A few years ago, QR codes were a forgotten relic of marketing technology that never quite took off. Nobody knew what those strange little pixelated thumbprints were, much less how to use them. But now that we’ve all become familiar with this technology and its usefulness in marketing campaigns, businesses are coming up with innovative ways to implement QR codes into their strategies.
When the QR code (short for Quick Response Code) was first invented back in 1994, it was seen as an innovative and exciting new technology. They enjoyed widespread use in Japan, where they were created by a Toyota subsidiary. But by 2010, when Apple came out with their iPhone that didn't have a built-in scanner to read these codes, people began to forget about them.
QR codes were never supposed to be the future of marketing or retail; they were simply designed for getting information quickly from one place to another. But nowadays, with code scanners built into modern mobile phone camera apps, marketers are finding creative ways to use QR codes in advertisements, product packaging and in-store merchandising.
The need for touchless solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a comeback of sorts for the QR code. This was perhaps most evident in restaurants and bars as patrons became more familiar with how to scan a QR code to view a touchless menu.
With the explosion of smartphone usage, QR codes now appear in print advertising, on signs, packages, collateral literature, point-of-purchase displays, buses, business cards or on just about any form of media in which users might seek information.
What is a QR code and how does it work?
A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode, readable by the camera app built into smartphones and tablets. It allows mobile users to scan a label containing the QR code, which can link them right to the relevant website or social media page.
A QR code is not limited to simply linking to a web page. Here are a few other instructions that can be automated using a QR code:
- Make a QR business card that saves contact information to your smartphone contacts
- Send an email or text message with pre-defined text
- Connect to a WiFi network
- Request payment in Bitcoin
- Post to social media
- Open a PDF, play a song, or display a photo
- Link to an app in the Apple App Store or Google Play
Why use QR codes in marketing
Whether because smartphone cameras have now more easily incorporated scanner technology, or if touchless requirements of pandemic life simply brought them into the mainstream, marketers are finding more and more creative ways to use QR codes on their products and in their advertising. They can be a great tactic to reach potential customers, increase brand awareness and drive traffic to a company's website.
Since the image takes up little space, a QR code is useful to convey additional product information on packaging, point-of-purchase displays and other in-store merchandising and make it easy for shoppers to find out more about your product without having to search web pages or type long URLs into their small mobile web browser. For example, a QR code on a product label or in-store shelf strip could link shoppers to a video that demonstrates installation or provides additional product information.
Creative Examples of QR codes in marketing
There are many applications for QR codes, from payment options at the gas pump, to mobile boarding passes at the airport. Here are four creative marketing examples that use QR codes:
- Ford printed three simple yet engaging interactive print ads for a campaign that showed features of their Ford Edge. In each of these ads, a QR code and the outline of what appears to be a phone handset with open screen space. When scanned using your smartphone, a video plays that incorporates interesting elements into the otherwise motionless print ad.
- HBO used QR codes to promote its show, "Boardwalk Empire." Playing on the prohibition era theme of the show, the codes, placed in New York City transit advertising, linked to video highlights of the show and revealed passwords to invite-only speakeasy events.
- Magazine publishers use QR codes to boost engagement and offer enhanced content with an interactive feel. For example, a QR code in an article may link to a video interview. Or when part of a print ad, the QR code can link to the advertiser's digital marketing campaign.
- Heinzeroth is exploring many exciting uses for QR codes in advertising and merchandising. Recently we integrated QR codes into a catalog we developed for Horton Automatics, Corpus Christi, Texas. A scan of the QR codes give immediate access to useful demonstration videos for their extensive line of automated door systems for the healthcare industry.
How to create a QR code for your business
It's easy to create a QR code using a QR code generator. The software creates the QR code image that can be downloaded in your desired format to be used in your graphic designs or embedded on a web page or video.
The scanner built into the camera app decodes the information stored in that code and performs the instructions. Typically, scanning the QR code launches a web page on a mobile device.
Best practices for using QR codes in marketing campaigns
As with any marketing tactic, there are certain situations where QR codes work best, and some cases where they should be avoided. Here are five best practices for using QR codes in your marketing:
- Size - Make sure your QR code is big enough for people to scan from a reasonable distance.
- Placement - Avoid placing QR codes in places where time is fleeting. A QR code works best in places like a product package, shelf strip or print ad, where the shopper can pause, launch the camera app on their smartphone, scan it and view your interactive content, rather than a brief TV ad or a billboard where someone drives by quickly (plus you don't want someone fumbling with their phone while driving).
- Target smartphone users - Consider using QR codes especially if you're targeting smartphone users. Since your potential target customer is already using their mobile device, they will appreciate the simplicity of scanning a code and being directed to the information they want, without having to switch devices or even apps.
- Reveal the payoff - QR codes require an action on the part of the consumer, so the incentive needs to be enticing for them to scan it. Reveal the payoff – what's in it for the viewer to scan (product info, instructional video, unlocking a discount code) – in advance.
- Enhance the experience - Don't simply link the QR code to your website home page. Instead, use the QR code to automatically point to specific information on your website that can improve the consumer's purchase decision. For example, consider linking directly to a page on your website that provides technical information or an instructional video about your product.
The resurgence of QR codes in marketing is a fascinating case study of how technology has caught up with creativity. Since the code scanner is now incorporated into the iPhone camera app, consumers have finally learned what it is and how to use it and marketers are using QR codes in many innovative ways.
But remember, a QR code is not a standalone marketing campaign. It's a part of a digital marketing strategy that moves customers through their purchasing journey from the physical world to your website. Heinzeroth Marketing Group can show you how this effective marketing medium can be used for your business or organization, and create an end-to-end strategy that uses it creatively, efficiently and effectively. Contact us to learn how.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2011 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.