Unless you have been living under a rock, you have likely been witness to the recent rise of QR codes in the United States. QR or “Quick Response” codes are 2D barcodes used as a shortcut to launch content on your mobile device. Invented in and widely used in Japan, these codes have recently begun to be heavily utilized in mainstream US marketing.
Using QR codes as part of your mobile marketing strategy can help to facilitate an active interaction with your brand in typically passive scenarios. When done well, QR codes can help to blur the line between static and interactive messaging by letting you provide offers and additional information to your customers in traditional messaging scenarios.
What is a QR code?
You can think of a QR code simply as a 2D, paper-based hyperlink. Scanning a QR code with your smartphone is similar to clicking a link on your favorite website. Here’s how they work:
QR codes can be used to launch a variety of content. Most commonly a mobile site is launched, however a QR code can also be used to launch a pre-populated text message or email, open directions to a pre-determined destination in Google maps, save an appointment, event or contact to a user’s phone, or even post a pre-programmed message to the user’s Twitter or Facebook account.
When should I use a QR code?
QR codes are being used in a wide variety of ways and locations. Codes have been placed on all types of traditional media: TV, print advertising, POP displays, business cards, t-shirts, catalogs, and the list goes on. While you can place a QR code almost anywhere, it is important to first consider the strategy behind including mobile content on that communications piece. The QR code is simply the tactic to launch the mobile content.
Consider the following questions when determining if a QR code is right for your communications piece:
QR Code DOs
DO give the user a strong incentive to scan your QR code. Make sure the content you are presenting them with isn’t just re-hashing the content they have just seen on your communications piece. Ensure you include a strong call to action with your QR code in order to let the user know exactly what they will be getting by taking the time to scan your code. Consider giving the user a discount or letting them participate in a promotion.
DO think about context. Consider creating multiple mobile landing pages for your mobile user – even within the same campaign! For example, if you are launching a product, consider these scenarios:
DO think about using your QR codes in creative ways. It is important that your QR codes are sized appropriately and are not obstructed. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with them. Check out The World Park campaign or this one from Best Buy for examples of some creative ways to integrate your QR codes.
DO consider using QR codes for more than just sales messaging. QR codes can be used as an effective tactic to provide customers with post purchase support. For example, include a QR code on product packaging that points consumers to an instructional video on how to use your product.
DO include your mobile link in addition to your QR code. Don’t force your user to scan your QR code to get access to your mobile content. Instead, provide the user with your mobile URL, as well as the QR code, giving them the option of typing the URL into their mobile browser instead.
DO track scan-throughs on your QR codes. This tracking information is valuable in helping you to refine and optimize your use of QR codes in future campaigns.
QR Code DON’Ts
Don’t send a user to content that is not mobile optimized. Your content must be easily consumed via a smartphone. Users that are viewing mobile content are typically on devices with smaller screens and lower processing power than a desktop/laptop experience. Build your content with these limitations in mind.
Don’t use QR codes on communications where users won’t have an internet connection. Will your users be scanning these codes in an airplane, underground (subway) or in rural areas with spotty reception? If so, then QR codes that launch mobile content is likely not the way to go!
Don’t make codes unscanable. Ensure you are following best practices on appropriate size and color. Your QR code should be at minimum 1” square to make it most readable across devices. Seem too large? If 1” square seems like too much real estate to devote to this content, you may want to re-consider if this content is worthwhile enough to include. Also ensure you do not obstruct your code in a way that makes it unreadable.
DON’T think of a QR codes as a strategy; use them as a tactic. Determine your mobile strategy first. Then, determine if using QR codes as a shortcut to get to your mobile content makes sense.
The Future of QR Codes
It is yet to be seen if QR codes will continue to be widely utilized in marketing communications in the United States. Although there is no doubt the mobile landscape will continue to grow exponentially, the use of QR codes may become deprecated in favor of a different, potentially easier to use shortcut technology such as:
Regardless of the future of QR codes, it is important to know and understand how these codes work and how they fit into your overall mobile strategy. And, even though the jury is still out on if QR codes are here to stay, if you are a fan of these 2D barcodes, you at least have these guys on your side.