QR Codes Work (When Done Well)

One of the advantages of writing this column at Marketing Land now is that we can focus on any aspect of mobile marketing that interests us — not just mobile search. So in this column, I’d like to focus on everyone’s favorite scannable 2D bar code — the QR code — and explain why I think it still makes sense for many marketers to use, provided they do it correctly.

What Google search thinks about QR codes.

What Google search thinks about QR codes doesn’t mean they can’t work for you.

Yes, all of you QR haters: I have heard you. Earlier this year on Marketing Land, Aaron Strout even went so far as to say QR codes are dead, citing lack of use by consumers and overuse by marketers. In his inflammatory Death to Bullshit presentation, the creator of WTFQRCodes.com and responsive Web design cheerleader Brad Frost named QR codes as one of [x number] of things that he said are bullshit, showing a picture of a QR code on a banana as evidence supporting his argument.

Everyone who has been the victim of a bad user experience at the hands of a marketer armed with a QR code understands where these critics are coming from. Many marketers have nearly killed the QR code movement by using a code without optimizing the experience.

But QR codes are not bullshit, and QR codes are not dead. When used properly, QR codes can be a great way to link real world objects to online messaging, creating engagement opportunities for brands that did not exist previously, and bridging the gap between online and offline advertising like very few media before them.

The problem is not QR codes, but rather the many ways in which marketers have overdone them in tragically uncreative ways, and not thought about the ways in which this new tool helps us engage our audience in ways they haven’t experienced before.

If QR codes were dead and bullshit, they wouldn’t work. And the examples of brands using them in creative ways to engage consumers and meet business goals today are not hard to find.

Take, for example, eMart, who used a shadow QR code in Korea to provide a limited time only coupon that is only good during lunch time hours. They wanted to boost sales during lunch time hours with the promotion, and they did easily –all while winning three lions at Cannes and a great deal of publicity for their creativity in the process.

Or take HP, Heinz, Nestle and McDonald’s — all of which were cited by Forrester as having great examples of extended packaging using QR codes. Heinz even got more than a million scans from their QR codes on bottles.

Or ask Peapod if QR codes are dead. They set up a virtual grocery store in a pedestrian tunnel on the Chicago subway and have been watching their average order size and mobile consumer base grow as a result.

Taco Bell and ESPN got more than 225k scans earlier this year from this dead medium.

L’Oreal put QR codes in NYC taxis last year and saw a 7% conversion rate and their app downloads increase by 80%.

If you think these are just isolated examples, think again. Most digital marketers that use QR codes have described them as effective. I know this can be hard to believe, given the frustrations that all of us have felt after scanning a QR code to nowhere, but it’s true.

Earlier this year, Adobe reported that digital marketers surveyed said QR codes are most effective at having a positive impact on conversion rates, with the vast majority saying they’re “somewhat” (49%) or “very”(34%) effective. Data from Experian Hitwise were similarly bullish, with 29% of surveyed marketers rating QR codes very effective, and another 66% effective.

Saying QR codes are dead and then citing examples of poor user experiences is like saying the movies are dead and pointing to R.I.P.D. for proof. QR Codes, like any medium, are what you make of them. Make them engaging, and you’ll see results. Don’t make them engaging and your campaign will fail (and Brad Frost will laugh at you on his propaganda site).

How Do You Stay Out Of The Latter Category?

  1. Don’t just put a QR code on a banana for the sake of putting a QR code on a banana. If someone takes the time to find Google Goggles or some other scanner on their smartphone and point their camera at the banana with the black and white square on it, don’t disappoint them with nutrition information or some other lame reward. Understand that the value you give the consumer as a reward for clicking through has to be high enough to offset the effort the consumer puts through in accessing the campaign.
  2. Optimize usage. Peapod is using its virtual grocery store campaign as a way to gain insights into how mobile users shop. Use whatever data you have to avoid making the same mistakes twice.

You could also stay out of the headlines for bad QR code usage by not doing them at all. Yet, given that QR codes have worked for so many brands that have used them to further their business goals and engage their users, why on earth would you choose to do that? Find a creative way to use them that helps your target audience, and make QR codes work for you.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile Marketing | Mobile Marketing | Mobile Marketing Column


About The Author: is the SEO Director at Vivid Seats, is an SEO veteran with more than 14 years experience both agency and in-house, and is a thought leader in permission marketing as a columnist and a frequent speaker on SEO and mobile marketing.

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  • Jason Brover

    could not agree more. as long as the experience is optimized, they work. we have all heard of the horror stories about QR – on the subway where there is no service, on a car/bus that no one can ever can, billboards, etc.. when done right they are extremely powerful. At FiddleFly, we were actually able to take out of home advertisements and create an engaging portal using QR, mobile design, and a data collection element within. we had about 90% of people who scanned the QR code, signed up and left their info as well! would never see that on desktop!

  • Ubleam

    Customization, statistics and geolocation, CMS, AR… try the bleam: the smart logo for branding and mobile marketing > http://www.forbes.com/sites/markfidelman/2013/06/25/you-wont-believe-how-incredibly-smart-these-logos-are/

  • PMR

    Great article.
    I think the most common mistake is still to point a QR code to a non mobile-optimized website…

  • http://bluecapra.com/about-alan-reeves Alan Reeves

    It is great to read an article that is actually in favor of QR codes. Personally, I think one of the best uses of QR codes is to share contact information. With one scan, all the information is entered into your phone. No need to thumb type the name, phone numbers, website, make errors, etc. One scan is the shortcut that will make the process easy


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