I recently purchased a March for Our Lives t-shirt for two reasons. First, I want to support their mission. March for Our Lives harnesses the power of young people across the country to fight for sensible gun violence prevention policies that save lives. Second, their QR code — even MFOL clothing works to mobilize young people (like myself). The branded t-shirts and hoodies are adorned with an American flag containing a QR code, which leads directly to online voter registration when scanned. In under two minutes, you can be registered.
The Magic of QR Codes
QR codes — those blocky, black and white squares of digital information — are magical. They are like a portal between the physical and digital worlds. A simple and effective way for brands to effortlessly engage with those around them.
Sadly, QR codes are often considered a joke. But, they shouldn’t be. In reality, they are a powerful tool brands can use to galvanize customers into action.
In the past, too much friction — interactions that hinder your users from accomplishing their goal — and zero consumer awareness held QR codes back. That ended, though, when scanners started being built natively into the camera.
Let’s take a trip back…
To 1994, when Toyota came up with a clever technology. Toyota created a machine-readable matrix barcode, “Quick Response Codes”, to track automobile parts to optimize the car manufacturing process. QR codes were born.
In 2002, Japanese mobile phones were released to market with built-in QR code scanners. As a result, the adoption of QR codes quickly accelerated in Japan since almost anyone could engage with codes without any additional hardware or software.
It wasn’t until 2010 when QR codes gained popularity in the U.S, consumerized and eventually trickled into the mainstream. Reports even indicated an incredible 1,200% increase in QR scanning over 6 months.
But, there was one crucial problem: users had to download a separate app in order to scan the codes. And no one wanted to do this. This added step defeats the value and accessibility of QR codes as a tool for brands in the first place.
Let’s think back to the typical experience scanning a QR code during that time:
- Point your camera towards a code
- Remember your phone’s camera can’t scan QR codes
- Search the app store for a QR scanner
- Wait for the app to download
- Open that app, point the camera, scan the code
- Find yourself on a website that’s not even optimized for your phone.
That’s just a bad user experience from beginning to end.
To 2017 where, alas, something amazing has happened. QR scanning became natively built into smartphone cameras. QR readers come standard on all Android smartphones, and Apple started supporting QR codes with the iOS 11 update.
Now, rather than downloading a separate app, users could access QR codes with their built-in camera. Reconsider the experience:
- Point your camera, scan the code
Simple, quick, effortless, magic. With native scanning built-in, QR codes can finally become useful.
But, why can QR codes be so valuable for brands?
There are many more reasons, but these ones are important.
1) Endless possibilities
A QR code is capable of holding 300 times more data than a traditional barcode. This means they can be linked to practically anything — an app, website, text, whatever digital content you want to display.
You can update what and where a QR code links to and these codes never expire. Magic, right? No matter the focus — driving downloads, increasing awareness, sign-ups — QRs can be leveraged to help make this happen.
2) Easy to make, easy to share, easy to update
QR codes are cheap and flexible, meaning there’s not much downside to using them. Creating a QR code is as simple as visiting a website and pasting in a link, image, or any form of content you want the code to link to.
The code can then be added to just about anything from physical items, like the MFOL apparel, to digital screens, like on mobile boarding passes from Delta, United, American, and other airlines. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll find that there are a ton of free sites out there that will help you create your own QR codes for free.
Even better is that QR codes never expire and can be updated to link to new or different content at any time. This means brands can experiment with different landing pages and experiences for users who scan their QR code. Changed branding? No problem. Want to now direct customers to a new promotion page? No biggie. Want to link the code to your app rather than your website? Done.
3) Universal Access
QR codes add value to a brand by offering engaging multimedia content or services via a device that people carry with them all the time. Anyone with a smartphone has the ability to scan a code. And these days, practically everyone has a smartphone. With people downloading fewer apps, this reduces friction for businesses and allows them to interact with consumers without asking too much of them.
QR codes also have the ability to democratize access to content and information — those with poor signal and minimal memory are unable to download an app but can easily scan a QR code.
I recently helped design the “brew2you” pilot, a program that allowed Phillies fans to order drinks for in-seat delivery using iMessage via Apple Business Chat. By scanning a code with the iOS Camera, stadium visitors were deep-linked into an iMessage conversation with brew2you.
Not only was this a simpler, more delightful experience than downloading an app or creating an account, but it was also crucial in a crowded stadium where connectivity can be a challenge.
How should brands expand their uses of QR Codes?
Currently, QR codes can be used to add a contact or calendar event, opening a draft email, and even connecting to a specific wifi network. But, brands can leverage this technology in even better ways. Some novel ways QR codes may evolve to assist consumers to include:
- Boosting print marketing material. A simple, but effective use for QR codes. When you add QR codes to print marketing, you can not only track the conversion rates and fine-tune your campaign, but you also make the users journey that much easier.
- Replacing downloading apps to engage in their services. Let customers scan a QR code to launch them into an iMessage, Messenger, or WhatsApp thread, creating engagement without forcing them to download an app. Simple yet powerful.
- Facilitating payments and tipping. Imagine a world where your pizza delivery man shows up and he has a QR badge on his jacket. Simple scan the code to pay for the food and add a tip.
- Boosting reorders. I never understand why clothing companies make it so hard to reorder their products. Rather, they can put a small QR code on the item’s label linking to the product on their website or app.
- Increasing customer engagement in retail stores. Post a QR code by the entrance and launch customers into an immersive experience. Large retailers could link into an app or website that allows you to search for items you are looking for, gives you in-store coupons, and engages you with the physical space you are in. You could even put QR codes on the floor, giving customers information about the department that they are in.
- Creating engagement with product packaging. Any fast/fast-casual food provider could embed a QR code on their packaging (or on a sticker used to close a box or bag) to enter a rewards raffle, for a discounted next purchase, or any number of customer engagement campaigns. Additionally, going back to clothing, size stickers on new clothes could include a QR code that links to a sizing chart.
The power of the QR codes is still untapped — brands should better leverage the magic of this technology to engage their customers, drive sales, and create unique experiences. I, for one, am ready to scan.