Man oh man. QR codes…. QR codes… Everywhere I look someone’s talking about QR codes. No doubt about it, brands, agencies and advertisers are stampeding to deploy them, and they’re popping up almost everywhere. Yesterday, I even found them affixed to new cars in a dealership’s parking lot. Although marketers are hot for them, are consumers going to rush in mass to embrace and engage with them? I don’t think so.
According to a recent study, only about 6 percent of smartphone-equipped consumers are scanning 2-D barcodes in retail environments. Needless to say, that number represents a huuuuuge increase of over two years ago when virtually no American consumer had even heard of 2-D barcodes. But if you’ve read my personal blog at www.steve-gurley.com, you’ve no doubt seen that I am not a big believer in the mass consumer adoption of this technology. (Mass consumer adoption being defined as approximately 50 percent of all consumers scanning these codes on a recurring basis.)
Although my personal blog lays out several reasons why I doubt broad consumer adoption will happen, I'd like to present one more point for your consideration. That point is called the "Linda Factor."
The "Linda Factor" is based upon the habits and behavior of my wife, whose name happens to be Linda. Linda, like many consumers, is a technophobe. She is however a pretty good predictor of what the average consumer will embrace. I have found over the years that if Linda likes something, then Linda's friends will tend to like the same thing and her friends' friends will like it as well. It's been my experience that if Linda doesn't like something, the masses typically won't either.
Linda does not like 2-D barcodes. Her reaction to them is this: "The whole process (i.e., find the scanning app, launch the app, hold the phone over the code, wait for the app to recognize the code and then get a prize) is too much work and takes too long." She calls it getting her "prize" because she says that it's generally unclear prior to the scan as to what content will be provided.
Uncertainty and inconvenience: That's the problem. According to Linda, if you don't know what you're going to get when you scan a code, then the process and time required to get the "prize" is may not be worth the effort. So why do it?
This reaction is not unique to Linda. I asked my sons and their friends what they thought of 2-D barcodes and got much the same reaction. Yes, I know that this is an ultra small sample, but it's a good indicator. (Don't forget, I have laid out five other reasons in my personal blog why 2-D barcodes will not reach mass consumer adoption.)
If QR codes — or any 2-D barcode for that fact — are going to catch on with the masses, then the process will need to be quick and easy — the equivalent of pulling out a phone, waving it over a designated spot and immediately getting information. Thus far, only NFC tags hold this promise.
But let's assume I'm wrong. What if consumers ultimately adopt 2-D codes. What are the implications for digital signage? Two things as I see it: 1) The design and scheduling component of a digital signage system will need to be able to support the dynamic creation and insertion of 2-D codes. 2) The design and scheduling component of a digital signage system will need to support the creation and scheduling of mobile content.
I am already aware of a few companies who supply digital signage systems that can dynamically create a 2-D code for display on the digital signage. I'm impressed that these companies have made the effort. This represents a tremendous form of convergence that is cross-mobile platform ready. If 2-D adoption reaches mass-market, these companies will have a nice head start.
Once digital signage systems begin creating and inserting 2-D codes, then they will also need to facilitate the creation and scheduling of content that will be presented on the mobile device. The creation component is not, of course, mandatory, as mobile content can be created through more traditional tools, but in an integrated solution the scheduling system must be able to support the scheduling of the mobile content. No 2-D code should be tied to static content. The mobile content must change by date and time just as the digital signage content changes.
All-in-all, it would be great if 2-D barcodes (QR Codes, Tag codes, etc.) were adopted by consumers en masse. It would open great opportunities for the convergence of digital signage with mobile technologies. But because the process is so cumbersome, I don't think that's going to happen unless the mobile device manufacturers and operating system developers get behind the effort. Frankly, I don't think that will happen. There is more money and more value to be created via NFC tags; therefore, my money is on NFC. I will write more about NFC in upcoming posts.
One last point. Don't be enamored with the fact that marketers are so hot for 2-D codes. This is quickly becoming a "me too" thing. Watch instead what consumers do. Pay attention to how quickly and how often consumers are embracing the codes. Ask your friends. Ask your family. Ask stores who have deployed them. Remember, you'll want to look at what the technophobes are doing and not the early adopters and innovators are doing. There's your true gauge. They are the masses.
Steve Gurley is broadly recognized as an industry expert and thought-leader in mobile and mobile content management solutions. He is a widely published author of numerous papers, articles and blogs on mobility and serves on numerous mobile advisory boards and committees, including serving as the current chairman of the Digital Screenmedia Association's committee on mobile. Steve is currently the President and CEO of Pyrim Technologies, a mobile business and new market development company.