Has anyone else been having QR flashbacks lately? Or is it just us? Are they really not as “square” as we thought they were?
What did we miss??
Granted, they never achieved the potential that marketers predicted—not at the time, anyway. But before you assume it’s just another retro trend (put that Blackberry away, man!), let’s look at all the reasons why QR codes are still relevant and important. In fact, we’d challenge anybody to say they haven’t encountered a QR code or two during the pandemic1.
Yes, COVID-19 has been kind to QR codes2. It’s also helped businesses offer contactless solutions for everything from contact tracing to restaurant menus, payments, donations, vaccination receipts, transit fares, and much more.
So, you might say QR codes are a bit of a late bloomer. After a lackluster “coming out” party and several years as a fringe technology, they’re back. And this time, it’s personal. Okay, we just threw that in there for grins.
What Are QR Codes?
For those of you who missed the meeting, QR codes are a type of 2D barcode3. They initially emerged in Japan in the mid-90s to help automobile manufacturers trace vehicles during the manufacturing process.
The codes themselves are created online with a QR code generator. They can hold up to 3Kb worth of binary data—which maybe doesn’t seem like much—but it’s a far sight more than the 20 characters you’re limited to with a standard barcode. 4,269 characters, to be exact. When you look at it that way, 3Kb doesn’t seem so small anymore, does it?
The primary function of the QR code is to redirect your scanner (usually the camera on your smartphone) to a destination, like a website. Being that your typical URL is 20-30 characters, QR codes are the ideal container.
Why QR Codes Are Still Relevant in 2021
QR codes are passive, they’re device-agnostic, and they’re easy to use for just about anybody with a smartphone. They can be scanned in any direction or angle and will scan from a distance. They do not require the user to have an app to scan them. Plus, they can be placed pretty much anywhere—on signs, in magazines, on posters, flyers, and even in locations that are not 100% flat. In fact, most QR codes will still scan even if up to 30% of it is missing or damaged, making it a fairly reliable solution for various applications.
And if all that isn’t cool enough, should you ever need to change the function of your code, you can simply do it online, no reprinting or re-issuing necessary.
You can even have a QR code with several different functions, depending on the time of day or based on how many times it’s been scanned. Think about that, marketers—it would be a great way to run a promotion, collect contact information at an event, or verify eligibility.
Through the pandemic, QR codes have emerged as a highly efficient and accessible way to connect people and organizations with information without the need for unnecessary contact human intervention.
And to think it took a global pandemic for us to realize how cool QR codes really are! Shucks.
Getting Started With Google Analytics
Marketers everywhere have found new applications for QR codes. QR code scanning is now native to mobile operating systems—a function lacking when the technology was first introduced—and high-speed internet has made it fast and easy to connect users with various types of information.
Manufacturers of luxury goods use QR codes to verify the provenance of their products. You’ll see QR codes on wine labels and even on fast food packaging. Retailers use QR codes to engage shoppers, connect codes to social pages, review sites, or encourage them to Instagram the product while they’re in the store.
Marketing and Promotion
Other marketing ideas for QR codes might include digital business cards, discount codes or coupons, connecting to Google Maps, or a Spotify playlist. Scanning could initiate send on a personalized text or email or trigger a social follow. The code could be configured to call a number, direct the user to download an app or initiate any number of actions you can imagine.
Links to Media
QR codes can also be used to serve up previews of movies, videos, music, or other media content. A QR code linked to a promotional or instructional video can help shoppers learn how to use products or make a buying decision.
Incentivize, Gamify, Repeat
Codes can also be used to gamify or incentivize the shopping experience. A “scan and win” code outside a store can encourage customers to engage with a brand. QR codes can also be used with geolocation data, meaning that they can scan the same code and receive a different message based on their location. For example, the code might connect to product information inside the store, but when scanned at home, it could prompt the user to reorder.
Finally, for any business that engages in out-of-home (OOH) advertising—like billboards, window displays, bus shelters, and so on—QR codes add massive value. There’s no denying that consumers are pretty jaded when it comes to online ads, and recent studies show that 71% of consumers find OOH advertising more appealing4. With that in mind, pairing your OOH campaign with a QR code is a no-brainer. It encourages immediate engagement and delivers back fantastic data on OOH performance that you would not otherwise have.
In conclusion, it’s clear to see that the QR code is far from done. Like the awkward teenager back in high school, it’s taken a while to come into its own. Now that we know what they are capable of, QR codes are opening doors and turning heads everywhere.