QR Codes . . . Brilliant? Or Bust?

Quick Response (QR) codes make a lot of sense for the right marketing campaign, as they make it possible to bridge the end user’s offline experience to the offline experience. However, there’s a hitch. According to a recent survey, an estimated 64% of consumers do not understand the purpose of QR codes. Is that a problem?

While these numbers might sound a bit discouraging at first glance, bear in mind that QR codes are still relatively new in the technology adoption life cycle. A significant number of people still don’t even own smart phones, but that is changing; smart phone sales are expected to increase exponentially for the next few years. Availability of hardware is not the real issue, though. Recognition lag is a far bigger impediment to QR code adoption.

The market takes time to catch on to new technologies, particularly when those technologies require behavioral changes, but there is a deeper issue here. The majority of QR codes are not used strategically, and therefore fail to deliver consistent results. When QR codes were brand new, people scanned them just because it was “cool” to do so. Predictably, that didn’t last. For this reason, marketers less familiar with the true benefits of QR codes might draw the erroneous conclusion that this technology is nothing more than a short-lived “phase.”

To make QR codes work, you need to design them into your campaign during the early stages. Instead of thinking only about where to place a QR code, think about how you will use the data you collect from user responses and how you will measure the effectiveness of the campaign.

Here are four simple and effective ways to integrate QR codes into your existing marketing campaigns.

  1. Affix QR codes on your promotional and branded items. This is especially effective if your company uses trade show booths as part of its marketing strategy. For example, you might give away note pads with a QR code in the corner of each sheet or print a QR code on a branded water bottle.
  2. Create a customized artistic QR code, using your brand colors. QR code scanners only care about contrast, not color, so you can easily make your QR code unique and memorable to humans as well as machines. You can also embed a QR code into a modified version of your company’s logo.
  3. Offer an incentive for scanning the QR code with a call-to-action. For example, you could include the text, “Scan here to receive exclusive deals.”
  4. Build intrinsic utility into the QR code itself. For example, real estate signs commonly allow passersby to instantly access detailed listing information by scanning QR codes. Recipe books with QR codes make it convenient for a user to instantly transfer the information into a phone. By making information available in a super-convenient package, you can increase your response rate considerably.

We have all driven past a billboard or seen a magazine ad that briefly piqued our curiosity. We all know how easy it is to forget these things. The principal value of QR codes lies in the fact that they make it easy for people to engage with you when they want to. You relieve them of the need to remember to do something later. Initially-interested customers, left to their own devices, will likely never remember to think about your ad again.

Challenge question: Ask yourself how you could make your printed marketing materials “stickier.” In what other ways could QR codes make it easier for your market to respond to you?