Why QR Code Campaigns Are Failing

With QR code campaigns performing poorly all over the place, marketing experts wringing their hands, clients not so enthused and consumers yawning … more than a few pundits have taken to proclaiming the QR code is dead, dying, or that the fad is over.   


After spending hundreds of hours on this issue-  reviewing campaigns, discussing it with people at every level from board room to stock room (both in this industry and out), working with the technology personally, even re-reading seminal works on marketing and technology, this is what I have found: 

The QR code campaigns are failing for two key reasons:

Consumers don’t scan the QR code because either the incentive isn’t compelling  – and/or –   we have failed to communicate the value of the incentive.  
Period. 

 It’s not the technology (I’ll offer some arguments about that in a minute),  it is not the lack of penetration of the technology – (250 million smartphones sold in Q3 2013 –  we’ve more than reached saturation.)

 It is not that the codes are ugly – although an attractive code would certainly be more FUN to scan, and fun matters!

 It is first and foremost that the consumer does not see the value in scanning your code – (especially relative to other alternatives!! more about this below) 

The consumer rightly asks,  WIIFM?  (what’s in it for me?). 
The “sufficiency” of the reward for scanning is determined solely by the smartphone holder,  not by the marketing company and not by the business itself. 

There HAS to be some kind of gratification achieved.   Be it emotional, spiritual, financial, psychological.  

At this point in the technology cycle, part of the challenge could be the need to overcome past disappointments with QR codes – maybe after scanning a QR code once, the consumer was sent to a non-mobile friendly web page (yuccch!),  or there was a whole bunch of keystrokes he was asked to do, or the font was too small to read on the smart phone (especially for the over 55 crowd like me – who make up a large chunk of the populace.) 

There may be a Dopamine problem  –  Very possibly it has to be a reward that is bigger than normal.    We’ve all seen how connected some consumers are to their phones.   Go to a trade show, or a park, and there are people walking around in circles with the phone to their ear.  We’ve seen how excited and how distracted people become when texting.  It’s like an addiction.    Precisely because the phone is such a source of stimulus  – in order to “break away” from texting, Facebook, YouTube activity we need a bigger carrot – or something that will produce more dopamine –  than the average incentive.  

Why it’s not the time it takes to whip out your phone, open the app and scan it.  

We do take the time to use these apps, (and many others) – and these take longer to use than a QR code reader.   

Foursquare – 4.5 billion “check-ins” by tens of millions of people (source: Foursquare.com) .  The Foursquare app is not quick, it is not simple, it can and does get hung up – yet, I will spend two or three even four minutes checking in because I like getting points, badges, letting my friends know where I am or what I am doing.   I am getting a psychological reward.  

Starbucks – this is a combination loyalty app and mobile wallet.   Users get rewards – GREAT rewards – and we plan how we are going to use the free drink we get with every 15 purchases.  We order the biggest latte, or refreshing drink – the one we don;t want to spend money on.  Starbucks even lets us get a sandwich with our reward.  That is huge.   we pull out our phones, open the app, click on Pay now, hold the bar code under the scanner, etc.  this is the SAME amount of work as scanning a QR code and we are well rewarded for doing this.  Millions of us do it every day.  So it is NOT too much trouble, IF we are getting something we perceive as valuable.

What will consumers do for the right incentives? 

Consumers will jump through flaming hoops, suffer humiliation, mosquito infested forests and eat a variety of live bugs on a reality TV show,  if properly motivated to do so.

Airline miles – arguably the number one loyalty program in the world.  It does not require time on a smartphone, but it DOES require time spent planning, coordinating, checking umpteen flight schedules, and juggling a host of other factors including airline gimmicks,  just to get a reward.   But we do it!  We invest dozens of hours coordinating trips around incentives,  getting miles and we carefully select the credit card we will put those miles on.   We spend a ton of time thinking about this and working the system to get the best rewards for us.

WHEN we are sufficiently motivated, we WILL put energy into scanning these little codes.

What marketers have to do is offer something very COMPELLING to the user to scan a code. Of course, with the QR code such tests are cheap and easy to set up and run. 
We know for sure is that consumers want to do stuff.  they want to buy stuff, they want to be entertained.  They want to earn badges and get points and have fun.  

What is clearly not compelling – A campaign to ask consumers to “Like” your Facebook page by scanning a QR code offers nothing in return for their time and effort.  Offering users the ability to see a video on your products.  (yawn)  Absolutely nothing compelling here.  (my kids  – ages 13 to 25 ) would never get off a text session with a friend in order to watch a boring product video – unless it was on YouTube with more than 100 million views. 

By Craig Alberle

More at: www.barcode.com

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