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We May Just Be Too Cool for Our Own Consumers August 1, 2011

Posted by christinapappas in Mobile Marketing.

This past week, Jay Baer wrote a post about QR codes by conducting an analysis of a Crowne Plaza ad that features one. It was an interesting case study that not only talked about the overall design and purpose of including the QR code but questioned whether or not one was really needed. In fact, he makes an excellent point asking the hotel chain why they didn’t just use a SMS campaign; More Americans have the capability to text vs. those that can scan a QR code.

I am a marketer through and through so I like QR codes and yes, I think they are cool, and yes, I have created them and posted them on marketing materials and included them in email campaigns but it was only recently that I discovered how few consumers actually know what they are and what to do with them. Are we too ‘cool’ for our own good when it comes to using technology? Have we lost sight of our consumer and forgotten to consider what they may actually do with a QR code or how they will react to it?

Your audience may have no clue what you are doing. Seriously.

In Home Depot yesterday, I was looking at this really cool indoor plant. Having a gigantic black thumb that I do, I looked at the card that contains the care instructions to see if I may be up for the challenge. Guess what?

It was the name of the plant and a huge QR code. No instructions anywhere to be seen.

Now I had to get out my phone and scan the thing and read the instructions on my mobile device. In fact, as I questioned whether or not to make the purchase, I realized I would need to do this everytime I wanted to remind myself of how to care for this gorgeous plant. BUT, I am a marketer, remember, so I know what this thing is that’s printed on the card. Consider for a moment, I am my mother, for example. She would have absolutely no clue what a QR code is. Let alone that it had anything to do with the phone sitting right in her handbag. And you know what? She may not purchase the plant at all because of it.

Who’s teaching the consumer?

A few people in the comment’s section of Jay’s blog agree; consumer adoption and understanding of the QR code is not even close to the pace at which marketer’s are using them. So, who is teaching our audience, the consumer, what the heck these codes are and showing them what to do with them?

Unlike SMS campaigns where the language clearly states ‘text 5675 with your answer’, a QR code is just some funny looking barcode to a consumer. There is no instruction regarding what it is, how to use it or any hint as to what’s behind it.

As a marketer who is quite familiar with the codes, how to create one and how to use them, I am also confused sometimes. Do I take a picture of it with my camera? Does this one work with the app I downloaded? Is this one of those Microsoft ones that I need a different software for? Will this work with my iPhone or is it for Droid only?

Tell me what to do!

I have yet to see one being used that has instructions that say ‘scan me with your smartphone’. Why are we putting these on everything hoping our audience will use them and engage with our content yet we are not even telling them how to do it?

Someone needs to take the first step if QR codes are going to be anything but a passing fad within a consumer base of knowing professionals. Anyone else think we may have gotten a little overly excited on this one and forget about how people would interact with our brands using these codes?

Go ask someone if they know what a QR code is and let me know what they say in the comments section. Or, better yet, show them one and ask them what to do with it.



1. dava - August 1, 2011

A prospect once sent me an email that said “Could we meet in person. Seriously, just replying to this email is challenging my technology skills.”

Those of us who are online often, and especially those of us testing new tools, forget that there is a whole world of people out there who feel advanced because they can email a photo or log in to Facebook.

christinapappas - August 1, 2011

It’s SO true but I have to admit, I only just started noticing this. Yes, some marketers are still asking ‘what is a qr code’ because they just dont know the terminology and yes, I would agree that consumers don’t need to know that its called a qr code or a sms text campaign but they do need to know what to do with it.

Right now I am seeing qr codes being used in more places than I care to see. The side of my ice cream has a qr code instead of the nutritional facts, the plant I wanted to buy has a qr code instead of the care instructions, my realtor has a qr code instead of the contact phone number on the house I want to buy. Its too much and its misused and abused! We need to put more consideration into how we use these codes rather than just using them because we can. AND tell consumers what to do with them and provide them with a back-up plan if they dont have a smartphone.

2. Ken Mueller - August 1, 2011

Some great points, Christina, and I think you’re on to something. but, every technology is new at some point, and there is a learning curve. One of the things that I try to do with my clients is to have them use the QR code more as a “point of purchase” thing at this point, rather than just throw them out there. For instance, at the checkout counter, or on tables at a restaurant, as part of a plan to help grow Facebook page numbers with existing clients and customers. That way, two things happen: Those who know what QR codes are, will use them. And, those who don’t, may ask. This gives the business employees a chance to explain how they are used.

Much of what we do is education, and we need to remember that just because we understand things, doesn’t mean the general public does. Shoot, I’m still having to explain both Facebook and Twitter to a lot of small business owners. We aren’t “there” yet, but we’re getting closer.

christinapappas - August 1, 2011

My point exactly Ken! We have an advantage as marketers in regards to the knowledge in these areas. An analogy I can think of from my own experience was when Salesforce.com first started becoming popular and marketers were encourage to put their data in ‘the cloud’. What the heck is a ‘cloud’? You mean that thing in the sky? My database? I dont get it! They didnt understand it and didnt know what that meant. Try telling a marketing (at a non-software company of course) what SaaS is and then put a qr code in front of my mother and expect her to know what to do. Great opportunity for content to play a role in the education!

3. Mike Johansson - August 2, 2011

Christina, you make some great points. It’s why, when teaching my classes, I stress that using QR codes and other elements on advertising, public relations and marketing pieces only works if you make it easy for a consumer. I insist students don’t just insert a QR code into a print ad, for example, but that they use the words, as you suggest, “scan me with your smartphone to do x.” That is, explain to the consumer why they are gong to take the time to do this – what’s in it for them. Along with QR codes without explanation I’d have to say that the social media logos with the words “Find us on Facebook” or “Follow us on Twitter” are among my other pet peeves. These admonitions without the actual account name or a reason to do this seem idiotic. It’s the analog equivalent of a print ad that says “find us in the phonebook.” Who would do that … and why? 🙂 Thanks for the thoughtful post.

christinapappas - August 2, 2011

You not only need to make it easy but it needs to make sense. Does it make sense to have the care instructions for this plant only available via qr code? What about the huge percentage of the population that dont have smartphones?

Like brands seem to ‘need’ to add the Facebook and Twitter icons to every branded material, the QR code is popping up too. But you are absolutely right to continue the conversation in this direction. Brands do need to tell me what the heck the funny code is and what I am supposed to do with it but they should also tell me why I should take this extra step. What am I getting on the other side of this?

Thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed the post!

4. marashorr - August 2, 2011

Christina- Thanks so much for this post as a reality check! As marketers, you are correct in that we do take this knowledge for granted. As a test, I took you up on your experiment and asked my GIS Specialist boyfriend two questions: 1) What is a QR code? (A: I have no idea.) 2) (Showing him your photo…) Have you seen this before? (A: Yes.) Do you know what to do with it? (A: I have ABSOLUTELY no idea.) While he admits that every new tool must start somewhere, the current use and language surrounding the QR Code proves that you’re correct: my mother would indeed have no idea that her treasured iPhone can help her purchase and care for her soon-to-be treasured petunias.

christinapappas - August 2, 2011

I cannot even begin to count the number of times I am talking about things like qr codes, klout, gamification or augmented reality with friends (some marketers too) and they have no clue. Consumers don’t need to know what we are calling these things in our offices – true – but they should know what we are talking about when we describe them. Consider the gardening company that produces these plants. Does the marketing group truly believe the shoppers at Home Depot who will buy this product know what a qr code is and not only that, that they will have a smartphone? Or does the marketing group think its just a really cool idea to put a qr code in place of the care instructions?

I love that you asked your boyfriend and he had no clue. This is exactly the type of conversation I had with numerous consumers. My question to marketers is what are we going to do about it?

Thanks for your comment! True validation right there!

marashorr - August 3, 2011

This is so true! I think there is a time and a place for them that makes perfect sense; when I was with another organization, we used to add them to donation forms, with the text “please scan this with your smartphone,” so potential donors ALSO had the option of donations online instead of just on paper. But again, it didn’t take the place of an actual donation form – imagine all of the donations we would have lost!

5. Steve | ROI detector - August 2, 2011

I wonder how long it took for SMS to have widespread adoption? QR codes will eventually get there (I hope) but you make a really good point about educating the customer about how to use them. Might seem really basic to put “Scan with your smartphone” or “use this app to scan” but most people would probably find it really helpful.

I just hope it doesn’t get replaced by something else next year:-)

christinapappas - August 3, 2011

Hi Steve,

Scary notion to consider if qr codes were the only way people could donate considering how few (even though its hard for us cool marketers to believe) have smartphones! Also happy to see you added some instructions. Did you provide access to the app to scan too?

You hear things everywhere – right? And I hear they mmay be gone with the wind and that augmented reality with replace. I am not seeing the connection between the 2 just yet but am sure we will hear and learn about it before the consumers do!

6. Why aren’t more smartphone users scanning QR codes? | EvanRowlands.com - August 18, 2011

[…] Pappas over at the Content Cocktail noticed a QR code on a tag attached to a plant at her local Home Depot. It didn’t have any […]

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