Lumbering slowly through the conference, the once mighty QR code (or scientific name QRosaurus Hex) tries desperately to be scanned by everyone and anyone with a smartphone. Some 100 million seconds ago, QR codes roamed the landscape as far as the eye could see.
This mighty beast made its home on name tags, business cards, signs, popup displays and much, much more. Populations boomed given the fertile environment of event professionals searching for a way to engage attendees with technology. Unfortunately, there was a major flaw in the evolution of QRosaurus. Its only food source depends entirely on someone getting out their smartphone, opening a scanner app and being satisfied with the result of the scan.
Some 100 million seconds ago (or roughly three years), I was as excited about QR codes as an 8-year-old boy at a T-Rex display in a museum. Oh, what wonderful possibilities! It was like humanity had established a language that every culture inherently understood. QR codes could be scanned by most modern devices. They could contain all kinds of information like Web links or contact information or a simple message. Best of all, they worked the same on iOS, Android, Windows or Blackberry. Even portable gaming systems like the Nintendo 3DS incorporate QR readers. Perhaps the most interesting application is integrating digital and printed content.
The potential was infinite for a cross-platform and even cross-medium communication bridge.
Prolonged metaphors aside, are QR codes going the way of the dinosaur in the events industry? Not if we all vow to make responsible choices in our use of the QR. The novelty has worn off. Just having them isn’t enough. They must be useful. Badge printing is one of the services my company offers, and this is a conversation we have often:
Client: This year we’d like to add QR codes to our badges.
AMi: That’s great! What for? Contact sharing? Session tracking? Gamification? Lead retrieval (if so, are you renting devices)? Is it integrated with a conference app?
Client: No. Just QR codes on the badges.
AMi: Right. Now, what happens when you scan it?
Client: Oh, yeah. I don’t know yet. We just want to make sure you can print them.
QR codes are just the delivery method for information. Planners must make certain that the information takes priority over the urge to use technology for technology’s sake. Let’s face it. Unless you’re planning a conference for mammogram techs, it’s a little awkward scanning a stranger’s chest. That mental image segues nicely into knowing your audience. There are very blurry lines, but we can think of QR uses in three categories: Requirement, enhancement and “I got my phone out for that?” The audience determines exactly where the lines blur.
This means that the information/content can be communicated only by scanning a QR, recommended in a closed system environment (such as session tracking or lead retrieval) or to a very enthusiastic and tech-savvy crowd. Then, even if the event is for Apple Store employees with the best jazz hands, there’s a good chance some attendees still might not want to participate. In this scenario, it’s best to consider other ways to deploy the data, but at least you know that everyone can scan, even if they are reluctant.
This is the sweet spot for QRs at a meeting. It includes information or a game that’s nice to have, but you won’t be left in the dark without it. I love seeing signage with “more info, scan here” for speaker bios, maps or anything that may be interesting but didn’t make the sign.
A custom Web page is a good implementation of enhancement. Web pages are cheap and easy to create and offer nearly limitless amounts of space. Contact sharing via a vcard embedded on the name badge also falls into this category. It’s nice for those who want the convenience of adding electronic contacts directly to their phone, but the good old-fashioned business card is easily deployed for those who don’t.
‘I got my phone out for that’
The one is pretty self-explanatory. If it’s quicker or easier to share a message verbally, it’s not QR worthy. If it’s not easily viewed on a phone, it’s not QR worthy. If the destination is a website that replicates the sign that the code is on, it’s not QR worthy. If there’s no indication why one should scan or what will happen when one scans, it’s not QR worthy. If you consider a six-pack and a bug zapper quality entertainment, you might be a … oops.
No, the QR code is not extinct, but it does need to go on the Endangered Species List. It has almost become the expectation that the result of scanning a random QR will not be worth the 30 seconds it takes to open the app and wait for the result. All QRs should be tested and evaluated on the value they add to the user rather than how that little block of black-and-white pixels looks on a page.
If we don’t control the QR population and implement responsibly, this once-majestic creature could be confined to the dreaded technological Land of the Lost to frolic with LaserDiscs and the Microsoft Zune.
Thoughts? Suggestions? QR faux pas to confess? Please share in our comment section below.