The uncertain future of the QR code

Over the past 18-24 months, the acceptance and use of Quick Response (QR) codes has steadily increased among marketing and creative professionals, as well as individual and business consumers, but the question remains, what’s the future of QR codes? Will the future show that QR codes were just a passing advertising fad — here today, gone tomorrow? Or, will the future show that QR codes were a viable direct response mechanism that marketers can use to engage and interact with a target audience on a permission-based, personal level?

As a marketing strategist, my answer to the question “what’s the future of QR codes” is probably much different than how a technologist, developer, creative professional, or futurist might respond, but I believe it is justified and has merit. Ask the question to this group and they might all begin to talk about the next version of QR code technology (e.g., QR code 3.0) and what that might be like and how that might work, or they might talk about other technologies — such as near field communication (NFC), augmented reality, digital watermarks, or image recognition — and how technologies such as these will be the death knell for QR codes, let alone other 2D barcode types. But, if the question is asked of me, I believe the future of QR codes really lies in the response companies may give when they themselves are asked, “What are your future strategic marketing goals and objectives?” Probably not what you were expecting to hear was it? Please allow me to explain.

First, let me give you my definition of a QR code. A QR code is a tactical direct response mechanism used in marketing, advertising, and promotion which, upon scanning, enables consumers to bridge the gap between the physical and print world and the digital world and back again. By nature of the technology, QR codes provide for a relatively instantaneous interactive experience between a consumer and a product, service and, brand. The key to enabling the use of QR codes, by an advertiser or a consumer, is a smartphone installed with a QR code reader app. Please read that last line again and keep it in mind as you read the remainder of the article.

When companies begin to consider the use of QR codes for advertising, promotion, or general business purposes, the majority seem to ask the same simple question: Do we want to use QR codes or not in our next campaign? But the real question to be asked is, “As a company, do we want to advance and enhance our integrated marketing strategy, as well as the goals and objectives which go along with it, to the point that the strategy includes an investment in and commitment to a mobile channel or platform?” If the answer from one company to the next is “yes,” then QR codes will have a future. If the answer from one company to the next is “no” then QR codes won’t have much of a future. Because QR code technology is based on a mobile platform and the use of smartphones (see definition above), it is essential for companies to first understand, believe in, embrace, and make use of a mobile strategy, before they try to understand, believe in, embrace, and make use of QR codes on a tactical level. Think strategic before tactical — it’s that simple.

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