WHAT IS AN INNOVATION?
Inspired by Everett M. Rogers
This can be a concept that is widely misunderstood. Most people think of an Innovation as an Invention, but it’s more than that. An Invention can come and go without ever becoming a successful innovation. In order to actually be an innovation, a social group must accept it. Innovation is when an original idea, invention, product or process successfully diffuses into a user group. This can involve the development of a new technology, or just be a new way of doing something. Rogers discusses Innovation as an “idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption.”1 With this definition in mind, this presentation will review and analyze the various aspects of a contemporary innovation, the QR Code.
WHAT IS A QR CODE?
“Creative Destruction” or Evolution
The QR Code is a relatively new innovation that is actually still in the early stages of adoption in our culture. When I began this study, I actually set out to discuss the QR Code as a FAILED innovation because I personally saw them as a fad or a gimmick that will eventually be forgotten. To my surprise, the data actually tells quite a different story.
The QR Code is an abbreviation of Quick Response Code, and is “a kind of 2-D (two-dimensional) symbology developed by Denso Wave (a division of Denso Corporation at the time) and released in 1994 with the primary aim of being a symbol that is easily interpreted by scanner equipment.”2 Unlike a simple barcode that only stores information horizontally, a QR Code is a matrix barcode and has the ability to store information both horizontally and vertically, thus a 2-Dimentional Code. This gives the QR Code the ability to hold vastly more information than it’s predecessor, approximately 350 times more.
QR CODE HISTORY
Sometimes new technologies are radical paradigm shifting innovations, and other times they are incremental and improve upon an existing technology. With the QR Code, diffusion as a marketing communication tool came way after its invention, and required other innovations to take place to evolve it from its original use.
The QR Code was originally developed in 1994 for Toyota, and used in their automotive production tracking. It probably would’ve stayed as such if it weren’t for the creation of a handheld web enabled mobile device, the smartphone.
In 2000, Ericsson released the first smartphone to the market, followed by Palm in 2001 releasing the first phone capable of web browsing. As this innovation took the market by storm and improvements were made, smartphones became more and more sophisticated adding capabilities such as taking photos, and installing apps. In 2010, the first barcode scanning app was released for a variety of smartphone platforms.
While the QR Code was initially created as a means of commercial tracking, since then it has become a popular vehicle for advertisers and brands to interact with consumers. These change agents were key in evolving the QR Code from its original use to a more broad communication tool. In 2011 “QR codes begin to gain prominence in America thanks to some large company campaigns such as Best Buy and Macy’s.”3 With a simple QR Code Scanner, a consumer can have a wide variety of brand specific experiences tailored to a particular product or message. The uses vary from directing the user’s browser to a company website, to installing an app on the user’s smartphone, to giving detailed product information, to downloading a coupon or other offer.
Beyond marketing and advertising, the diffusion of the QR Code as a means of communication has made an impact on several other industries and has been seen used in a variety of unintended ways, including: directory information, entertainment and transport tickets, governmental use, labeling, shipping, and even in currency and payment transactions.
WHO’S USING QR CODES?
Categories and Characteristics of Adopters
According to a recent study by Pitney Bowes4, Americans ages 18-34 are leading the adoption of this innovation as a way for advertisers to communicate with consumers. In this study of 2000 Americans, nearly 40% of young adults have scanned a QR Code in some form of media. While there have been attempts to use QR Codes in almost every form of media, traditional printed forms are the most likely to elicit a response. QR Codes in magazine ads, posters, direct mail, or product packaging receive almost double the response over websites, emails and tv ads.
In Europe and other countries, the study shows that the adoption of QR Codes has been slower, with an average of less than 25% of young adults having responded to them.
We are only in the first few years of diffusion of this innovation. Given the rate of response with early adoption by the tech-savy young adult population, it is only a matter of time before the majority of consumers have adopted this technology. The studies point to the laggards being the over 35 crowd, who are slower to accept new technologies and methods of communication.
HOW IS A QR CODE AN INNOVATION?
Attributes of Innovation
In terms of Rogers’ five Attributes of Innovation, the QR Code can be seen in the following way:
Observability – EXTREME
Today, QR Codes can be seen all over the marketplace in the US and other countries. They are being used in all forms of media including print, packaging, direct mail, tv, web, email, and social media.
Trialability – MEDIUM
A user need only try to scan a QR Code once to determine their response and potential acceptance of this technology as a method of communication with a brand. The challenge in this is educating the consumer to know what a QR Code is and how to respond to one, as well as the consumer having the needed equipment in the first place. Studies indicate that there is still much work to be done on this front, “with over 50% of respondents claiming not to have heard of them; possessing a phone with no capability (39%) or don’t know how to use them (30%).”5
Complexity – MEDIUM
While the use of a QR Code isn’t high complexity, it’s not completely without issues either. There are often errors when using the scanning apps, and getting a clear photo of the QR Code can be challenging. User error can be a roadblock, and if a user finds it difficult to get a clear scan, feeling frustrated they are not likely to try again. Marketers can combat this by making sure the QR Codes are printed at a decent size for the audience. Additionally, this could be a contributing factor to the adoption skewing towards a younger, more tech-savy audience.
Relative Advantage – EXTREME
The QR Code can hold over 350 times the amount of information that a standard barcode can hold. Additionally, while a barcode must be read in a specific orientation, a QR code can be read from any direction or orientation, and even when damaged the QR Code can retain its data.
Compatibility – EXTREME
While diffusion of this innovation from its original use to its current wider applications has been incremental, the development of smartphones, mobile apps, and built in cameras set the stage for QR Codes to be a consumer communication tool for marketers. As such, the QR Code is extremely compatible with the current technology, culture and consumer market.
The Future of the QR Code
Currently the QR Code is being used in all forms of media to communicate with consumers in a variety of ways, and has been widely accepted by the tech-savy 18-35 year old consumer.
Most analysts agree with what the studies have revealed, that the adoption of QR Codes will continue to rise and not just fizzle out as a passing tech fad. As covered, there are some challenges for marketers to overcome in order to see the real benefit of engaging in a deeper way with the consumer. Continued education of the consumer is key to the adoption, both in knowing what the QR Code is, but how to use it. Also the payoff for the consumer has to be real, and not a dissuade them from continued use because of poor implementation. “A QR code should always be accompanied by a ‘performance-bond’ (outcome guarantee) as concrete as possible…
Scanning a mobile QR code should be a shortcut to valued content or offers, not an effort, nor a disappointment.”6
While adoption of the QR Code technology as a marketing communication vehicle is still growing, it is evident that critical mass has been achieved and that the technology will eventually become a standard response method for consumers. This is a good example of an innovation that has incrementally developed and has had unintended consequences of influence over a variety of industries. While there is still much work to be done, the numbers show that full consumer adoption is achievable as marketers continue the efforts to educate the non-tech-savy user, provide tangible benefits, and perfect implementation.
1 Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, (New York: Free Press, 2003), 12.
2 Denso Wave Corporation, “About 2D Code,” QR Code.com, 2000-2010, http://www.qrcode.com/en/aboutqr.html
3 “The History of QR Codes,” QRCodesinMarketing.net, http://www.qrcodesinmarketing.net/history-of-qr-codes.html
4 “US Ahead of Western Europe in QR Code Usage,” EMarketer.com, 2013, http://www.emarketer.com/Article/US-Ahead-of-Western-Europe-QR-Code-Usage/1009631#DM2rQVwbkPCIT65b.99
5 Dave Chaffey, “QR Code Statistics,” Smart Insights.com, 2010-2012, http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/qr-code-marketing/qr-codes-location-demographic-statistics/
6 Dave Chaffey, “QR Code Statistics,” Smart Insights.com, 2010-2012, http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/qr-code-marketing/qr-codes-location-demographic-statistics/