The QR Code Divide. To Stay or Not to Stay?

In the past week I have seen conflicting discussions about QR codes. On the 1st of September, DigitalBuzzBlog referenced an infographic which visualised the ‘rise’ of QR codes. According to the article, QR code uptake has increased 4589% from early 2010 to early 2011. In other Marketing led innovations, an increase in demand such as this would signify a positive future for the stakeholders and investors involved. But the question posed by tech enthusiasts and the digital media industry looms overhead: will Near Field Communication (NFC) kill the QR code rather quickly? High profile gadget lover and Mobile Tech Blogger, Clinton Jeff seems to think so in a post he uploaded to ZOMGITSCJ today – although he does also argue the cost of embedding a NFC chip to respond to a NFC enabled device may prevent the uptake of NFC spreading too fast.

So I’ve thought about it. I’ve specifically been asked what I think about QR codes by other media industry professionals and my answer was – they’re outdated. Yet I continued to work them in to several creative campaign strategies with the aim to redirect Offline conversation back Online, where activity could be tracked and measured. So why, if I didn’t like them, did I continue to use them? I now see that is in fact a false dilemma – for at least 2 more years I expect QR codes and NFC to exist in tandem, until eventually the product life cycle ends and NFC takes over.

Why 2 years? This comes down to the target audience. If you want to correctly identify a market segment you have to start with the world’s entire population and discount those of whom you feel the campaign, product or service does not apply. For QR codes, we could easily say that tech savvy, media led individuals will naturally have lost interest.

But that still leaves the rest of the world. What about the late adopters? I’m talking about the people who have just purchased their first smartphone, adults whom only now have had their first experience with an iPad. The world of Apps and digital interaction rests at their anxious fingertips and QR codes are that perfect medium to bridge their technical gap– and show them – there’s a reason to use your smartphone beyond phonecalls, texting and email. I imagine those that download a QR reader App and scan a QR code for the first time, will marvel at the wonder of how a barcode can give you an exclusive offer, or open a hidden world of yet to be discovered content and do so time and again, before the novelty wears off. Not to mention they are easily created, cost effective and can be integrated with traditional media such as print, packaging and outdoor advertising, so I don’t think Brand and Marketing departments will veto them any time soon.

Even those already with smartphones often need to be walked through what is the difference between Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth and HDMI – having failed to realise most products they currently own can be synced, connected or activated to other household appliances. Yet, a QR code is something that makes relative sense – it’s like a supermarket barcode, but instead of scanning and outputting a price to a check-out computer, it produces a link to a URL (or for our target market, what they commonly refer to, as a website). I’m sure this target market will understand the idea of NFC. But will they care that a QR code is now a little dated? Will they rush out to get an NFC enabled mobile device, or for now, will they think – what’s the value in having a NFC reader- and be content with spotting a QR code, scanning it with their smartphone and seeing where it takes them?

‘11 out of 50 Fortune companies are incorporating QR codes into their marketing strategy’. Clearly, the market is far from penetrated. And once it is common knowledge that QR codes unlock special offers or take you to exclusive Online places, I believe we’ll see a lot more products using them before the fad truly expires. Sure NFC is amazing technology with a new realm of digital possibilities for the media industry and tech lovers alike, but in terms of an existing, viable target market – let’s talk about NFC in one or two years, because right now I believe the average consumer doesn’t really care.

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