One question that we get asked by marketers especially is what is NFC and what is the main difference between QR codes and NFC tags? So let's break down both NFC and QR technologies a little more and look at how they can they help better segment target audiences.
QR codes were very popular a few years ago. Marketers loved the idea of being able to print small scannable optical barcodes onto products and adverts which would guide potential customers to a landing page.
They work very simply by scanning them via an app your smartphone camera. The app interprets the barcode, and the pre-programmed website or app opens. It has some obvious parallels with NFC technology in that both are direct and don’t require a physical connection to the item being scanned.
Both technologies have their share of advantages and disadvantages.
A brand will decide to use a QR code and have software generate the code which then gets printed onto the product, advert or display – the link or application is set. To change the link, a new QR code has to be generated and re-printed.
A major advantage of NFC is the flexibility. Storing different types of information and updating as campaigns require is possible. You don’t even need to overwrite the individual tags, working with your tag provider, you can simply update the destination on the server side – e.g. when tag 123456 gets scanned – route it to this new destination rather than the original destination.
QR codes generally require reader software on the smartphone to read them. The user would open the app, hold their phone over the code to scan it, get the code in focus, and then wait for the software to analyze it and react to the code.
NFC is far smoother, the end user would simply wave their phone near a tag and the information is transferred instantly. They don’t need to open an app and can even do it in the dark. The tag and reader communicate with each other to complete complex transactions quickly and securely.
QR codes for large-scale advertising and marketing never really took off. However, QR codes themselves are they enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in the US and Europe thanks to brands like Snapchat, Facebook, and Spotify all using them as an integral way of identifying a particular person, track or playlist. In China especially, WeChat users use them without thinking twice.
A point worth noting with QR codes is that they could be copied and go viral and weren't unique, for example, the same QR code would identify a particular product SKU, not necessarily an individual product within that SKU. For something like promotions, their shareability and virality might be great, but it doesn't uniquely identify or segment a particular user and so the longer-term ability to derive value or remarket to a particular customer is far more limited.
So in conclusion, whilst both technologies have found their niches, NFC technology remains a far better solution for any marketer looking for longer-term value and relationship building with their consumer.