QR Codes, Microsoft Tags, Barcodes Will Never Work, Unless…

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Why QR Codes, Barcodes, Tags, Etc will never work

You may, or may not, be familiar with this image [to the right and below]. This is called a QR code. It uses technology much like the traditional barcodes, upc codes, etc to read an image and translate it into text.

QR (and other variations) codes have been gaining popularity here in the states but have yet to be accepted on a wide spread scale and therefore have become a painful failure for those pushing them to become a success.

So what exactly is a QR code?

note: for the sake of this article we will sum the different types [explained below] of barcodes up into the more commonly used term “QR Codes”

According to Freebase.com [“Freebase is a huge collection of facts, built by people like you”] a QR code is defined as follows:

A QR code (abbreviated from Quick Response code) is a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) first designed for the automotive industry. More recently, the system has become popular outside of the industry due to its fast readability and comparatively large storage capacity. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background.

QR codes have been gaining some, albeit very little, popularity over the past few years. I remember 5 or 6 years ago when I saw Google testing QR codes in newspaper ads they were running through their Google AdWords platform and thought is was very cool. I realized right away the potential for it and thought it would be a great new frontier for mobile advertising among others.

However, as time passes we see a lack of wide spread adoption of these funky little designs both on the advertiser end and understanding of these codes on the consumer end.

3 Reasons for lack of adoption

1. Apps/Software not preloaded on phones: each different code requires its own software. QR codes need different apps then the Microsoft Tags. [there are other variations but for the sake of this article, we can stick to these two]

As well all know, if we need to download something in order to access something we already don’t fully understand the chances are, we won’t do it.  This is the NUMBER ONE reason why I think these scannable codes will never be adopted, unless… phones come preloaded with the necessary software to read the codes.

2. It’s physically DIFFICULT to scan them: steady hands, proper code size, lighting etc are just a few of the reasons why, even if you have the RIGHT software, scanning the codes are not as easy as it should be. A little further down in this post I mention that I used a QR code on my business card. It took me a few tries to get the code large enough to be scannable. This was not only frustrating but costly as I printed business cards 3 times until I got the size right [if I was smart i would have just printed a test on a piece of paper, but hindsight and what not…]

3. Too many variations: this one is simple. As I have mentioned, there are just too many different types of codes. for the general public it becomes too confusing to bother with and as an advertiser it becomes difficult to pick one over the other.
note: it seems that the QR code has become the most widely accepted and used form by advertisers/publishers/etc.

You’re Likely To Find QR Codes…

On Business Cards: When these codes first became popular I was quick to jump on the bandwagon and plaster one on my business card [see below]. It took me a few tries to figure out the proper size for the code so it was readable by the smartphone apps that would be scanning it. Once I got the right size I received compliments, but generally only from people “in the know” (marketing people) as almost everyone else had no clue what it was.

why-qr-barcodes-will-never-work-business-card

In Newspapers/Magazines: This is where I see a large part of the “problem” stemming from. What a better way to interact with your newspaper subscribers and readers and push them to your website. It was a brillant way to publish a teaser article and then direct people to your website via a QR code for more info.

During a recent business trip I came across a USA Today newspaper. I do not generally read this paper and I saw a new kind of QR code that I was unfamiliar with. The USA Today was using the less popular, and even less understood, Microsoft TAG code [see below]. There were simple instructions in the paper (next to the code) that you could download an app to your smartphone and then scan the code and access the content USA Today was promoting.

Why QR Codes, Barcodes, Tags, Etc will never work

If you said to yourself “boy, that seems like a lot of work” then you and me are on the same page. Considering myself on the more savvy end of this whole QR landscape I was embarrassed I hadn’t seen this code but more just frustrated with the USA Today.  This was the first time I had seen an advertiser/publisher using something OTHER than the traditional QR Code [see below] and it really just “grinds my gears (shout out to Peter Griffin)” that the people pushing out these codes can’t just agree on ONE so the end user has a chance of adopting it.

Why QR Codes, Barcodes, Tags, Etc will never work

On Billboards/Outdoor Advertising: You are likely to run into a QR code displayed on ‘billboards’ and other advertising while you are out and about especially here in NY and NYC. I see them all the time on the LIRR (long island rail road).

Family Guy posters feature a large QR code that will launch a special video designed specifically for people who’ve scanned the code as well as load a micro-site that pushes showtimes, trivia etc.

Many brick and mortar stores will feature QR codes in their showcase windows for window shoppers to scan for special offers, discounts, etc.

In Restaurants: It is a shame QR codes haven’t been more widely adopted for many reasons. One excellent usage scenario is for restaurants or any other sit down venue (bar, movie theater, etc) to use for customers retention, loyalty, and more. Imagine a table at your favorite restaurant has a little teepee type thing in the middle of your table. It is asking you to scan the QR code to receive a FREE appetizer, YES PLEASE!

why-qr-barcodes-will-never-work

Once scanned, you are taken to a 2-3 field sign up form for the restaurants mailing list (which you join because it keeps you updated on specials and sends birthday coupons) and BAM. Everyone is happy because you get your free stuff and the restaurant is building their customer database.

Suggested QR Code Generators

Generating these scannable codes are fairly simple and come in different styles. Some of them are even customizable with your logo or other imagery. [see below – note: we have not prescreened the urls/data that you may see or access if scanning the following codes. courtesy of mashable.com and subway.com]

why-qr-barcodes-will-never-work-

Kaywa’s QR code generator is the simplest way to generate a QR code for a URL, text, phone number or SMS. Select preference, enter content, specify size & click “Generate.” Save the code to use elsewhere or grab the HTML to embed it online.

iCandy a bit more robust & helps track scans, look at analytics around generated QR codes, and print codes through partner services.

A simple Google search will present many other options for QR as well as the other types of scannable codes.

How they will succeed

For advertisers and consumers alike adoption comes down to a few things. One code variation (we suggest QR), higher/broader consumer understanding, and the key; PRELOADED software.  Even if two or three codes variations survive, if our phones can interact with those codes seamlessly, we WILL interact, we will use, we will participate.

And that is what it all comes down to really. Participation in the mass effort to utilize these scannable codes. Japan is participating, South Korea is participating, Europe is participating (albeit less than the other two, but more than us). There IS potential here, but without some changes, scannable codes WILL DIE.


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