The Future of Print Marketing: Smile Guide to QR Codes and NFC

What is a QR code?

Remember QR codes? You may have seen them on posters, packaging or even business cards. If you need a little reminder, they look like this:

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QR stands for Quick Response. The concept behind QR codes is similar to the barcode: visual codes store data which is revealed by scanning.

How to scan a QR code:

To ‘scan’ a QR code you must have a QR reader app installed on your mobile device.

You open this app and take a photo of the QR code with your mobile device’s camera.

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The app scans the code and takes you to a web page, video or download.

Why use a QR code in marketing?

QR codes were hailed as a way of integrating traditional print marketing with the newer discipline of digital marketing. As predictions started to emerge about the demise of print, marketers wanted to seamlessly connect print media with digital to keep it relevant.

Essentially, QR codes were intended to make print media more interactive and responsive in the modern era of digital communication.

Examples of how to use a QR code:

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  • An advert for a product could include a QR code that leads the consumer directly to the online point of sale for that product.
  • A poster for a movie could use a QR code that links to a video of the movie trailer.
  • A QR code on a business card could take the person scanning it to an online portfolio or a Linked In profile.

Should I use QR codes in my print marketing or on my business card?

You’re probably thinking that QR codes sound great. And in theory, they are.

But in practise?

In practise, my advice is as follows:

Do not use QR codes in your marketing!

Surprised? Let me explain:

A few years ago, QR codes were a big trend in marketing and they were believed to have huge potential.

But since then the use of QR codes in marketing has dwindled dramatically. In fact, many digital marketing experts have even declared that QR codes are dead.

So what happened?

Why are QR codes dead?

The short answer: People don’t like them.

I asked 50 people if they use QR codes, and 43 said no. If you like statistics, that means that 86% of people I asked DON’T use QR codes.

Here are some of the reasons they gave, in order of popularity:

  • I don’t see the point
  • I’d rather type a URL
  • Too much hassle
  • I don’t have a QR code app
  • I don’t know how to scan them
  • Never heard of them

Even amongst the 7 people who answered yes, the feedback was not particularly positive:

  • One person claimed they had only used QR codes a couple of times
  • One person said they had used them in marketing but weren’t convinced of their effectiveness
  • Two used them in work rather than in a personal capacity (more on this later)

This leaves only 3 people who use QR codes regularly in a consumer role – a mere 6% of the people I asked!

If you’d like to see this data in infographic format, click here.

Admittedly, my poll had a fairly small sample size, and was by no means impartial. But although my sample was biased, it was biased in favour of millennials. This makes my results even more surprising. Younger demographics are the most familiar with different technologies, yet even millennials seem resistant to QR codes.

If you doubt the reliability or accuracy of my results, I won’t be offended – after all I’m not a pollster or a statistician. Feel free to explore these statistics from a slightly more professional source – you’ll find they tell a similar tale.

Based on this information we can see exactly why QR codes have been pronounced dead. It’s not that QR codes are useless – far from it – but they are grossly unpopular with the public.

Marketing is all about communication. Using an unpopular method of communication in your marketing is not a good idea. This is why QR codes are a poor marketing tool.

Who uses QR codes?

After reading all this evidence against QR codes, you’d probably think that no one still uses them.

But that’s not the case.

QR codes made headlines in January 2016 when the guerilla graffiti artist Banksy included one in his latest work. A QR code was placed beside the graffiti art to create Banksy’s first interactive artwork. The piece was painted on the French embassy and criticised the use of tear gas on refugees in Calais. When the QR code was scanned, it took people to a video of a police raid on the refugee camp that was authorised by French authorities.

Banksy’s work is typically political in nature, but this was his first piece which took people directly from viewing the artwork to viewing digital content about the issue it discussed – all thanks to the humble QR code.

Banksy managed to put the long-ignored QR code back in the spotlight and show how powerful they can be. But was it too little, too late?

If anything, it could actually be too early.

Remember earlier when I discussed the results of my poll, and said that two people used QR codes regularly in their work? Those people are both primary school teachers.

QR codes have become part of the curriculum in UK primary schools. Teachers create QR codes and teach their students how to scan them. This enables students to access educational videos, websites and downloads with ease. The adult population might have difficulty with the concept of QR codes, but scanning them has become second nature to these under 11s. In ten years time we will have a generation of young consumers who fully understand QR code technology. QR codes may be dead now, but these new teaching methods open up the possibility of a resurrection.

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However, the chances of a QR comeback are slim. It has been over 5 years since QR codes were first introduced as a marketing tool – a long time in the world of tech. New improved technology has come along which looks set to replace QR codes and render them well and truly defunct.

That technology is called NFC.

What is NFC?

NFC stands for Near Field Communications. You may not have heard of NFC, but chances are high that you’ve already been using it. Contactless bank cards and Oyster cards (for use on London transport) both use NFC technology.

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What are the advantages of NFC?

Whereas QR codes are printed, NFC technology is contained within a chip. The owner can change the data on their NFC chip(s) at any time, preventing consumers being directed to an outdated or expired link. This is a major advantage over the information stored by QR codes, which cannot be changed once the code is printed.

Another advantage over QR codes is that NFC technology doesn’t require a special app – simply wave your smartphone near the NFC chip and it is automatically read by your device.

What’s more, people have caught on to NFC technology a lot quicker than they did with QR codes. It took a while for people to recognise what QR codes were, but the NFC contactless symbol seems to have resonated with people. Consumers understand that when they see the symbol, they can use their contactless payment methods.

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The NFC symbol is also a lot more sleek and aesthetically pleasing than QR codes, which are often viewed as ugly and “clunky”. This is a big advantage for marketers looking to use scannable tech in their marketing materials – after you’ve spent time and money designing a beautiful poster, it seems a terrible shame to add an unsightly QR code!

What are the disadvantages of NFC?

Now NFC is by no means the answer to your marketing dreams (yet). There are currently some issues with NFC which will have to be resolved before it becomes an effective marketing tool.

Firstly, Apple currently restricts NFC on its devices. At this point in time Apple only allows the iPhone’s NFC chip to work with Apple Pay. Apple Pay works similarly to a contactless card, except you use your phone at checkout instead of a bank card. This is a useful feature for iPhone users, but offers little value to marketers.

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Apple has given no clues as to when, and indeed if, it will unlock the iPhone’s full NFC capabilities. Brands won’t want to invest in NFC marketing until iPhone users are able to engage. This is because iPhone users are seen as bigger spenders, a demographic that marketers would be reluctant to exclude in a campaign. Unless Apple announce plans to unlock NFC functionality on the iPhone, NFC marketing is unlikely to be taking off any time soon.

The second problem with NFC is pretty important – the price. NFC technology is currently much more expensive than using QR codes. The price is currently at $0.005 per unit, whereas QR codes can be printed cheaply.

Of course, as with any new technology, the price is expected to drop. Forecasts suggest $0.001 per unit in the not too distant future. As NFC becomes more popular, supply and demand dictates that this price will drop even further.

Summary

NFC technology is the future of integrating physical and print marketing with digital marketing – but you’re going to have to wait.

Until then, don’t waste your time with QR codes on your print marketing.

A catchy URL and Twitter handle is all you need to include in your print marketing to drive your customers to connect with you online.

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14th April 2016