The mighty QR code and its new rival: NFC   Leave a comment

The quick response (“QR”) code is just hitting its stride now. I admit that I was not an early adopter and had to be convinced of the value of these odd, square bar codes popping up everywhere in the U.S. (they’ve been in Japan for a while). You’ve probably seen one and wondered why on Earth anyone would put a weird thing like that on a sign or flyer. Well here’s why: a QR code provides a cheap and easy way to–among other things–get consumers to a specific webpage.

The Beauty of QR codes
So what? Isn’t that what the “www” address is for? Well, sure. But what if that www address isn’t so neat and tidy? For example, let’s say the local Islands* restaurant wants to send out a postcard that directs people to info on their specific location.

They could do it with this web address: http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/locations/info.aspx?l=5&r=26

Not so easy to remember or type into a computer, eh?

Or they could put one of these:

QR Code for info on local Islands restaurant

QR Code for info on local Islands restaurant

For those of us with a smartphone who have downloaded a QR code reader app, this code, once scanned, will take you directly to the address listed above (http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/locations/info.aspx?l=5&r=26). Aside from the initial download of the app (not a barrier for most of us) it’s a much easier way to get people to complicated and hard to remember (and therefore easy to forget) web addresses. But this is a very simple example. QR codes can do much more than access a website. Sending a text message or email or transferring someone’s contact info to your phone and downloading files are also possible . For a complete QR code primer check this out.

New Kid on the Block: NFC
Just when QR codes thought they had things locked up a younger, hotter model emerged. Near Field Communication (NFC) serves many of the same functions without the hassle of having to scan a code. If you come across a sign/business card/promo item embedded with a NFC chip AND your phone has an embedded NFC scanner then just wave one next to the other and voila! Information downloaded, webpage opened, bill paid, etc. But that’s a lot of ifs that only a handful of companies have control over. And that’s why QR codes will continue to serve an important function.

QR Codes are Egalitarian
I make two big assumptions for my next argument: you have a web-enabled smartphone and you have Internet access outside of your phone. If you don’t have these things then this blog post is entirely academic for you and you’re not my target audience anyway. Why are you here? (KIDDING! Hi, Dad!)

So given my aforementioned assumptions, QR codes are egalitarian because ANYONE can download a QR code reader to their phone and ANYONE can go online and create QR code for free (you don’t think I paid for that example from Kaywa above, do you?). Free is worth a lot. NFC on the other hand is dependent on getting your hands on the chips in some form and in having a phone that can read them. The former is likely to start getting a lot cheaper (but that still doesn’t beat free!). The latter, if you’re in the market for a new phone, is going to get a lot easier with most major phone manufacturers working to include NFC in their phones.

NFC and QR Codes Living in Harmony
It’s true that NFC can do much more than a QR code. Securely processing payments, transferring files between phones and other slick tricks go far beyond the reaches of a simple bar code scan. NFCs are definitely the future. After all Google is going all-in with NFC. Some excellent posts on the subject are here and here.

But don’t discount the (now) underdog. Whereas with NFC you have to obtain a chip and incorporate it into your marketing collateral and POP items, with QR codes you can instantly create as many as you want and have them on a flyer and out the door in minutes. Want to promote a new web link? No problem! Just type it in and get a new, free code in seconds. They are cheap, easy and effective which means they will continue to have their place in the marketing mix for some time to come. Some great discussion around this is happening here.

Do you think there’s still a place in the marketing mix for QR codes or will they be gone in 6 months? Leave your comments below!

*This is not an endorsement, I didn’t receive anything from them for this mention, etc., etc. They just provided an easy example to prove my point.

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Posted August 5, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Branding, Business, Internet, Marketing

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