Forget QR codes. You’ll get better results with “WR” codes.

wr_codeMy wife Toni is a smart woman, but she doesn’t get excited about the latest whiz-bang gadgets and bleeding-edge technology the way I do. So I was more than a little surprised during a recent brunch at a favorite restaurant when she brought up the topic of QR codes.

Toni is a reading specialist who works with elementary-school kids. As it turns out, tech-savvy teachers in her field have started using QR codes to help children who need oral testing. The kids scan the codes to hear pre-recorded test questions, which allows teachers to help more kids in less time and frees them up to focus on other tasks in their ever-busy schedules.

Prior to this conversation I had been pretty lukewarm about QR codes, but this application got me excited. It also made me realize why they’re not working in the U.S. as well as they are in places like Japan and Korea, where they’re hugely popular. Simply put, it’s because many companies aren’t thinking about the user’s experience.

So I have a modest proposal for getting this technology up to its full potential. Let’s stop thinking of these pixellated boxes as QR codes, and start calling them “WR” codes.

Follow the White Rabbit
What’s a WR code? It’s a more intelligent way of thinking about your prospects. The “WR” stands for the White Rabbit, a character from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

First, consider all the hoops your prospect (we’ll call her “Alice”) has to jump through to get to your message:

  1. Alice has to know what a QR code is.
  2. Alice has to own a device capable of running an app that can scan QR codes.
  3. Alice must have taken the time to find, download, and learn how to use a QR code scanner. You have a slight advantage if, like my wife, she’s the kind of bargain-hunter who uses apps like RedLaser, ScanLife, Quick Scan or ShopSavvy to scan bar codes to find the best deals.
  4. Alice has to get her phone out of her pocket, briefcase, or purse.
  5. Alice needs to boot up the app (some of them take as long as 30 seconds to bring up the scanning camera).
  6. Alice needs to scan the code.
  7. Alice has to click a button giving her phone’s browser permission to open the URL.

If Alice sees anything labeled “Drink Me” while she’s doing all of this, you’ll probably lose her attention, so every one of these steps is a barrier to your message.

That’s where the White Rabbit comes in. If you want Alice to run this gauntlet, you need to give her a really good reason—something better than “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late to make my sales quota!”

Wonderland had better be good
Not only do you have to make it clear up front that it’s going to be worthwhile to go down this technological rabbit hole, you need to deliver when your prospect gets there. That means giving Alice some kind of value, not just a marketing message.

Your first job is to remember that however amazing Wonderland is, it’s going to be viewed on a mobile device, most likely a phone. That tells you a lot about your prospect before you spend a dime. Does Alice have an iPhone? Does she know how to use it? If either answer is no, the rabbit is hopping through the wrong meadow.

If the answer is yes, make sure Wonderland won’t take all day to download or max out Alice’s data plan. It should also be readable on at least a 640×960 pixel screen without zooming. Make it as easy as possible to begin the engagement. If the end of the line is a form with ten fields to fill out, Alice won’t be staying for tea.

Which road do I take?
Place your WR code someplace where it makes sense for your prospect to scan it. An airplane jetway (no joke, I’ve actually seen this), is not an ideal place. The in-flight magazine might seem to make more sense since anyone flipping through it is likely to have nothing else to do, but there’s a problem here too. Unless Alice flips right to your code before the door closes, she’ll have to pay extra for in-flight wi-fi…in which case she’s more likely to be playing that new croquet game on Facebook instead of reading a print magazine. Alice either needs to have time on her hands or find your offer extremely compelling—preferably both.

Where do you want to go?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your job is over when Alice finally scans your code. Make sure the rabbit leads her to something she can’t get anywhere else. Audio or video content, coupon codes, or other exclusives are a good start. If you send Alice down the hole only to find your home page or a digital version of a print ad you could have posted in the same place as the WR code itself, you haven’t just wasted your interactive budget, you’ve wasted her time. And you can bet she won’t be grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

Best regards,


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