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Those Ugly, Quirky, Little Codes Are Back

They came out of the decade where new technology was emerging at a fast-break pace; where every advancement seemingly sought to find a use for any new advancement even without a clear understanding of what marketers and the consumer really needed or wanted in the way of digital convenience and simplification of daily lives. Many new digital communication instruments were introduced ahead of the utilization learning curve and preceded marketers’ and consumers’ full understanding of the importance and impact of the coming digital era.

Graphic, quirky devices like QR Codes burst upon the scene in 1994. Invented by the Denso Wave Company, the codes were first used to track vehicle manufacturing processes. Quick Response codes, or QR codes, were black and white, two-dimensional barcodes that could be read by an app, directing users to an online website or promotional page. Initially, the codes’ effectiveness suffered from slow internet speeds that delayed the transition to websites that often were poorly designed for the emerging mobile technology. Confused and frustrated by the experience, consumers and marketers quickly discarded the use of QR codes.

People used to hate QR codes,” says the co-founder of Ringpin, but that was all about to change as the misunderstood, ugly, graphic icon began to discover its full potential among marketers and consumers alike. Apple’s iOS 11 update of its native camera eased the path for mobile phone users to scan QR codes without downloading and using a third-party app. As more brands mobilized websites, the once maligned and abandoned QR code was resurrected to enjoy a new and expanded future in digital communications. According to Statista research, approximately 11 million households scanned QR codes in 2020.

With the increasing popularity of mobile devices, the enhanced QR code is finding increased acceptance and utilization among consumers who are learning how to use the graphic to access information about a brand’s product. Marketers can now capture and identify the source of the scan, verify the marketing channel and where the icon scan originated. Measuring the effectiveness of traditional newspaper, magazine and direct mail advertising, once nothing more than a scientific guess, can be verified by tracking the source of the QR code. QR inquiries can promote increased customer engagement with videos, and easier access to more detailed product information by customers, resulting in increased conversions for businesses. Properly designed and utilized QR codes add value to digital marketing connections as well as physical advertising collateral.

The current unattractive barcode is enjoying a much-needed makeover that enhances its ability to blend seamlessly with accompanying marketing content. Originally appearing as last-minute add-ons to existing content, updated QR code formats are being redesigned to be more attractive, eye catching and instructive to inform consumers as to the likely destination once scanned.  Codes can be customized to direct consumers with different information, based on the time of day, day of the week or type of campaign. Loyal and frequent customers can be routed to a different location than first-time or infrequent customers. QR Codes may be used as an entry ticket to an event and to deliver information regarding the event details.

Effective QR codes should be large enough to be scanned easily, located in a relevant location and be supplemented with content that lets the user know where the scan will take them. Post-purchased packaging can include a code that directs purchasers to advanced information about the product or the opportunity to initiate a reorder. When possible, QR codes may be used in conjunction with virtual business cards and digital billboards in order to direct potential customers to the brand’s most important information.

Once thought to extinct, QR Codes are making the way back as an easy, affordable and dynamic tool to add value to any marketing strategy.