Anyone who has run successful QR Code campaigns will tell you that the most important non-technical factor for success is the perceived value to the target audience of the reward. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that “scan for free beer” will outperform “scan for terms and conditions”. In fact this factor is such an important contributor to success that some will even argue that you can forget everything else.
There are of course though many lesser factors and one school of thought claims that for any given campaign a designer QR Code will outperform a standard black and white code. This claim is made without any real evidence and what little evidence is available is either anecdotal or from an unpublished study (probably unpublished for a very good reason).
Other experienced marketers will claim that a black and white QR Code is instantly recognizable and for any given campaign will be scanned more often than a designer QR Code that looks like a puzzling work of art to the consumer. This is also a claim made without any real evidence. The truth is that until a reputable institution conducts a well controlled and peer reviewed study we will not know for certain if either view is correct and if it is, under what circumstances and by how much.
Meanwhile Ohio University AIDC Lab have published a white paper version of the results of a designer QR Code “scanability” study (prior to publishing the full version of the study later this summer).
The research consisted of a simple online survey in which participants were asked to say if they were able to successfully scan a series of different designer QR Codes. There were 21 designer QR Codes with varying degrees of distortion and 1 standard black and white QR Code as a control. Over 200 responses were collected of which 166 participants actually completed the survey. Data from incomplete surveys was added to the data pool resulting in instances were some images had more data collected then others.
For each designer QR Code, the overall percentage of successful reads was calculated, as was a breakdown of the successful read rate for each operating system.
The results were grouped by cell phone brand and model and successful read rates (the percent of people who said they could scan a given symbol) were calculated for each group. For each designer QR Code the overall percentage of successful reads was calculated, as was a breakdown of the successful read rate for each operating system.
The principle result showed the read rates for the designer QR Codes ranged from 9.6% to 88.6% with an average of 61.5%. The implication of this was that at best 11% of the target audience will not be able to read the designer QR Code.
There are at least two serious problems with this study in my opinion. Consumers mostly scan QR Codes from print media not from screens. Of course scanning designer QR Codes in print media is not without its potential problems, ambient light, print quality, paper gloss etc., etc. However scanning from screens presents a whole different set of possible problems, screen contrast, screen brightness, RGB color settings, gamma correction etc., all of which will vary from screen to screen. I think there is a danger that the results of this study may be thought to apply to designer QR Codes in print media when clearly they do not.
Secondly because of the small number of participants the specific scanning app used was an uncontrolled variable. As there are probably ten times as many different apps in existence as there were participants in the study it is quite likely that the differences in the quality of the app used is of greater significance than the differences between the designer QR Codes.
However the author concludes: The thought that the reader needs to leave with is not “will it scan” but “how many people can I safely alienate?” Because, as this research has shown, any given designer QR Code will probably scan for someone - but not necessarily for the intended audience.
In practice the author’s conclusion may or may not be correct but in my opinion this study should not convince anyone either way. Designer QR Codes? The jury is still out….