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2012: An Important Year for QR Codes

Some marketers say 2011 will become known as the “Year of the QR Code,” as U.S. consumers become more and more familiar with the 2-D barcodes known as Quick Response codes.

Although they are just becoming mainstream in the U.S., QR codes were developed in Japan in 1994 by DENSO, a subsidiary of Toyota, to track vehicles during the manufacturing process and have been used in consumer marketing applications across Europe and Asia for years.

In the U.S., marketers are embracing the QR code because of its versatility, low cost and ability to connect the offline world with the online world—and consumers are responding.

A recent survey by Baltimore-based marketing agency MGH of 415 smartphone users shows the typical user is male, 35-54, with a 4-year+ degree and a household income of $50k+.

  • 32% of respondents said they’ve used a QR code, and 70% said they plan to use a QR code again or for the first time.
  • For both those that have used one and those that plan to use one, the top motivator in scanning a code is to secure a coupon or discount (53% and 87%, respectively).
  • The survey also found that an astonishing 72% of smartphone users would be likely to recall an ad with a QR code.

It is clear that QR codes are gaining momentum. Placement is limitless, although they are most widely used in print applications, and they are open sourced, which adds to their versatility. Of course, they are not without competition, but because they can be generated for free by anyone and accessed by anyone with a smartphone app and Internet connection, they have an advantage over other 2-D barcodes (for now, at least).

Although some brands are merely riding the novelty, the brands that are using them effectively are able to offer consumers a richer brand experience and connect with consumers on a deeper level because they are considering these three points before marketing the code:

  • Code placement
  • User experience
  • Objective of customer action (i.e., what they want the customer to do)

As brands have begun to unlock the potential of the QR code, they are now challenged with how to differentiate their code from one brand to the next. Just because a brand has a QR code doesn’t necessarily mean a consumer is going to take the time to click on the code. Thus, more and more brands are customizing the look of the QR code in order to attract interest and encourage usage. This ranges from adding color to the QR codes, which must contrast enough with white in order for a scanner to read them, and integrating brand logos and custom icons into the code, all while maintaining a certain ratio of data pixels to custom images in order for the code to maintain its functionality. On top of this, different phones have different grades of cameras, which also impacts the scanability of the custom QR codes. Therefore, testing a code for functionality is critical.

The QR code may have revolutionized the way brands marketed products in 2011, but consumers’ desire for content on demand continues to rise, and brands must constantly innovate to meet these demands. Despite the level of customization done to the look of a QR code, the consumer is still going to expect value on the other side of it, which is key to successfully integrating QR codes into any brand’s advertising campaign.