From the age I could grow hair till about 13 years old, I had one of the most ridiculous 1980s mullet haircuts you could imagine. We’re talking Joe Exotic Tiger King type of mullet. A hairstyle made infamous during the 1980s stuck with me through the '90s into the early 2000s and ultimately entered retirement once middle school dances became a thing. Fast forward to 2021, and according to Cosmetify, the mullet was the most searched hair style of 2021.

My point here is this: things that initially seemed like great ideas, but then didn't turn out the way you thought sometimes make their way back into the mainstream.

Kind of like QR codes.

The QR Code Revival

If you’re like me and you watched the Super Bowl — more specifically, the Super Bowl commercials — I’m sure you saw the 30 second ad spot for Coinbase that simply had a QR code bouncing around on our TV screens. Stock X and other brands also had well-placed QR codes.

What’s interesting about this approach is that QR codes never really took off after they became popular back in 2010. Why? Well, many reasons, but the largest is that mobile technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today, and consumers didn’t use their devices in all the ways they do today. So QR codes took a long vacation, only to be resurrected by — yep, you guessed it — COVID-19.

The pandemic dramatically changed consumer behavior in a very short period of time. Restaurants, bars and retail all took a hit when they were forced to close their doors during lockdown. Once some of the restrictions lifted and they were allowed to re-open, they had to do it in a way that would keep customers safe. Tables that were six feet apart, masks for employees, plenty of hand sanitizer and of course — QR enabled menus.

As restrictions began to ease, QR codes stuck with these businesses and their customers. This new option for viewing information was morphing into a learned behavior that consumers became comfortable with. Unlike previous attempts to make QR codes stick, this time society was ready, thanks to advances in mobile technology — and the sheer mobile usage consumers engage in daily.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: It's Time to Update Your QR Code Marketing Strategy

Use the 3-L Cycle to Deliver the Best Customer Experiences

So, what’s the big takeaway here? This is how I see it.

Society became comfortable using QR codes during the pandemic. So expect this form of content consumption to remain a staple for brands moving forward. When looking to incorporate QR codes to deliver the best customer experiences, leverage the 3-L cycle model below:

  • Listen: Listen to the behaviors and needs of your customers. What type of experiences are they asking for? How can you create something that piques their interest within the realm of their expectations?
  • Leverage: Leverage the technology available to your business to build these experiences. If the technology doesn’t exist currently within your organization, build it — but make sure it aligns with what you've learned by listening to your customers.
  • Learn: Deploy and launch experiences, then track the results to determine how aligned your approach is to the expectations of your customer. However, keep in mind that consumer expectations are always changing. Being able to monitor behaviors over time will give you a window into the experiences you’ve created to identify if they are still relevant to your customers or if they have started to deteriorate. If the latter, you’ll need to pivot the experience again to realign to your customers expectations which brings you back to the 'Listen' phase of the cycle.

The point I’m trying to make is that innovation is often forced and guided by unexpected circumstances. An unexpected event like Miley Cyrus displaying a new mullet hairstyle caused that category of haircuts to be extremely popular last year. Or, in the case of QR codes — a mass pandemic hit the globe and we were forced to be open to new ways of digesting content and experiences.

Charles Baudelaire once wrote, “Through the unknown, we'll find the new.” Events like COVID-19 are unknown and unexpected, but through events like these we find new ways of doing things. And sometimes, these new ways of doing things resurrect old approaches to meet new needs.

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