with many industry luminaries sounding their death knell, it seems this relatively new technology could already be on the ropes. In this article, we'll try and get to the bottom of QR code usage and find out whether they're something that's still worth investing in.
By way of introduction
QR stands for quick response and the technology originated within the Japanese automotive sector in 1994 as a way of tracking vehicles during the manufacturing process. They lingered in this sphere for the next decade, before bursting on to the marketing scene in the early 2000s. QR codes' popularity snowballed, although by no means steadily, and over the past couple of years they've really come into their own in tandem with the spread of smartphones.
Here comes the science bit
So what do the facts and figures say about QR codes? To find out, we scoured a range of recent reports to find out if, how and where they're being utilised:
- QR codes are one of the most common techniques used in mobile marketing, however, they still fall significantly behind mobile websites and applications in terms of usage
- An Archrival study of US students found that while 81 per cent owned a smartphone and could identify what a QR code was, only 21 per cent of these successfully scanned an example
- Similarly, 75 per cent of those polled claimed they wouldn't be likely to scan one in the future
- However, QR code specialist Printrobot branded them the hottest trend in interactive marketing, noting that the amount of scans increased exponentially over the course of 2011
- The group predicted that the number of QR codes in the wild would near 600 million by 2016, despite the fact the majority of polled marketers weren't currently using them as part of their strategy
- There were 120 scans per minute performed during Q2 2012
- Comscore found that European usage of the technology had doubled during 2011, with the majority of scans being conducted to find further product information.
- Males led the way in utilising QR codes and they were most popular among the 18-34 demographic.
- At best, these statistics paint a fairly mixed picture and while QR codes are far from dead, their adoption is still somewhat sporadic. So what do the experts say?
The idea's good, but the execution is flawed
A common theme among pundits seems to be that QR codes are on their way out, not because the concept behind them is intrinsically flawed, but due to the fact that what they achieve can be done in better, more user-friendly ways.
QR codes are often branded clunky and some common challengers to their dominance include easy-to-use apps like Blippar. This mobile app does all that QR codes can and more - allowing users to acquire further information, connect to offers and even augmented reality experiences without all the hassle of scanning.
Similarly, Touchcode is regularly pointed to as a more ergonomic option than QR codes. It uses invisible ink in conjunction with smartphones, enabling users to simply scan a picture that contains a code which can't be seen by the naked eye.
In his Marketing Land article on the issue, Aaron Strout claims that a lack of support from the likes of Apple and Android - both of which have failed to pre-load a QR code scanner on any of their devices or operating systems - is one nail in the technology's coffin. He also pointed to a disappointing mobile support strategy and the general hassle involved in scanning a code as further reasons for the demise of the format.
These views aren't entirely representative, however, and many still believe QR codes have a place in the modern marketing toolkit. Shmedia co-founder Max Goldberg suggested that their cost-effectiveness, combined with market penetration and a wide understanding of their function means they'll be round for years to come.
Strategic Communications consultant Linda Pophal claimed that the problem lies not with QR codes, but the way that campaigns which involve them are executed and shiny new technology will not solve these issues by itself.
"All of these new options will similarly fail if their applications are not well aligned with objectives and audiences," she said. "[Campaigns must be] designed to drive some meaningful interaction or outcome that can best be delivered through that technology."
So what are your thoughts on QR codes? Will they rise again or will they be consigned to the annals of half-remembered technology, like Tamagotchis? We're always keen to hear your opinion, so don't be a stranger and tell us what you think in the comments.
And if you're wondering whether QR codes are right for you or just want an informal chat about mobile marketing, why not get in touch today?
Images used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Alpha and CoCreatr on Flickr.