First, the article's author, Erin Shea, never really answers the question that she poses in the article's title. All Ms. Shea writes about is how QR Codes help consumers and brands bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds, how some luxury brands have used QR Codes in the past, and what are some of the high level best practices a company should use in a QR Code-based campaign. While it's a great question to ask, the real answer, in my opinion, really must come from the luxury brands/marketers themselves who have used codes in the past. Based on their past experiences, along with other forms of research, others may then get an idea of whether or not it makes sense to use QR Codes for themselves. But then, with all things being equal, what may work for one brand may not work for another.
Second, the individuals that Ms. Shea interviews in the article (Melody Adhami, president and chief operating officer of Plastic Mobile Inc., Sara Read, vice president of business development at Red Fish Media and Shuli Lowy, marketing director at Ping Mobile), do very little to answer Ms. Shea's question as well. In fact, I'm not sure what to make of the remarks made by these three individuals. Let's take a closer look.
Ms. Adhami states, “I believe that QR codes have the potential to enhance the consumer experience, but are often misused in advertising. For example, QR codes set on inaccessible billboards or underground in subways with no connectivity. I do not think that more advertisers should be utilizing QR codes because there just is not the consumer knowledge at this point to make them effective.” Ms. Adhami, if I may, a comment/question or two. Consumer knowledge does not make QR Codes effective, rather brands control the effectiveness (usefulness, relevance, value, meaning, benefit, etc.) of QR Codes. If marketers and brands were to wait until a technology reaches the mainstream, as opposed to just the early adopters, for how long should this wait be? While blindly jumping on the technology bandwagon is not necessarily a recommended strategy, there is something to be said for doing so with some research, fact finding and caution. As stated in one of my recent posts, the CMO of Unilever puts it very well, he said, "I want to get to the future first and welcome consumers as they arrive. That way we don't have to chase them." Again, this is not to say a firm blindly jumps into the use of QR Codes or other technologies, but to wait until the mainstream understands and makes use of the technology does not make much sense.
Ms. Lowy states, “QR codes are intrinsically different because they require the consumer to pull out his or her phone, open an application and scan the code. The consumer has to take the primary initiative. However, having the consumer take the initiative to scan a QR code could be beneficial to a marketer. This reversal of roles creates a deeply engaging brand experience and the illusion that it was the consumer who took the first step to interact with your brand." Ms. Lowy, can we be a little less convoluted in how we think about this? It's simple, a consumer takes the 'primary initiative' when they decide to stop and read an advertisement. They take another initiative to scan a code, but only after they have been enticed, motivated, made curious, etc., to do so, and all of that comes as a result of the advertisement's various creative components. Then, once the scan is made, it's up to the scan resolve content to keep the consumer engaged and interested to act as requested or intended by the advertiser. There is no need to get bogged down in role reversals, initiatives, etc., marketers just need to deliver a code experience that they themselves would want to experience.
Towards the very end of the article, Ms. Shea writes, "Although some QR codes could be adjusted to create a better user experience, those that do not engage consumers are not likely to diminish the brand’s value." I'm not sure what Ms. Shea was trying to say here, because it makes little sense. To the contrary, if a code experience does not work properly or serve to effectively engage the consumer with the brand, product or service, then the brand will most certainly suffer and find its value diminished by however much. There's nothing quite like setting an expectation in a consumer's mind and then not delivering on that expectation.
Lastly, Ms. Read responds to Ms. Shea's comment above, “I do not believe that if a brand utilized a QR code incorrectly that it would diminish the brand’s value. It would, however, create a bad user experience.” Here too, I'm not sure what Ms. Read is thinking. In my mind, a bad user experience most certainly diminishes a brand's value. How can it not?
In summary, it's a shame that the luxury (or any other) marketer who reads Ms. Shea's article is no further along to know whether or not to use QR Codes, as Ms. Shea and her interviewees do very little to research and get to the root of the matter. My take is that QR Codes serve a useful purpose to help a brand engage with a consumer. If codes are to be used they must be deployed with best practices in mind and tested to the point that the code scan experience is flawless, seamless and remarkable. And, by remarkable, I mean an experience that the marketer him or herself would want to experience, as well as share with others.