This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.
Hamilton Chan is CEO and Founder of Paperlinks. With the free Paperlinks iPhone app, featured previously by Apple as the #1 New & Noteworthy app, consumers can scan and view QR code content with a native app experience. Paperlinks also provides a powerful Content Management System for managing campaigns.
Observing QR code adoption by mainstream America is sometimes like watching Charlie Brown set up to kick a football: The moment always seems so promising, but in the end, the effort comes up empty.
Jimmy Fallon’s recent QR code moment and New York City’s QR-linked building permits are two more notches on the belt of early adopters. But were these just blips or an indicator of things to come? Will QR codes ever become part of everyday life or be relegated to “only-in-Japan” status?
I believe the answer is yes, QR codes are coming to an advertisement or object near you, and sooner than you may think. Here are the reasons why, along with suggestions on how advertisers can catalyze this movement by making QR code campaigns as useful and rewarding as possible.
Why QR Codes Make Sense
As I had mentioned in a previous article, hyperlinks are now making their natural migration from desktop monitors to objects in the real world. We no longer need to be tethered to a desktop computer in order to use the internet to interact with the world around us. When you see something that you want information about, you no longer have to make a mental note to look it up later on Google. You can simply point your smartphone at the object and obtain the desired information without typing or speaking. In essence, the QR code has become the shortest distance between curiosity and information retrieval.
The beauty of QR codes is that they are an open-source and freely licensed standard. They cost nothing additional to add to printed materials and can be scanned by free readers on all smartphones and even some feature phones.
Old habits die hard, so it will take some time for people to get used to engaging the real world with their phone, but the unique look of a QR code, a strong call to action, and valuable rewards will help further their surging popularity. The ability to measure click-through rates on real world items, while capturing temporal, geographic and demographic data will make QR codes a favorite among advertisers.
Meanwhile, here is what businesses, institutions and individuals can do to make QR codes an effective part of their marketing arsenal.
1. Optimize for Mobile
Advertisers who embed desktop URLs in a QR code are missing the point of real-to-mobile interactivity. People interact with their mobile devices with significantly shorter attention spans than they do on their desktops. Once a QR code is scanned, the resulting view should be thumb-interactive, easy to read, and purpose-driven.
2. There Must Be A Payoff
A QR code is like a scratch-off card — people have to apply some effort to engage, so the payoff better be worth it. Content emanating from a QR code needs to be useful or an easy redemption of an exclusive reward.
The use of QR codes on the Jimmy Fallon show was moderately effective in that the QR code led to a mobile-friendly music video featuring Tyler, the Creator, who was performing that night. However, viewers were already watching the band perform on TV. Did they need to see it on their phone at that moment as well? What if, upon scanning the QR code, a page was displayed asking viewers to download the artist’s single for a 50% off flash sale, with single-click purchasing ability through iTunes or Amazon MP3?
Other QR code applications, such as HBO’s recent campaign for Boardwalk Empire this past September, have gone further by offering exclusive content and rewards for those willing to scan. In this case, the QR code connected to a password to enter a themed “speakeasy” event. Even Starbucks is on board with a QR-linked mobile payment system that, with a quick scan, serves up convenience along with your morning coffee.
3. Be Patient and Stick With It
Given our late adopter culture, tech trends should be expected to take a while here in the U.S. CDs were popular in Asia long before they made a dent in America. The same was true of DVDs, mobile phones, and now QR codes. Given this predisposition, the only way forward for any new technology is to be relentless in providing inherent value and easy uptake. By experimenting with QR codes early, advertisers can become adept at engaging with users on a mobile basis, so that when QR codes do hit the mainstream, they will be ready.
The Tipping Point
If the volume of inquiries at my own company is any indication, it appears to me that QR codes are very steadily percolating up into the mainstream. I think there will come a day when URLs will be replaced by QRLs. Just as consumers were wary of e-commerce in the mid-’90s, so too are they now taking their first inevitable baby steps towards m-commerce.
I believe the tipping moment will occur as a result of a major media event, such as QR codes serving as an alternative to texting in your American Idol vote or QR codes being used regularly by a major retail brand such as Costco or McDonald’s. Those advertising icons are also pragmatic and they, along with us, will be watching for that magical moment of impact.
More Business Resources from Mashable:
– HOW TO: Grow Your Sales and Revenue Using 2D Codes
– 2D Codes: The 10 Commandments for Marketers
– How The iPad Is Helping Businesses Go Green
– HOW TO: Jump-Start Your Career by Becoming an Online Influencer
– 4 Small Business Mobile Predictions for 2011
Image courtesy of Flickr, Projeto Sticker Map