QR Codes: underwhelming or misused by brands?

By Dr. Todd Bacile | July 15, 2013

Todd Bacile QR CodeSome people are intrigued by new gadgets and emergent technologies such as QR codes. The students in my Electronic Marketing course last semester created an early buzz about these 2-D codes. That is, until they became underwhelmed by the lack of pizzazz QR codes have in direct marketing promotions. My students are not alone in this QR code opinion. In contrast to this underwhelming viewpoint, QR codes are very useful when one moves away from promotions to a supportive information context.

QR Codes in the beginning:

Interactivity expectations simply not met

Quick Response Codes began to appear in U.S. marketing promotions in the 2000s after being invented in 1994 by Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota. These codes began to attract attention in marketing contexts with the boom of smartphone and mobile internet growth a few years later. Yet, compared to the amount of interactivity smartphone functionality had to offer, the lack of interactivity associated with QR codes created unfulfilled expectations for many people.

Getting people to scan the codes are one step, but what comes afterward makes or breaks the QR code experience. For most people, a link to a web site or email address is underwhelming based upon the expectations of interactive technology. It also does not foster functional usage by requiring people to download a QR code reader (I like NeoReader personally). To require a person to download software then scan the code requires time. In many instances, within a promotional direct marketing context, it is an overall underwhelming experience producing a negative disconfirmation of expectations.

QR codes currently:

Excellent supportive information

For as underwhelming as QR codes are in direct marketing promotions, these codes are very useful in a supportive context. Here is an example I experienced this week. My wife and I moved into a new house with appliances left by the former owner. We could not figure out a control setting on the refrigerator. I opened the fridge to locate a model number in the hopes of downloading  the manufacturer’s manual. A QR code greeted me upon opening the fridge’s door! I scanned the code and within 15 seconds I had the manual appearing on my phone’s screen. Below are screenshots of the QR landing page:

QR code Fridge image 1QR code Fridge image 2

The above example illustrates the benefits to a brand when using QR codes in a supportive information context instead of in a direct promotions context. An area that is overlooked by some marketers is the supportive services and information a brand offers to consumers. These supportive services have many monikers, such as underlying, secondary, supplementary, or none-core offerings. Yet, supportive services and information must be easily accessed by today’s savvy, always-connected consumers.

QR Codes and the balance of information:

Consumers need easy access to information

Interactive technologies and ubiquitous internet connectivity are changing what consumers expect out of brands. Jay Baer‘s book, Youtility, highlights this shift in information expectations. Years ago only the most powerful and resource-rich firms controlled marketing promotions via mass media. Available information given to consumers was decided upon by what suited a brand. Now, this balance of information-access power is shifting from brands to consumers. QR codes are a useful utility to quickly grant desired information to consumers in a specific situation or context.

As Baer points out in Youtility, brands are slowly beginning to realize the importance of information transparency. Making more information available electronically on-demand is executed by blog postings and corporate web pages, provided people can find the information. QR codes should be viewed as an additional resource that creates shortcut access to desired pieces of information.

What is your opinion on QR codes?

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He teaches Electronic Marketing and Advanced Marketing Strategy. His e-marketing research has been published or is forthcoming in numerous academic research journals and national marketing conferences.  Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter.


3 thoughts on “QR Codes: underwhelming or misused by brands?

  1. Pingback: Todd Bacile's Marketing Blog | QR Codes helping your job search

  2. Pingback: Todd Bacile's Marketing Blog | Social Media Marketing & Mobile Marketing: A Useful Resource Guide

  3. Pingback: Todd Bacile's Marketing Blog | Infographic: 11 Amazing Text Message Marketing Stats

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s