Tuesday, March 24, 2015

QR Codes Kill Kittens by Scott Stratten

Schadenfreude is a powerful motivator. For some of us, it's the only thing to get us out of bed in the morning: the knowledge that somebody, somewhere, in in a vastly worse situation than you are, so you might as well find out who that is and laugh at them.

I'm not too proud to admit it: this was the first book I read after I got laid off. I know I'm a good marketer, and that I'll be up on that horse again quickly, but there's no better way to convince myself of that than by seeing what highly-paid and well-credentialed idiots have done when given far too much money and freedom.

The subtitle of QR Codes Kill Kittens is "How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business Into the Ground," and that's exactly what it covers. It's from social media guru Scott Stratten -- one of the smartest, immediate, and down-to-earth marketing experts you will ever find -- and it's a litany of bad examples, presented in picture-book form, of all of the incredibly stupid things that marketers do when they try to be tech-savvy without thinking it through.

(If you have time to only read one business book in your life, this would be an excellent choice.)

If the title confuses you, let Stratten explain it:

QR codes do kill kittens. They kill happiness, and brand equity, and positive feelings, and any sense that the organization on the other end of the code is competent. And the book of that title will show you a long list of equally stupid marketing ploys, from badly thought-out scheduled tweets to mobile-hostile landing pages to social icons without URLs to printed URLs full of random characters. Every single one of those ploys seemed like a good idea, only because the marketer behind it didn't take the time to stop and ask: how is my customer actually going to interact with this? Where will this thing appear, and what are the circumstances around that placement? What else will the customer be doing or thinking at that time?

Stratten has four reasons that QR codes kill kittens -- they don't work, nobody likes them, they're selfish, and they waste useful space -- and organizes the book around those four problems. There are a lot of QR code examples, because QR codes are incredibly easy to use badly. (Put it on a billboard by the freeway! Put it on an automatic door! Put it on a sign pulled by an airplane! Put it as your brand's Facebook profile photo!) But there are plenty of other kinds of marketing mistakes, too -- and a few Internet-style funny pictures, because of course there must be.

If you do marketing -- and by that I mean, if you help in any way to package products and services for customers or help those customers find the right products and services -- these are lessons you need to know. Not so much so you use QR codes correctly, since tactics are always changing, but so you market correctly: thoughtfully, purposefully, with your customers in mind at all times.

That won't magically make all of your efforts successful, since nothing can do that. But it will keep you on the right path, and you'll be far ahead of the bad marketers, who will be out there killing kittens every day with their thoughtless slapdash efforts.

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