Wednesday, or hump day, is a time when the stresses of the week have sometimes slowed down our brains a little bit. As such, it can be a good time to pause, regroup, and reassess a basic topic. I’m going to tackle a seemingly obvious one: just what are QR codes, exactly? I’ve showcased their use on cards and condoms, but I haven’t really stepped back to explain what they are from the beginning, or provide some basic QR code facts.
QR Codes (short for Quick Response Codes) are 2D barcodes that can be scanned (typically using a downloadable or built-in smartphone application) to access information or actions. QR codes can connect scanners to websites, images, emails, text messages, and more. They’ve been put to some good and questionable uses by marketers eager to explore the “new” technology, and as such are beginning to acquire a reputation for being less useful than they have the potential to be.
To help fully explain what QR codes are, and hopefully redeem them a bit, here’s a handy table featuring 10 QR code facts, split into what the codes are and are not.
|QR codes are…||QR codes aren’t…|
|Scannable codes, similar to traditional barcodes, that provide information (originally used for automotive inventory).||New; they were released in 1994. Sophisticated scanning technology on smartphones, as well as the large amount of data storage available in QR codes, has helped make them more ubiquitous in recent years.|
|Perhaps better called 2D barcodes. (The term QR Code is trademarked by Denso Wave, though it looks to be going the way of Kleenex, Xerox, or Google.)||Proprietary technology. 2D barcodes can be generated (but not always tracked or modified) using a variety of open source technologies (such as zxing) and free tools.|
|Coded vertically and horizontally (so they can contain more information), hence the “2D” term.||Coded in one direction only (like a traditional “1D” barcode you’d see in the grocery store).|
|Scannable by many different apps (e.g., RedLaser).||App-specific technology (and shouldn’t be used as such).|
|An interactive feature that typically requires an internet connection to scan and access.||Very useful underground.|
|Changeable. The same code can have different content every season, month, or even every hour (not that it’s necessarily useful).||Fixed. Once you’ve created your code, you can easily change or update the content it leads to. This helps QR codes make printed materials updatable and interactive.|
|Interactive: QR codes should allow users to perform a specific action.||Static. Don’t just send scanners to a list of information with no clear call to action.|
|A way to instantly connect the real world and mobile devices.||Just another way to promote your (non-mobile-optimized) website.|
|Totally trackable by geographic location, time, user action, and other criteria.||A black hole.|
|Shareable.||A dead end.|
To be part of a successful marketing strategy, QR codes should do the following:
- provide new information that the user hasn’t already seen,
- in a format that works for mobile devices,
- with a call to action that the user can complete on the mobile device.
Mobile + Information + Action = Successful QR Code usage. Sounds easy, right? And it is–if you’re strategic about it. Unfortunately, many people aren’t. The new Tumblr WTF QR Codes provides numerous examples of QR code campaigns that weren’t well thought out, giving QR codes in general a bad name. Stick with us at SnapHop and we’ll help you figure out QR code uses that evoke engagement, not WTF.
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