July 19, 2011
Written by Todd Shingler
Over the past few months, I’ve become a little obsessed with the placement and function of QR codes – particularly on the trains and at train stations around Chicago, but also in magazines, emails, etc. My conclusion? It’s a shame to see something with so much potential used so poorly.
When used properly, QR codes let a brand / organization / company / person extend an initial engagement with a mobile consumer beyond the printed page or ad – providing additional detail about an event or promotion, enabling consumers to easily ‘like’ a brand on Facebook, ‘follow’ an organization on Twitter, subscribe to text or email updates, or easily access a mobile application they can download to their mobile phone to further extend the engagement.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that many QR code campaigns, while well-intentioned, suffer from poor execution. Either the QR codes are presented in ways that make them difficult to scan or the result of a successful scan leads to a subsequent poor experience for the consumer. As with other marketing mediums, a poorly executed QR code campaign reflects negatively on your brand and can instead lead consumers to disengage completely.
A few (unfortunately common) examples of poor QR code execution and how to avoid them:
Fail #1: Not sizing QR codes for the environment in which they will be placed or placing them where they are hard or inconvenient to scan.
- On the trains in Chicago, ads are above the windows. To scan a small (1 inch square or smaller) QR code, you have to stand up and reach over anyone sitting in the seats or around anyone standing up and then try to get the scan to work.
- Multiple ads in the train stations had the QR codes at ankle level – so you basically have to kneel or bend-over and hold your phone by your feet to scan them.
- Many magazine ads emails include QR codes that are too small, too dense, or on a colored background making them difficult to scan.
How to avoid: Consider where your ads will be placed and the perspective your target audience will have. Then size, place and frame the ads appropriately. I’ll include links to a number of best practices articles and publications in next week’s post.
- Tip: If you are creating a QR code that is a link to a website, use a shortened URL such as from bitly.com instead of using the full URL. The less data that needs to be encoded, the less dense the QR code will be – increasing the likelihood for successful scans.
- Bonus: Bitly automatically generates QR codes for shortened URLs (go to the Info Page for the shortened URL to see and save it) and you can also track how many people scan the QR code vs. access the link directly (e.g. from a Twitter post) on the Info Page.
Fail #2: Not including a call to action or explanation of what to do with the QR code.
- Many ads simply have a QR code with no explanation what to do with it. Not everyone knows what a QR code is and most mobile phones in the US (other than on Sprint) don’t come with a QR code reader pre-installed. Many people think they can simply take a picture of a code with their phone and something will happen.
How to avoid: Until QR codes are fully mainstream, you should always at least tell people that they should scan the QR code with a QR code reader. Better yet, recommend to them a good QR code reader and tell them where they can download it.
- Tip: I’ve had great success with Scanlife’s QR code reader, downloadable at http://getscanlife.com from your mobile web browser.
Fail #3: Not explaining why someone should scan the QR code or what will happen when they do.
- This would seem intuitive given how often you see verbage such as “To learn more, visit our website at <company>.com”. Even most Text Message campaigns say something like “Text Info to 46876 to register for updates”. But for some reason, many QR codes are printed without an explanation of why the consumer should scan the QR code or what they will get out of scanning the QR code.
How to avoid: You should always include text indicating why the code should be scanned or what will happen, e.g. Scan this QR code to follow us on Twitter or Scan this QR code for to learn more about this promotion.
Including QR codes in print ads, on in-store promotions and signage, on billboards, on business cards and elsewhere is a great way to engage and extend the dialog with mobile consumers. Guiding the user towards a successful scan is only part of a well-executed QR code compaign, however.
In part 2, I’ll discuss the importance of a well-executed post-scan user experience (Hint: Redirecting the consumer to a website that is not mobile-optimized is generally an Epic Fail). I’ll also provide links to a number of QR code best practices resources that I’ve found beneficial and include pictures of a some well executed campaigns that I’ve come across here in Chicago.
Todd Shingler – Founder & President, Mobile Perspectives
Todd Shingler is the Founder and President of Mobile Perspectives LLC, a Chicago-based provider of mobile solutions and strategic consulting services enabling businesses and brands to effectively engage mobile consumers and mobilize their workforce.
Todd brings to Mobile Perspectives over 20 years of experience in the wireless industry, most recently as CEO of MobileAware Limited. With a customer and partner base that has spanned the globe – including some of the world’s largest mobile operators, retailers, airlines, banks and technology companies, Todd brings a unique Mobile Perspective to any engagement.
Follow Todd on Twitter @toddshingler.