Suddenly, the decades-old digital channel, considered to be a dead technology in the U.S., is gaining traction with consumers.
QR (quick response) codes have been in mainstream use in many Asian countries where they have been used for methods of payment for years. But it wasn’t until 2017, when Apple’s iOS 11 update enabled its camera app to scan QR codes instead of consumers having to a use a third-party app, that the technology’s widespread use began to show real possibilities in North America. Unfortunately, it has taken a pandemic to accelerate its usage here in the U.S.
If you would have asked 20 years ago about QR codes, I would have said that U.S. consumers never really used them. But one industry, needing to adapt to a global pandemic, looked to QR codes as an answer. The restaurant industry found itself needing to change out printed menus for digital ones that patrons could access by scanning QR codes from their phones. People had no choice but to use them if they wanted to order breakfast, lunch or dinner. Having the need to use this technology in more places has gotten many consumers more accustomed to using them more often. Marketers clearly saw an opening based on the increased usage of QR’s and are now looking for new ways to reach consumers with them.
The main reason QR codes were not effective for advertising in the past was because most marketers use of QR codes were boring. They attempted to build direct connections with customers and add some tracking to some traditional advertising channels such as mailers and billboards. And even now, QR codes are mostly used in the same straightforward way, to drive website traffic with physical marketing materials. Opening a website, however, is something customers can do themselves, without the aid of a QR code. However, there is now a growing anticipation that QR codes can be used to help or assist a consumer like they do at a restaurant and will be used more often and in more creative marketing ways soon.
Most QR codes on items like mailers, brochures and on consumer package goods, look like they were slapped on as afterthought. And they usually don’t provide consumers with clear direction as to where they will be taken if they do scan it. This needs to change if it is going to be any kind of an effective marketing tool. The square codes themselves are everywhere, like bar codes, and don’t attract a whole lot of attention as they aren’t very appealing to look at. What could move this technology along faster, is a little bit of design work and a clearer explanation of where the consumer will be taken if they scan the code. Make it appear more attractive and tell people what they can look forward to if they scan it.
The QR code needs to evolve to thrive. For marketing purposes, maybe merging the pixels into some of a brand’s assets is the key. Give it some design and color. Make the QR attractive and make it something that consumers want to engage with. Instead of driving customers to a website homepage, take the opportunity to engage with them on a more personal level. Deliver information that is informative and helpful to making their purchasing decisions. Maybe a video with your brand’s story or your products attributes.
I’ll bet that adding designs to extend QR’s beyond the plain old black-and-white box and providing a clearer call to action like; “ON SALE NOW” are just a couple ways that will enable QR codes to evolve into a more consumer-friendly asset. Making creative changes and delivering relevant information to consumers will also ensure that the QR code will be here to stay for a good while…this time.