Last week, comScore released data from its comScore MobilLens service, finding that in June 2011, 14 million mobile users in the U.S, representing 6.2 percent of the total mobile audience, scanned a QR or bar code on their mobile device.
The press release continues:
"The study found that a mobile user that scanned a QR or bar code during the month was more likely to be male (60.5 percent of code scanning audience), skew toward ages 18-34 (53.4 percent) and have a household income of $100k or above (36.1 percent). The study also analyzed the source and location of QR or bar code scanning, finding that users are most likely to scan codes found in newspapers/magazines and on product packaging and do so while at home or in a store."
"QR codes demonstrate just one of the ways in which mobile marketing can effectively be integrated into existing media and marketing campaigns to help reach desired consumer segments," said Mark Donovan, comScore senior vice president of mobile. "For marketers, understanding which consumer segments scan QR codes, the source and location of these scans, and the resulting information delivered, is crucial in developing and deploying campaigns that successfully utilize QR codes to further brand engagement."
Are we close to the age of QR codes?
Let's look at the data:
· comScore didn't differentiate between QR and bar code. That's a big problem. While QR codes are seen as a promotional vehicle by customers, bar codes are regarded as information devices. Many apps rely on bar codes to deliver data: Fooducate gives customers the opportunity to scan the bar code of a product and find healthier alternatives. Red Laser helps customer to find cheaper alternatives.
· The majority of scans take place inside retail/grocery stores, followed by scanning at home. Another indication that bar code scanning trumps QR code scanning.
· The study neglects to tell us how frequently users snap the codes. This post calculates that the odds of any individual holding a smart phone actually scanning your code on a given day are 1 in 244. Currently, that's a better return than any display ads statistics I've seen in a while. Very likely, this will change over time when the novelty wears off.
What to do now.
QR codes are just a bridge to sophisticated image recognition. Google Goggles is fairly far along, Mobius offers an interesting product and very soon image recognition will make the use of QR codes look as ancient as Windows 95.
QR codes ask too much from customers: They have to download scanning apps and learn how to use them. Not all codes work for all apps, that leads to increasing customer frustration with this tool. Then you have to shoot the code, hold the phone steady and hope your mobile network is fast enough.
Oh, by the way, you haven't started your work yet: Development and management of mobile barcodes. Creating content that engages the mobile customer. Are all the codes cross-platform? How much space do you have to dedicate to explain to customers what to do? What is left for your real message?
My advice: If you think about launching a QR code initiative next year, think again. By next year, image recognition will have improved dramatically and we can look at the QR as the ancient hieroglyphs they will be by 2012.
If you're in the middle of a QR initiative, think twice where you place them. I've seen in-flight magazines with bar codes. What a waste. Having them placed inside leafing magazines (from page to page: Esquire, Men's Health) might be worthwhile, people are looking for entertainment. A QR Code in the New Yorker? Not so much.
Oh, and having a placement in the subway where people don't have any Internet connection makes really no sense. And I'm being extremely polite here.
Uwe Hook is the CEO and Co-Founder of BatesHook, Inc. (www.bateshook.com) and a veteran of the advertising and marketing industry with the goal of building connections between people and brands. Uwe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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