Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of Quick Response or QR codes - those funny looking little black and white squares. I’ve noticed them on printed materials, signs and elsewhere. I knew how to use them by scanning them with my smart phone, but I wasn’t quite sure when or why I would use one myself.
At last week’s Nonprofit Technology and Communications Conference, hosted by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and MAP for Nonprofits, I saw a session called QR Codes: Scanning for Success and decided to attend.
The session featured QR codes – good, bad and ugly – and was presented by David Erickson from Tunheim Partners. I learned a lot, so I figured I’d share some of it here.
The codes were created in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota to track vehicle parts. Because the codes don’t require a license to use and can be generated at no cost, they’re now showing up everywhere.
Today the codes are used primarily by males (63%), ages 18-44 (72%), on their Android-based smart phones (50%). They’re most often found on products, in magazines and on coupons. And they’re most often being used to access additional information, get a discount or enter a contest.
In 2009 their use in the public domain was almost nonexistent, but their use grew 300% in 2011 compared to 2010. In the last quarter of 2011, codes were scanned almost 12 million times.
The codes work well if they are used in a somewhat controlled environment where people will have the time and inclination to take out their phone and point it at the code.
According to Erickson, examples of good uses of the codes include:
- Best Buy’s use of the codes on product displays where they direct customers and employees alike to additional product information.
- Home Depot’s use of the codes on garden plants where they point to plant care tips for customers.
- Famous Dave’s use of the codes on restaurant table tents where they take customers directly to a mobile-optimized contest entry form.
The codes don’t work well if the context that they’re being used in doesn’t make sense. Real examples of that include:
- On a to-go cup sleeve at a coffee shop - the surface of the cup is rounded, so the code doesn’t scan well.
- On a highway billboard – do you really want someone trying to scan it as they drive by at 60 miles per hour?
- As part of a TV ad – the code flashes by too quickly to be captured.
- On a sign plastered on a busy sidewalk – you’d need to ask the passers-by to stop so you could scan it.
- On the back of a truck – see highway billboard, above.
If you are going to use them, know that:
- QR codes are likely a transitional technology, meaning at some point they’ll be replaced by something that’s less work to use.
- There’s no investment to start using them.
- Make the code at least 1″ by 1″ – the bigger the better.
- After you create a code, test it to ensure it works before using it.
- Track results, so you know if they work for your audience and outcome.
Use the code to provide value, for example:
- Use a code to get someone to register for an event and immediately add the event to the scanner’s calendar.
- Add a code to a poster at a special event and immediately download a map of the event to the scanner’s phone.
- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate