Forget QR codes, the utterly pointless piece of faux-3D trickery. They’ve popped up in places we don’t want them, need them or will ever use them and we should think about taking them off the marketing pitch and sending them in for an early bath.

Radical the opinion might be, but radical a QR code is not. I sense whispers in marketing WIPs around the country discussing what brands should do with QR codes, how we should embrace them and the results we’re looking for. I sense the same whispers discussing whether the consumer actually, really cares.

A QR code is just a bar code. It’s a different shape and size but its purpose isn’t much different: to code and deliver information. They have been around for years, but with the increase in smartphone usage, some bright sparks have decided that now is the time for the QR code to shine. How wrong they are.

‘But wait,’ squeal the QR fans, ‘the QR code can deliver us exclusive content.’ Like when we’re standing in a bus stop – just the place we want exclusive content. Or an exclusive video – that a brand is going to want us to watch anyway because it spent tens of thousands of dollars making it and only showing it to five people will never justify next year’s marketing budget.

Maybe we could just forgo the ‘exclusive’ and it could send us to places where we can find useful information. Like bus times. Details about a house. Or prices on tickets for the theatre. The trouble with sending me to a website to get bus times, is that what I would really like is the bus times on the bus stop in the first place. I’d love to think real estate agents will embrace the codes for ‘for sale’ signs but we know that they’ll never part with the simplicity of a mobile phone number because they want you to call them.

QR CodeThe problem of the QR code is its ability to act as a gateway we simply don’t need. It’s an extra stepping stone to content that a brand actually wants us to get to. It’s getting in the way of things. We all know the number of clicks a consumer has to go on to find their ultimate goal should be as few as possible, so throwing an obstacle the shape and size of a QR code just slows our recruitment. What if my phone is dead? What if I’m on a call? What if I’m playing Angry Birds? I stop all of those and scan the code to take me to a site I’ll have forgotten an hour later? What if I’m simply not that interested?

I don’t buy it.

I stood in a room today of people and talked about social media, mobile technology and eventually, QR codes, and of all the other marketing strategies these business people could employ, I genuinely felt that QR codes would be at the back of a long line. I asked them how many had smart phones. 80% of the hands went up. I asked them how many had a business Facebook page. Three hands went up.

Three hands in 80. How do we get people to use QR codes for their own business when they can’t grasp a Facebook page? Only 25% were on LinkedIn. Sure we’re talking about a service-based industry room here that traditionally hasn’t embraced Facebook for business, but 50% of that room was under 35 and switched on to most modern tech. We were also in Sydney CBD, not a country backwater.

I have a friend who has developed software for people to put QR codes on business cards, which then allows a scanner to transfer that information directly into the phone’s memory. He’s a clever man, but as I point out to him, I just don’t think he gets consumer behaviour. Surely the early adopters might fawn over the chance to QR code a phone number into their memory banks, but many will simply say ‘just give me a f**king business card’ and then throw it into the stack of all the other business cards of people they’re not going to contact. There needs to be a critical mass of engagement for a product to succeed. QR codes aren’t going to reach that mass.

The consumer is lazy or uninterested – look at the guy in the photo looking at the code and not the product. I’m convinced that holding their phone up to something for five seconds to find out it’s a free sample of washing powder will eventually put pay to any idea that the QR code will become part of our life.

Let’s dump the idea and stop selling ourselves the belief that because the gateway to our idea seems to be cool and funky, that this makes the idea itself cool and funky. A viral idea will spread if its good, not because we’re making people jump through a hoop to access it.

Simon Dell
BY Simon Dell ON 9 December 2011
Simon is a former full-service agency managing director that ran for seven years and delivered for clients across Australia. He now runs his own digital consultancy working with Australian businesses helping with online communication and creative strategies. Find Simon on Twitter at @IAmSimonDell, on LinkedIn at IAmSimonDell and Facebook at SwitchYourBusiness.
  • Megaclickz

    Hi Simon,
Though you do raise some valid points here (and some QR code marketers do need to address some of these issues if they haven’t already done so in their current QR code marketing) I still feel that you are totally missing the point as to why QR codes will continue to grow on a massive scale as they already have been as a marketing tool.

    I really don’t think that you have yet fully grasped the real benefits of QR codes yet otherwise as a marketer you wouldn’t be blindly bagging QR codes without a little more thought rather you would be frothing at the mouth at the unlimited number of creative opportunities that QR codes now present you as a marketer by opening up and bringing the offline world online.

    Nowhere in your article do you mention the main marketing advantage that QR codes offer you as a marketer and that is offline tracking.
QR codes allow marketers to track, for the first time ever, all of their printed advertisements so now marketers can track exactly how many responses they get to their printed marketing like magazine ads, flyers, billboards business cards and in fact anywhere you decide to advertise that may have a printed surface.

    You bag brands trying to give exclusive content ok fair enough, this might not be your cup of tea however what about instead using mobile video content to close your sales.
Using QR codes marketers can now take a small 5 row add in a newspaper or magazine and then add a QR code barcode to it and turn it into a complete sales presentation for your particular product or service that you might be advertising.

    Now that video that cost, as you said, 10s of thousands of dollars to produce will now easily get out to readerships of 10 and hundreds of thousands of readers for a very small advertising outlay that of a 5 row add.

    QR codes also leverage and enhance your existing advertising by utilizing all your different channels of marketing which further engage a potential customer and also allow you utilize your most powerful sales tools that you have in your arsenal if you can’t be there yourself to sell the product yet still bring the prospect into your marketing arsenal.

    If you add to this and use Megascanz QR code system with its unique lead capture capability upon a user scanning your code so that you can then also follow this customer up then you really have some amazing sales closing ability to use from all of your advertising mediums .

    Of course you don’t have to use a small add you can also use it to greatly enhance your full page ads or flyers, business cards and any other marketing advertising so that they really convey your message in full to the potential customer.
    They say a picture is worth a thousand words… well I say a QR Code is worth a thousand x thousand pictures.

    I do agree with you in part though – just sending the user to some mobile content is not enough from a marketers point of view. Marketers need more than that as data coming back. Marketers also need to engage these users and they also need to capture their details so that if they don’t take the desired response initially then they can at least be followed up on later.

    This is why we at Megascanz decided to build a superior QR code generation software platform by utilizing our patent pending lead capturing QR code based scanner technology enabling Marketers to now automatically capture the users Lead details when users scan a QR code.

    QR Code Lead Capture also removes your comments of concern that real estate agents might not want to use QR codes due to them wanting to use their own mobile number instead.
C’mon, if real estate agents want to they can now use QR codes to give a full sales video walkthrough of the property, give full details about a property like price, plans descriptions and other important text, show all the photos of the property, a Google map of the property location, a way to contact the agent directly by sms email and click to call right from their phone, detailed plans and information about the agents other properties on their books. All this and delivered 24 hours a day 7 days a week even when their phone is off – I mean seriously do you really think they aren’t taking off?
I’m sorry but our data says otherwise it’s growing and growing in a big way!
Take a look around they are catching on everywhere.

    Our Real Estate platform is a testament to that. Designed to enhance the best way to utilize QR codes from a real estate marketer’s perspective.

    Innovative QR code campaigns will always give the user a reason to scan the code: a discount, a free prize or competition, a sweepstake, or some other hook to get them in.
Smart Marketers will then take that hook , leverage it into having the customer come back and back again through first closing the sale by following up then funneling the user into loyalty programs, ongoing discounts or other innovative ways that keep the customer coming back.

    Your comment:
“The problem of the QR code is its ability to act as a gateway we simply don’t need. It’s an extra stepping stone to content that a brand actually wants us to get to. It’s getting in the way of things.”
In my view this comment just misses the whole point of QR codes.
QR codes are meant to engage the user – to hook them in and get them interacting with your business, establishing trust so you can make the sale and to keep them involved long after the sale is over so that they continue to come back again and again.
    Your own facts have in my view been totally read wrong you said 80% of your meeting had smart phones and only 3 out of 80 had a face book page –
Don’t those stats tell you where the larger market is located at?
I know I as a marketer am totally focused in engaging with this untapped 80%.

    To your questions:
    A. Do you capture EVERY user by not using QR codes? thats like saying what if the person is looking across the street – our system conversion rates speak for themselves this isn’t going to be an issue.

    A.If that is the case then you would most likely walk past the add without a QR code on it too wouldn’t you. Regardless the conversion rate of users who are scanning a code and having leads captured though our system megascanz will still be significantly higher than an add THAT DOES NOT have any or codes on it.

    A. the fact is in this scenario that a QR code scanner will have that ad easily located in their mobile phone still very easily accessible an hour or week later.

A. If you had an add without a QR code and you decided to go back and know more about that add 1 hour later? You probably wouldn’t even remember where it was located anyway if it was not a QR code ad, Or maybe it was an ad in a newspaper that now can’t be found because it went out with last night’s food trash?
If the add had of had a QR code on it then you’d have it in your phone and could easily act on it
Also added to this, if you wanted to show your friend you can on send it by sms or email.
Try doing that with an ad without a QR code on it.

    A. Well you’re not going to win them anyway whether you have a QR code or not are you so see that as irrelevant as well.
    The Biggest problem with QR codes is that of so many unvisionary marketers not utilizing them correctly yet as they don’t themselves fully understand how to use them correctly and thus currently they themselves are making the user experience poor.
Much like anything new there is needed an education process much like the internet needed when it first took off. Now look at how big that medium has become
The facts speak for themselves the scanning volumes continue to grow at a phenomenal rate. Marketers using them correctly continue to see great results and returns. Add to his that marketers using them correctly continue to get back new and accurate information and data about their campaigns they never could of got before about their end users and at the same time they also continue to capture new leads that previously they would of missed out on.
    Once you have scanned a QR Code once the majority of users realize it is a better way to get online using your mobile-
    For Marketers it’s a simpler easier cheaper way to engage users and also to know factually that your marketing has been seen and acted upon.
    Because of this Marketers will continue to use them now and a long way into the future as long as like I suggested marketers use a hook pr reason for users to scan the QR code.
    So until someone develops an even simpler easier way to get online through a mobile device or even better marketing straight into the users head then I’m sorry I strongly disagree with your article here Simon that QR codes are dead (before they even began)
    QR codes will continue to grow and grow and are here to stay and it is only just the beginning.

    By Simon Barron Director at Megascanz QR Code AGENCY.

    • Simon Dell

      Okay. Your reply is as epic as my original post. If not epic-er.
      I also note you run a QR code agency. So subsequently, you might be a tad biased. But I’ll give you that too.

      However, I deal with SMEs every day and the vast majority of them can’t grasp Facebook pages, Google analytics and e-newsletter open rates (hence how I make my money). The chances of them grasping QR codes are virtually zero.

      I don’t doubt that IF utilised properly, they might make good marketing tools. But they won’t be utilised properly. I saw a restaurant last week with a QR code on their menu. The QR code led…to their menu.

      We’re talking about a fraction of smartphone owner who know what a QR code is, to the smaller fraction that will actually scan one, to a smaller fraction who will scan one repeatedly.

      I just don’t see the numbers adding up to make these a worthwhile tool. I’m sure you could quote me some staggering growth numbers, but we’re dealing with growth from a tiny base.

      How many times will the QR-educated allow themselves to be led up a blind alley before they just stop scanning them at all?

      I’m happy to be proved wrong. But faced with basic lack of knowledge by 80% of business owners, and the remaining 20% implementing poor QR code strategy, I’d suggest the thing is doomed.

      • Got to agree with @SimonBarron here – QR codes are growing and smart marketers are finding innovative ways to use them. We already have a few big clients at our agency who are using this and we personally have seen the benefits.

        @Simon Dell – SMEs will always be slow movers in new technologies – we cannot expect them to invest their limited budgets into new technologies. It is a know fact that bigger brands with big budgets will try it first and then SEMs will follow.

        If you see the projections from Google and other large media corporations – they are all projecting mobile is the future. This is where QR codes comes into play as they connect offline platforms directly to mobile devices.

        If SMEs use their desktop version website with QR codes – yes it will fail. They need to invest into a mobile site and then link the two.

        In future the competition to QR codes will be NFC – again big brands will go down NFC way (Commonwealth Bank already has). But NFC is expensive to QR codes – so in near future SMEs will pick up QR codes. It will take time but it will grow.

        By Reheen Guin – VeO Digital Marketing

        • GDHAdvertising

          With mobile/i usage up tenfold in the last 12 months and providing a product basically costing very little to produce that can present all of your marketing collateral on one code – bring them on.
          SMEs may be slow but isn’t that why we are all in business to offer advice and help our clients sell their products.
          Mobile , Quick response, talking to customers and consumers and allowing them to talk to us how they want is the new game. Media is a collective and this is the new gadget

    • TomMac

      What you have said makes sense but you have overlooked the critical part of the argument: all of the benefits you have listed rely entirely on the fact that consumers will embrace this technology. Without wide-ranking take-up by consumers, all of your points – the ability to track responses to offline advertising, converting a small piece of advertising into a rich, detailed sales pitch etc. – are invalid.
      I agree completely that QR codes have the potential to offer the incredible benefits you have listed but I also agree with Simon’s argument that it is too complex for the majority of consumers who also do not understand the benefits of scanning these strange looking squares.
      Until you can convince consumers, NOT marketers, that there is a compelling reason for them to bother with this technology, QR codes face an uphill battle.

  • On Friday, we added a QR Code to the display board in front of the Mount Eliza unit we have for sale, linking through to the blog we created about the property. The results have been well beyond my expectations. See for the details.