QR codes have proven to be a perpetual experiment for most small businesses and organizations. A recent study by Chadwick Martin Bailey found that, while 81% of consumers have seen the codes, 79% aren’t actually familiar with the term ‘QR code.’

Restaurants may include them on menus, some stores may offer check-outs or scans of specials by slapping a code on a package or billboard, but overall, the effectiveness of QR codes is still something that people debate.

So are these computerized ink blots an underground fad, a growing trend, or a flash in the smart-pan? We took the debate to our managing editor, Martin Lieberman, and our senior content developer, Dave Charest.

Why would a business or organization use a QR code?

Martin: A QR code can be great because it’s a quick way to get someone to your website, or a specific landing page, without having to give that person a URL.

Dave: See, I think QR codes are just the latest fad. You see a lot of people using them just to use them. That’s not really ideal. What’s the sense in using a QR code to send people to your homepage when you could just give them the web address? Some crazy people think it’s a good idea to use them online. That’s just dumb. Give me a link instead. Don’t make me take out my phone, scan a code and then get to the destination. Like I said: dumb.

The only reason I see for businesses and organizations to use them would be to do something cool or unique. For example, I’ve seen a restaurant have a code at each table that would bring you to their specials menu in case you couldn’t see the board. That’s cool. Or maybe you can use them if you’re going to take people to a secret page with unique content that can’t be found otherwise. You have to make it worthwhile for the person to go through the cumbersome process. Otherwise, it’s best not to use them at all.

Are there potential disadvantages to using QR codes, such as time or budget constraints?

Martin: There aren’t really time or budget constraints, since QR codes are free and take about two seconds to create. I’d say the disadvantages are that not everyone knows what a QR code is or what they’re supposed to do when they see one. Any business or organization that chooses to include one in their marketing efforts should include instructions for scanning it (possibly including info about the mobile app needed) and what the person should expect to see when the code is scanned. People will be more apt to scan if they know how and why.

Dave: Like Martin said, I don’t really believe it’s an issue of time or budget. It’s simple to make a QR code and easy to have it printed. The real disadvantage is whether or not your audience is going to use them. But since they’re easy enough to create, if you have something worth sharing, it can be worth a try.

Should all businesses and organizations be using them? How can someone decide whether a QR code campaign is a smart marketing move?

Martin: I don’t think everyone needs to be using QR codes just yet. But if you have a hard-to-remember web address, then a QR code might serve you well. Another consideration is whether your website is mobile-friendly. You don’t want to use a QR code and send someone to your website on a mobile device if the user experience will be less than optimal. And finally, will the people you want to scan your code have access to the internet? For example, I’ve seen QR codes included in inflight magazines, and I have no ability to get on a website when I’m thousands of feet in the air.

Dave: You probably can’t decide whether it’s a good marketing move until you use one. Once you experiment with them, you can look at your stats to see if something worth implementing again. I’m all for giving it a go, but I wouldn’t expect it to take you to new marketing heights.

And the bottom line: Are QR codes here to stay? Why or why not?

Martin: I think the jury’s still out. Right now, some people are resistant to QR codes for a number of reasons, including the fact that the codes aren’t visually appealing. Or, like Dave, they have super-memories and can remember every URL they come across. [laughs]

I think in the next year or two, as mobile marketing becomes more prevalent, we’ll see different versions of QR codes, or technologies that act in similar ways, but are easier to use and more interesting to look at. Microsoft already has a version that’s more colorful, and other startups have ones that incorporate a company logo. So I wouldn’t close the book on QR codes, or technologies like them, just yet.

Dave: I would happily close the book on QR codes, at least from a consumer use standpoint. In that regard, I’m going to have to say they aren’t here to stay. Sure, there’s a curiosity about them right now, but I don’t see QR codes providing enough value to last. Where I see a lasting use is from a transactional stand-point. If a business is providing coupons to customers, a QR code makes the redemption and tracking process pretty painless. That’s where a QR code has some legs, and may just get me to take my phone out.