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Using QR codes as inspiration

“The problem with QR codes in marketing”, I wrote here over ten years ago, “is that we’re expecting the customers to do the work: to have a smartphone to hand, to have installed a code reader, to find it, to launch it, to focus it on the little square of data …all so we can sell them something.” I was right. I think that in the end, the reason they died was due to the effort required from the user.

And then… they came back from the dead. Recognition software became incorporated into smartphone cameras, and the effort reduced dramatically. Now they’re everywhere! What a second act.

The easiest thing for those of us in marketing to do at this point would be to start wondering how and where we should be using them. But QR codes are just a mechanism, not an outcome. If we need to get people on a mobile phone to a website or online document, they could well be a superb way of doing that – and we now have them in our arsenal of methods. For example, I’ve seen them at the bottom of a box, with a message to scan this QR code to order new stocks. The benefits of this to both supplier and user are obvious.

However, consideration of the opportunities they offer might also suggest some services we perhaps should be providing. I’ve seen them printed on an electronic instrument, linking me to user documentation. Brilliant. Yet all it was doing was (helpfully) getting me to somewhere I might need to be. Before QR codes became so ubiquitous, would there have been a URL printed here? I bet there wouldn’t have been.