At L2, we debate the merits of QR codes on a weekly basis. Some people in the organization still think they are ineffectual and “just a fad”, while others believe that they do provide value.

I fall somewhere in between those two camps. I believe that a majority of QR codes to date have been unsuccessful for a combination of reasons. The point of a QR code is to provide valuable content or offers in an efficient way to consumers, when they need or want that information. Many marketers have missed at least part of this equation.

For example, for JetBlue’s “Jet2TheBeach” campaign, the company did link the codes to valuable information that a consumer would be interested in (entry to a sweepstakes). However, a majority of the codes in New York City were found in subway cars…underground. This creates several usability issues, such as reaching over people sitting in seats to take photos, balancing in a moving car to snap the code, and most importantly – having an internet connection to access the content.

However, I believe that marketers are learning from early QR missteps and starting to more effectively employ them via direct mail, events, and out of home.

For instance, Victoria’s Secret (a genius brand in our 2011 Specialty Retail Digital IQ Index), recently included a code on a direct mailer, which provided users access to watch the 2011 Victoria’s Secret Fashion show. The code directed to a mobile website where users could watch a video / trailer of the show or click “shop now” to access the m-commerce site. The code provided exclusive content and a path to purchase.

 

A very innovative approach to QR codes was recently taken by UK department store John Lewis, which created a “virtual window shop” of QR codes at a branch of Waitrose, an upscale grocery store. Each picture of a product in the window has a unique QR code, so users can shop 24/7 for the items, and pick them up at the Waitrose the next day.

Lastly, marketers are realizing that QR codes need to link to something of value to consumers. Retailers like Debenhams are using in-store codes to provide an incentive to purchase. There is also an element of surprise and delight, as they do not reveal what the offer will be until the user snaps the code.

Whether 2012 will finally be the “Year of the QR Code” or not remains to be seen, but in the meantime, marketers are making great progress in understanding how to successfully use the tactic.

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