The Gartner Hype Cycle is a general graphical representation of the maturity and adoption of a technology. I have reproduced a version for QR Codes showing the relative positions of the West and Japan in the cycle.
You will see that QR Codes in the USA and Europe are in the ‘frenzy of publicity’ phase which is typified by over enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. We know that they are at this stage because technology news sites like Mashable and ClickZ are publishing nonsensical QR Code statistics and crap advice on an almost daily basis. At the same time self appointed Marketing experts are falling over themselves to offer advice and instruction even though they have yet to design or manage a QR Code campaign.
It’s different in Japan, QR Codes are everywhere and if you have not visited in the last few years it is easy to imagine that scanning these codes is a major preoccupation for the average Japanese. This is not the case. Stand near a typical and prominently displayed QR Code in a busy area of Tokyo and watch what happens. Not very much is the answer, very few people will look at the code and you will be lucky to see someone stop and scan it. This is because in Japan QR Codes have lost their novelty value and they have simply blended into the background, just like other common symbols such as traffic signs. They are simply part of every day life and there has to be a very good reason to stop what you are doing and scan one. Japan has passed the peak of the hype cycle and is now in the ‘disillusionment phase’.
It is reasonable to assume that QR Codes in the West will follow a similar hype cycle path as they have in Japan. In which case it is worth looking at some statistics (not the made up variety!).
A June 2009 study from NetAsia Research showed that 76% of the Japanese have or to be more precise “know they have”, the ability to access QR Codes. Obviously some use the facility more or less than others but the average across this group is 1.24 times per week. Not very often is it? The main reasons given for scanning the codes is also illuminating. There are really only three, 31.6% to use a coupon, 30.9% to apply for a special promotion and 22.7% to have more information on a product.
So this is the future of QR Codes in the West. They may generate curiosity or local publicity at the moment but QR Codes on real estate signs, business cards, product packaging etc., are not going to increase sales just because they are present. QR Codes that provide deep discounts, free samples, exclusive content etc., may increase sales but the number of scans and conversions will depend on the value of the offering.
Bottom line - design your QR Code campaign carefully, provide as big a reward to the consumer as possible and even then be prepared to be underwhelmed by the response.