Not long ago, the QR code was heralded as the meeting industry’s technology savior. Prognosticators believed the codes could revolutionize how attendees interacted with one another and received information at events.
Yet for all the buzz they generated, QR codes have yet to truly take root. The reasons for this lie in inherent challenges with the technology and a surge in more intuitive and interesting competitors in the marketplace.
The QR code may not be dead yet, but it’s worth revisiting the current relevance of what was once the Next Big Thing.
The QR Code Quandary
It’s easy to understand why people are seduced by QR codes: They can convert virtually any type of information—from a URL to a pixelated image—into a bar code, which can later be scanned and decoded.
Using a QR code-generator website, such as kaywa.com, people can download and print these codes essentially for free. The codes can be put within any place that disperses information, such as billboards, magazines and stickers.More than 50 percent of all phones in the U.S. mobile market are smartphones, according to data collected by ComScore, and more than 88 percent of phones in this country have a camera that provides easy access to the codes.
That said, there are two major disadvantages to QR codes: They’re ugly, and they’re confusing. Most graphic designers will say that a box is rarely an aesthetically pleasing shape (they prefer rectangles), and the squiggly lines of a QR code look closer to an inkblot than to an intentional design. They also often must be accompanied by an explanation of what information is being scanned, meaning they’re rarely intuitive or simple in practice.
Snapping Up SnapTags
If a QR code is the old homely model, SnapTag is its beautiful new cousin. In many ways the next generation of the QR code, a SnapTag works identically— snap a photo of the image and use the tag’s app to decode it—except for two key differences: You can interact with it, and its ring-and-icon design is more streamlined and understandable.
“Instead of using an indecipherable Rorschach blot, it uses a logo, or the icon a brand marketer wants to use, to begin a dialogue with consumers,” says Jane McPherson, chief marketing officer for SpyderLynk, maker of SnapTags.
For example, if you want attendees to upload a schedule, SnapTag will show its CodeRing circle with a schedule icon in the middle, making it more intuitive.
“SnapTags can be used to create more intimate one-to-one conversations with attendees at corporate events and expos,” McPherson says. “They can be used to provide how-to and other informational videos and to engage attendees in fun contests and other promotions to drive awareness. They also eliminate the need to lug around brochures and other physical marketing collateral and allow attendees to actually purchase products on the spot.”
There are many uses for the tags. Toyota has used them to drive charitable donations to hurricane relief efforts. The U.S. Marines Corps has used them for recruiting purposes. And Dallas Cowboys fans have utilized them to find their assigned seats, receiving turn-by-turn directions after taking a picture of a SnapTag at the stadium. Imagine attendees finding their assigned spot at dinner the same way.
NFC: The Real Next Big Thing?
Perhaps the biggest challenger to QR codes is not a software program or smartphone app at all, but a newer technology that has been miniaturized to fit almost any phone.Near Field Communication (NFC) is versatile microchip technology that can be installed on anything from cash registers to advertisements and, more important, smartphones.
It allows for wireless information exchanges with a simple bump of two devices, rather than with a camera.”It’s a short-range, two-way technology,” says Debbie Arnold, director of NFC Forum, the tech’s advocacy group. “It works in three ways: card emulation, peer-to-peer data transfer and read-write technology.”
Here are the basics: NFC uses shortwave radio frequencies to share data between two devices when they are within five centimeters of one another (and if both parties agree to share the information). This encompasses all types of data chosen to be shared, from credit-card numbers and business cards to Facebook pages, photos and song lists. Think of it as very limited Wi-Fi connection that only works when two devices are extremely close together.
Rather than handing out 100 business cards, attendees can simply bump their smartphone (if it has an NFC chip) with another to share information. If these people see an interesting presentation to save, they can tap their phone against an NFC-enabled device at the breakout session, sending the material directly to them. If they touch the device to a vendor’s, they can buy a product on the spot.A CEO, tired of being hounded at events, can even turn his or her phone into a security badge, which can be used to clear checkpoints by touching the phone to the NFC-enabled device of a security guard—a more private way to move through conventions than the traditional bright-red “sponsor” badge.
The applications don’t end there. “Meeting planners can use NFC to check into a hotel, retrieve an itinerary for a meeting, track attendees, purchase items and set up meetings,” Arnold says. NFC can also be used to help with marketing and organizing efforts.
For example, if you’re hosting an event and want detailed information on which attendees checked in at specific sessions, you can leave an NFC device at the door and have attendees tap their phone to it as they pass. Not only do you learn how many people attended, but also what type of position they hold, what company they’re from and other valuable post-event information, which can be used to plan the next meeting.
Some 100 million phones today (including the popular Samsung Galaxy NoteII) have NFC chips, with 300 million expected to carry them by the end of this year. And if Apple decides to implement NFC into its next iPhone, as it has been rumored, the use of NFC could skyrocket.
It’s hard to say if QR codes will ever be completely replaced. Like everything in today’s world, the more likely scenario is that it will simply be another option on the table. Smart planners will assess everything on that table before deciding the best option for their events.