In the three months since we’d written
about QR codes, their usage by advertisers has seen
strong traction. J P Morgan Chase’s ad in the FORTUNE magazine and
Bosch’s billboard are just two random examples of QR codes found
in the print and outdoor media. Overhyped as it sounds, there’s
some truth behind the claims made in report
by Mobio Identity Systems that
QR code “scans are skyrocketing”.
However, after a quick-and-dirty
study of the user community during the same period, we learned
Many users are unfamiliar with QR codes and end up doing nothing
when they see them.
The few that have heard about QR codes hesitate to scan them
because they’re not sure what would happen next (typical user
concerns include “malware”, “identity theft”, and so on).
The skeptics amongst them question why advertisers simply can’t
display the URL of the website to which the QR code anyway leads
Very few users feel motivated to download and install a QR code
reader application, without which they wouldn’t be able to scan
As with any new technology, the
first two issues are quite natural and can be overcome with a
little guidance in the ad. Like we’d done in
one of our print ads that used QR codes, it would
help to provide a short explanation of what to do when the reader
sees a QR code (e.g., Point your phone camera at the QR-codes on
each corner of this ad to check out GTM360 on your mobile
phone) and what to expect when they scan them (e.g., Follow GTM360
As for the third point, it has a
straight-forward response: To maximize conversion of visitors to
buyers, ads increasingly direct readers to separate landing pages
instead of the homepage. Most landing pages have long URLs (e.g,
http://www.gtm360.com/EMAIL360/index_email360.php) that are
painful to type out using smartphone keypads, so QR codes provide
a frictionless alternative.
However, the last issue is not the
Contrary to reports claiming that
many latest models of smartphones come pre-installed with a QR
code reader application, we couldn’t find evidence of this in
iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, Samsung Android or Nokia E7.
Agreed that it might only take a
user a few minutes to find,
download and install a free QR code reader application
on her smartphone, but the question is, why should she bother? As
my 13-year old daughter asked me cheekily, “Why the heck should
the reader of your ad bother to download and install an app just
so that they can follow your company on LinkedIn or retweet your
ad? What do they get out of it?”
This question is difficult to
answer other than to say that the advertiser has to provide a
strong incentive – by way of exclusive content or promotional
offer or whatever – to make the download and installation happen.
Which leads us to the following
question: Which advertiser should provide this incentive?
Will JPMC incent the download with
the knowledge that the user can use the same app to scan QR codes
in ads by Citi, Goldman Sachs and other competitors?
There are no easy answers to these
questions. At the same time, we do foresee the following ways to
resolve this issue:
QR code reader apps offer branding opportunities for individual
advertisers, thus providing them with the motivation to incent
users to download apps carrying their branding
The incentive is provided by a consortium of advertisers
The onus of downloading and installing the app shifts to users
if they see discount stores and brand-neutral merchants making
heavy use of QR codes in their ads.
ADD THIS CONTACT? Scan your smartphone here to add this contact
to your phonebook
Meanwhile, as the big issues get
sorted out, we explored the possibility of using QR codes to solve
the narrowly-defined, yet equally important, problem faced by
sales and marketing professionals with getting their collection of
business cards organized. Most of them collect a couple of cards
every day. We all know how cumbersome it is to manually enter
contact information from a business card to a PC or mobile phone.
General experience with business card scanners hasn’t been too
great since text recognition supported by most scanners meant for
retail use sucks. We thought of solving this problem by converting
the contact info into a QR code that is printed on the back of a
business card so that, by scanning a smartphone over the QR code,
the contact gets added to the phonebook in two taps. We piloted
this using the QR code of my business card as shown on the right.
It worked fine on an iPhone. On a BlackBerry and a Samsung Android
smartphone, we were able to download the contact info successfully
into the handset but, from there, we couldn’t figure out how to
add it to the phonebook. If any of you readers have cracked this
part, we’d appreciate if you could share the procedure you
followed by way of comments below.