Be honest, have you seen a QR code somewhere and thought, “Hmmm, that’s one of those QR things. We should probably be using them.” And did you then decide that you would, assigning someone to get them on your advertising, without actually scanning the code you just looked at?
This is a perfect example of a “Me too!” strategy. “Other people are doing it, so we have to do it too, to prove we’re modern and hip.” The irony is that businesses and organizations stand out when they are not like their competitors. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use QR codes. But because so many people are using them badly, you have an opportunity to stand apart by using them really well.
I’m not the first to rant about this. Scott Stratten (who wrote Unmarketing) has spoken about this many times. You can find others who say it too. But the abuse is still going on so we have to get the word out.
Think about the customer experience. What is the person who’s going to see the QR code going to do? Big tip: QR codes are always scanned with a smartphone. So remember, after the user scans the code, their next step, their next experience with your brand will be on their phone.
Keeping that in mind, here’s the top five ways that people commit QR code abuse.
- Sending people to your non-mobile website. Ever try to read a regular website on a phone? Sure, smartphones are getting more powerful and their tiny little web browsers are getting better all the time, but it’s a different experience. You’re using your finger on a 3.5″ screen, not a mouse on a 21″ screen. Linked text or small menus on a normal screen become impossible to interact with on a phone. People are also on the move with their phones. They want shorter, simpler bites of information. They are not going to spend 5-10 minutes pouring through your site on their phone. You’re lucky if you hold them for 60 seconds. The mobile browsing experience is different than the desktop experience, so when you use a QR code to send someone online on a phone, you have to send them somewhere that is smartphone friendly.
- Sending people to a page with Flash. This is not the place to argue whether Apple products should or shouldn’t be supporting Flash. The fact is they don’t. So, since a significant portion of the mobile market is using iPhones, if you send them somewhere with a QR code that uses Flash, they can’t see it. There’s no better way to show your customers that you are not in touch with them.
- Putting QR codes in bad places. Ever see a QR code on a subway platform? It’s either too far away to scan or you see it when you’re moving. Or both. There’s no way to scan it. It takes a moment or two for someone to grab their phone, find the scanning app, open it, line it up with the picture, and let the software recognize the code. By this time you’re half a mile away. So, know ing that, now you tell me how silly it is to put a code on a billboard.
- Sending a QR code in an email. If the user reads the email on his phone, there’s no way to scan it. (Think about where the code is and where the camera is on the phone.) If they read the email on their desktop, you’ve just given them a really convoluted, time-consuming way, to follow a link. Which can be text. In the body of the email. Like this one.
- Offering no good reason to scan the code. Most of the codes I’ve seen are just slapped into the ad by themselves, with no further information. Sometimes, there is a call to action, saying “Scan this code!” I will scan them, because I do marketing, and I want to see if they are using the code properly or not. You might scan them, because you are curious about how they are being used (if so, kudos to you.) But no one else does. Because there is no real call to action, no offer, no perceived value. The message from the advertiser is “Dig out your phone and use it to visit our site. Just ‘cus. Do it for me.” People don’t do anything for advertisers. They do things for themselves. So if there is no clear, valuable reason for a consumer to scan your code, they won’t.
The real danger? You are inviting someone to have an experience with your brand. If you have used your QR code poorly, then you have repaid the effort of getting the app open on their phone and scanning your code, with a negative experience. The last thing you want is for people to have a negative experience with your brand.
So please, don’t use QR codes without a proper strategy. It’s abuse. QR codes can be very powerful marketing tools if used right. If used wrong, it’s like pounding a nail with a chainsaw. That’s running. While wearing a blindfold. There’s a chance it might work, but odds are it will be a bad experience for everyone.
Full disclosure with gratuitous plug: We can help you tap the power of QR codes, if they are right for your audience. Drop us a line and we’ll see what we can do.
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