QR Codes are one of those technologies that didn’t do what many new technologies do: Die quickly or have incredible adoption. They have persisted, without being overly popular or well known.
Many companies have used them in their marketing or on their packaging, but not enough for the general public to recognize them and use them regularly. Why? Either because the technology is just too clunky for people to get used to, or the companies using it aren’t doing so correctly. In our opinion it is a little of both.
What are QR codes?
QR codes have persisted this long because they were well thought out for their original purpose. A subsidiary of Toyota called Denso Wave developed them to track vehicles as they were assembled and to scan components at high speed. That is why they named them QR, for Quick Response.
They came up with a very good solution. The codes were made to withstand errors caused by the movement as well as dirt and dust. What’s more, Denso Wave waived the rights to one of the patents on the code, which allows companies worldwide to use the standardized version for free. The code is also ISO (International Standard Organization) approved.
Here is how it is structured. As you can see, a large portion of the code (the red and purple squares) is dedicated to Positioning, orientation and alignment, which make it quite robust (the colour is just there to indicate where things are. A standard QR code is black and white)
How they work
QR codes don’t need a special dedicated scanner to make them work, just a simple app on your smart phone. The app uses the smart phone’s camera to visualize the code and the information it needs to processes. There are a lot of free QR code apps available on the app store or on Google play. Most of them work quite well.
How to scan a QR code
Once you’ve downloaded a QR code reader app, and spot a QR code you want to read, you simply open your phone’s photo application, position it in front of the code and the app reads it. Most of the time the information is a URL that leads to site that is set up by the creator of that particular code.
How to create a QR code
Creating a QR code is surprisingly easy. There are several free QR code generation sites available on the web. You simply go to such a Website, enter the text or URL you want to convert to a QR code and the site generates an image of the code that you can download and use.
Are QR codes useful?
So long as you clearly identify what the code is for (by giving it a title), people who have the app on their phone should be tempted to scan it. The trouble is, even those who are familiar with QR codes find it a hassle to have to take out their phone, open their photo app and scan the code.
Bottom line is whether it is perceived as easy or not, not many people are familiar with it, so your reach could be limited. Still, it gives you the advantage of being able to convey a large amount of information in a relatively small amount of space.
In the end it is up to you to decide if you want to give up that space on your packaging or marketing material.
One last thing: There is a major QR code initiative under way in the USA, called SmartLabel™. It is designed to give consumers much more information about food, beverage and personal care products. The information will be available via a QR code on the packaging. Many big manufacturers are taking part, including Pepsi, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Hersey. An estimated 30,000 products should have this type of labelling by 2017. Pushed by people’s interest in food quality, source and sustainability, QR codes may end up taking off after all…
I’ll be talking about SmartLabel in more detail in my next blog post.