QR Codes: From Innovative to Mainstream

Thirteen years ago, in a previous life, we were working on the packaging for a new video game that was about to release. To be innovative and push the edge, we decided to include a QR code on the front of the packaging. It would be the perfect way for customers to quickly tap and view a trailer video for the game on their phone rather than looking at some static screenshots on the back of a box.

It was a great concept, in theory. There was just one issue… At that point, to read a QR code on your phone, you needed to download an app. The code was worthless if you didn’t have a QR code reader. And most people had not downloaded the app. So asking them to download it in an aisle while they were shopping was a miss.

QR codes were cool, but because of this barrier to entry, they never took off.

Fast forward…

In about 2017, when Apple released iOS 11, they included the ability to read QR codes via the native camera app. Without knowing if Apple was the first to include this feature, reading QR codes is included on almost all smartphones today. Still, hardly anyone used them, and they never gained much momentum.

Fast forward a little further…

When the pandemic hit, and restaurants needed an alternative to the traditional hand-held menus, the power of QR codes was resurrected. Necessity required us to figure out how to use them in order to eat. Instantly, we all realized that our phones had this easy-to-use, built-in capability, and QR codes became mainstream.

This leads to a conversation from earlier this morning. We were strategizing with a client about the back of their new business cards and decided to leverage a QR code to help users get to a content page on their website. A simple tool, these codes will help us connect prospects and customers to the information they need to drive decisions and purchases.

With all of this in mind, here are three takeaways.

  1. Not every problem requires a hammer. It can be easy to over-use QR codes, just like using a hammer to drive a screw into a board. The key to QR codes is knowing when to use them and when some other strategy fits better.
  2. Sometimes your customers and prospects aren’t ready for your solution. Going back to the beginning, in those early days on that video game packaging, we were a bit ahead of the curve, bringing a solution that users weren’t prepared for. Meet people where they’re at.
  3. Necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic opened many doors because we started looking for innovative solutions to new challenges. Don’t wait for the next pandemic to innovate and challenge the status quo. Just make sure, as we shared in points one and two, that your solution fits the need and the time.

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