Decoded: Understanding Proper QR Code and NFC Usage for Your Brand

In modern marketing it seems that QR codes and NFC tags are synonymous with ‘cheap and cutting edge.’ Both QR codes and NFC have their shortcomings, however, and misuse of either one could mean a lot of trouble for your brand. This article aims at giving a brief summary of QR codes and NFC, the limitations that both technologies carry with them, the possibilities they offer and some guidelines to consider when implementing them into your brand.

NFC

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. If a smartphone is equipped properly, it can instantaneously react with an NCF tag. The NFC tag can be used to send the phone to a webpage, set up instant payment or check in to a location. For the creative programmer there are many more ways to use NFCs, but they do require a manufactured tag in order to use. While NFC has been around since 2004, it has been a little bit slow to catch on in the Western World.
A piece Screen Media Daily. published in 2011 states, “An estimated 1 in 5 smartphones will have NFC functionality by 2014, according to a recent report from Juniper Research. That’s almost 300 million handsets and more than half of those will be in North America. Mobile carriers are working to incorporate NFC capabilities into their networks, as there are major revenue opportunities from mobile commerce, banking, and ticketing transactions.” Consider those numbers carefully.

QR Codes

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QR, or Quick Response, codes are matrix barcodes that direct smartphones to certain locations on the web or perform various other functions. They require barcode readers or other, similar apps in order to be utilized by the consumer. They can direct a customer to a payment page, your website or a funny cat video on YouTube. QR codes have been around since 1994, but many modern businesses have recently adapted them due to their extremely inexpensive, easy-to-use nature.

Limitations

NFC cannot be used be as many people as QR codes can. The iPhone does not currently offer NFC support, and many other phones are not equipped with NFC technology. In some devices NFC recognition is a severe drain on the phone’s battery life if left in active mode. It can also end in the unexpected result of the device scanning every NFC tag in its immediate vicinity, which could cause some problems. Finally, whereas QR codes can be scanned from nearly any distance, NFC tags require the consumer to be in close proximity to them in order to work correctly.
QR codes, on the other hand, can be a little bit clumsy. Sometimes a consumer’s shaky hand will result in the improper reading of the code and sometimes the corresponding reader app will fail to recognize the code. QR codes are comparatively much slower to respond than NFC tags. In addition, real instant payment isn’t possible with QR codes—the code can easily send a phone to an appropriate Paypal page, but it cannot automatically charge their credit or debit card for a service. Google has mostly abandoned QR codes in favor of NFC, which some analysts see as a sign of NFC’s superiority and some see as an act of venality. It also bears mentioning that many people see QR codes as an eyesore, though there are many ways to improve their aesthetic appeal.

Possibilities

As stated previously, NFC works very well for completing instant payments with a smartphone. It can charge a credit or debit card directly when tapped against an appropriate tag. NFC can be used to open hotel doors, purchase or redeem tickets at live music or sporting events, connect with other NFC devices and perform in a number of creative ways. For instance, one gentleman put an NFC tag on the phone cradle inside of his car. He programmed the tag to open Google Maps when the phone was tapped against it, resulting in some hands-free navigation. NFC tags can be used in a huge variety of creative, outside-the-box marketing strategies for your brand. An independent movie theater might, for example, might use an NFC tag both for ticketing purposes, to give the customer a coupon for 20% off a medium sized bag of popcorn and give a friendly reminder to silence the phone before the film starts.
Though they do suffer from the limitations listed above, QR codes are a “sky is the limit” technology when they work properly. A business can route its customer to any number of places: a special happy hour menu, a blog post, a video, a section of the company’s website or really any place that exists on the web. For example, a design firm might place a little QR code on a poster, flyer or billboard. It could direct the consumer to the design firm’s webpage, but it could also direct them to an insightful page or video that explains how the design came to be and where the concept came from, which might make that consumer feel directly connected to the designer. Think of the implications.

Guidelines

There are many things to consider for a brand when using QR codes and NFC. The most important guideline is this—make sure you have a plan. If your marketing plan is solid and it includes QR codes, NCF or both at the same time then it will pan out just fine. When you start erratically using either one of these technologies, however, problems are going to arise. Make sure you know exactly what you’re doing with them and why you’re doing it. A potential customer is going to be extremely frustrated if the results of tapping a phone against an NFC tag are underwhelming or unsatisfactory, and the same thing applies to scanning a QR code. If your brand prides itself with being on the cutting edge of technology, make sure that your QR codes and NFC tags are secure and that they work properly. Always test out a tag or code before releasing it to the general public. For anything that requires instant action or gratification, consider using NFC instead of QR codes. Also keep in mind that if you rely too heavily on either one of these technologies that you’re going to alienate a large amount of people who aren’t heavy smartphone users.
There are also some budget concerns to consider. QR codes are nearly free to use and have great potential, but NFC tags cost money and usually must be ordered directly from a manufacturer. If your brand relies heavily on QR codes, you’ll likely need to pay some money to make sure the codes are secure and to track their usage. Beyond budget, though, there’s on more important thing to consider: QR codes and NFC can work together extremely well. A good, creative brand will benefit largely from using both technologies for one single campaign. It’s easy to print a QR code on an NFC tag, for example. The two can work together to make a stunning impression for your brand.

NFC and QR codes both have their pros and cons, and should by no means represent your brand’s entire strategy. They can be used as a valuable tool when you plan ahead, do your research and exercise creativity in their implementation. Above all, make sure the consumer actually knows that you’re offering these kinds of interactivity, since there’s nothing worse than spending money on technology that goes unused even by the tech-savvy.

Adam Farwell is an online publisher for custom design t-shirt printer Blue Cotton. He enjoys writing about design, marketing, and creative projects.

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