Ramblings about Design, UX, Process, Code... basically where my thoughts go when nobody else is listening. Est. 2009.

QR Codes: But They're So Big in Japan!

If one point has been driven home more than any other over the past ten years, it’s been the trend towards increasing options. Regardless what media channel you’re talking about, the face of technology, consumable media, and social interaction has morphed into a billion-headed hydra. TiVo has given way to theYouTubes and Hulus. Myspace users rabidly jump ship to Facebook, while early adopters of Twitter are now branching to Path and other alternatives. With the pace of innovation continually quickening and the attention spans of users shortening by the hour, what is the digital marketing world supposed to do? In a word, we need focus more than ever. But what do we focus on?

The Tale of the QR Code

Let’s use QR (Quick Response) codes as an example. From billboards to movie posters, from product packaging to coupons, they have become a part of the culture in the East. 6-7 years ago, QR codes were supposed to also take America by storm, mounting their assault on legs gained in the East, in Japan, China, and Korea especially. The few American marketers that took QR codes seriously and started including them as a part of their packaging (I still have a few albums with QR codes on the back of the jewel case) soon realized that Americans just weren’t ready for these handy, quirky looking barcodes. Much in the way that Americans never truly adopted Infrared linking in phones and laptops, the QR code has mostly lived in Asia and to some extent Europe. Now that 25% of all Americans have smartphones, more and more QR codes are starting to pop up. The technology has been driving the preferred medium of communication.

So what lesson can be learned from the QR code? “Early Adopters” may have jumped the gun on including these codes as a feature of their U.S. marketing plans, but what pushed them make the decision to include QR as part of their campaigns? Just because they could? Could the space and attention used by the QR code have been used more effectively? How much of their target U.S. demographic even knew what QR codes were 7 years ago? All these questions point us back to the f-word: FOCUS.

“Me-too” is the Anti-Focus

Extrapolated across the entirety of the digital realm, we can make a list of questions to ask ourselves about each channel we choose to target. Let’s pick on Twitter for another example. Just because you CAN sign up for a Twitter account, does that mean you really need one? What value does it add to your campaign? What is your plan for engagement beyond just “having an account”? Are you tweeting anything of value? Can you justify having an area for a Twitter stream on your site? If you can’t answer these questions, you probably don’t need a Twitter account for your product or service, or you need to spend more resources developing a holistic plan for social engagement through Twitter.

Businesses are often guilty of riding the “me-too” wave, either because a competitor has a service or feature or because they read a blog about the next “great new thing”. Reactionary planning is one of the most toxic ways to form a competitive strategy. If you want something because someone else already has it, you will perpetually be playing follow-the-leader. Focus on your core assets and develop a strategy for those channels that hit your demographic the broadest. If a significant portion of your customers / users are on Twitter, by all means be there! Brainstorm ways to engage clients with your product or services and focus on executing them! Just don’t fall in line behind everyone else in your industry… That is, unless you don’t mind always finishing second to someone else’s focused efforts!

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