It’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time when the average passerby wouldn’t know what to do if they saw a QR code on a billboard. Times have dramatically changed, and since then, QR codes have had their rise, fall, and rise again.
While QR codes were invented as early as 1994 by a Japanese automotive company, some might say they were too early for their time. In 2011 QR codes made a comeback but were generally disliked in most parts of the world. The main reason for that was the necessity to download a particular application on your phone that would be able to read those black and white signs.
The global pandemic, however, has made people rethink their attitudes towards QR codes. Luckily, the technology has improved quite a bit in the last decade, and most phone cameras can read QR codes now. During COVID-19, restaurants were the first ones to return to QR codes and swapped paper menus for digital ones for safety reasons. After getting vaccinated, you also most likely got a personal QR code as a validation of your status.
These are the most obvious and recent examples but think about a concert you attended before COVID or a flight you took. Your tickets were probably digital, with a QR code attached. In China, for example, QR codes have been commonly used as a payment method for years.
So the codes have been around for a while, but experts predict we’ll see more and more of those in the near future. And marketers are rushing in.
First, QR codes are a great way to reach audiences; they allow brands to build direct connections with customers. They also enable marketers to collect customer data and track their campaigns’ progress without spending much money.
There are various creative ways to use QR codes today in addition to more straightforward ones, such as taking customers to a brand’s website and asking them to leave a review.
What exactly is a QR code?
A QR code (abbreviation for Quick Response code) is a 2D scannable barcode that stores data. QR codes were invented in 1994 by a Japanese automotive company, Denso Wave. They wanted to track vehicles that they were producing with those convenient codes. The design of a QR code was inspired by the black and white pieces of the board game Go.
The pattern of squares and white space (or the “quiet zone”) in each QR code is unique. Any online piece of data can be attached to any QR code and read by a smartphone very fast.
There are two types of QR codes:
- Static QR codes that cannot modify the data they store. They don’t expire and are suitable for storing information like passwords and IDs. They will keep your data forever as long as it’s linked to a website that is not broken.
- Dynamic QR codes allow users to change the information. These QR codes direct customers to a specific URL and are widely used. They also allow for data gatherings, such as location, time, and device of the person who scanned the code.
Dynamic QR codes are the future
As we’ve mentioned, dynamic QR codes are generally more used than static ones. They are also predicted to be evolving and be even more widely used in the future.
Restaurants, for example, choose to use dynamic QR codes because, depending on the time of the day, the code can redirect the customer to the menu most appropriate. For example, the same code would take the user to breakfast in the morning and the dinner menu in the evening.
Depending on the scanner’s location, QR codes also have the ability to direct people to one of several geographically tailored landing pages.
QR codes can also remember the devices from which they were scanned. This ability allows QR codes to take someone who has scanned before to the page they saw last instead of taking them to the first landing page. It is particularly convenient for shopping campaigns.
QR codes also generally know from what object or billboard you’ve scanned them. And, let’s say you’ve scanned a QR code on the back of a Coca-Cola can; their ads might later show up in your Facebook account.
How can you market with QR codes?
As a tool that allows your customers to access a lot of information in a snap, QR codes have become one of the trending channels in the marketing industry. Marketers have used QR codes in billboards, magazines, web pages, and other marketing materials. QR codes promote interaction and engagement through the mobile phone. They allow businesses to provide their customers with additional information about the brand or a specific product.
From redirecting customers to your Google Maps location to asking them to leave feedback and review, enterprises can do much through QR codes. QR codes can help your business because they allow customers quicker access to your website or social media content. QR codes give your customers a better understanding of your offerings, promotions and sales.
Here are a few ways you can use QR codes in your marketing strategy:
- Direct customers to a landing page or your website
- Direct customers to social media pages
- Dial your business number
- Send a message or an email
- Download apps
- View business location
- Get information about your discounts and promotions
- Run a giveaway
- Deliver information regarding events
- Use QR codes as tickets for special events
- As contactless payment
- Ask to provide ratings and reviews
Where to place a QR code
On billboards and banners
As for the placement of your QR codes, most businesses place their QR codes on billboards or banners. And this strategy pretty much works. It adds a modern element to your ads and sparks curiosity in your customers.
Directly on the products
The second popular placement of QR codes would be directly on your products. Grab a cereal package, and you’ll most likely find a QR code promising to tell you more about how they are produced. QR codes are a great way of educating your customers about your business. The QR codes you place on the packaging can lead to anything from a promotional video to more products from your brand.
Think about it as a digital extension of reality. Museums have been doing it for a while. Instead of printing all the information about an art piece on the wall, they give the visitors an option of learning more by scanning a barcode. Botanical gardens also attach QR codes to the plants on little tags. Visitors get to read the information about the plant after scanning one of the QR codes.
On business cards
Adding QR codes to business cards is newer but is becoming very popular. Soon not having a QR code on your business card that leads directly to your website or Linkedin page would be strange. So jump on the trend before it’s too late!
Other creative ways
From Coca-Cola’s giant QR code made by over two thousand people with red and white umbrellas to Bilibili’s drone QR code on the anniversary of the “Princess Connect! Re: Dive” game, businesses have come up with many creative ways to make people scan those QR codes. Amazon, for example, created an Amazon Go store, allowing customers to enter with a QR code and grab what they need and walk out without habing tio scan each item. And during the 2018 Digital Signage Expo, Porsche launched an immersive experience that allowed those who scanned a QR code to customize a digital version of the 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
A few more rules
1. The user shouldn’t guess what to do with your QR code.
Right now, most QR codes often fail to provide clear indications as to where users will be taken after scanning them. There’s no point in including QR codes into your marketing strategy if they don’t have a clear call to action. Make it obvious. Wherever you put your QR code on, it must scream where it would take you or what benefit you’ll get from scanning it.
Unless you’re as cool as Coinbase and trying to break the rules by attracting your customer’s attention and curiosity by showing them a plain background and a QR code. During the 2022 game between the Rams and the Bengals, Coinbase ran a Super Bowl commercial on TV that was just a QR code.
2. Extend QR codes beyond a simple black-and-white box.
QR codes don’t actually have to be ugly! If you’re using one, think about making it pretty and eye-catching, and incorporate it into the design of your campaign. Disney, for example, managed to make their QR codes look like the faces of famous cartoon characters, while Zara displayed a QR code with the word “SALE” inside. Which, by the way, takes us back to the previous point about screaming where the QR code will take you.
Angry Birds have made creative advertising where the QR code looked like a game board. This way, the game producers were inviting new customers to download the app while reminding their existing customers of the fun of the game. It is a very successful example of QR code usage.
3. Make sure your QR codes work both for the customer and you.
Well, it’s pretty obvious that you must user-test your codes before sending them out. They must work the way you intend them to. Do they take you to the correct link? It is especially important with dynamic QR codes. You don’t want to be taken to a breakfast menu at 7 pm. Check if that’s working on different devices and make any necessary changes.
You must also run multiple tests on different devices to check if your QR codes give you the correct customer data. Because if they don’t, what’s the point? The beauty of marketing with QR codes is partly because of the ability to collect customer data.
How to create a QR code?
There are several QR code generators that you can try. Simply Google ‘QR code generator’ and choose the one that suits your needs. Some generators allow you to customize the look of the code, and some will enable you to view the customer data, and so on.
In 6 simple steps, here is how you create a QR code:
1. Decide what online content your QR would be attached to
2. Pick a QR code generator site
3. Choose between static vs a dynamic QR code
4. Paste a link there and generate a QR code
5. Download your barcode for use
6. Add it to your material (TV commercial, flyer, or whatever you are using)
It is important to note that many social media platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, and Telegram, allow you to customize your account’s QR code. When scanned, the person is led directly to your profile. These codes can also be printed out.
How to track & measure QR code success
QR codes benefit marketers because they are convenient for the customers and allow correctly measuring marketing campaigns. QR codes provide data about where they were scanned, when and from what device.
To know how well your campaign is going, you need to track the performance of your QR codes. Many QR code generators would offer some kind of data they can collect. However, it’s always best to use Google Analytics. If you add ‘?#ref=YOUR_CODE’ to your link, you’ll be able to see how well your QR code is doing.
For example, if your website’s link is ‘mywebsite.com’, you’ll create a ‘mywebsite.com/?#ref=tv_ad’ link and attach it to your QR code.
With that link extension on Google Analytics, you’ll be able to see how many people used the QR code, how many of them landed on your landing page, how long they stayed, and whether they converter, became a lead or purchased anything. In a nutshell, you can see all the necessary information to know whether your QR code marketing strategy is working or not!
To sum up
In conclusion, it is worth stressing how important QR codes are in marketing today. As we have seen, from cashier-less stores to drone shows and QR codes that look like Disney characters, businesses are incorporating QR codes into their ad campaigns in all sorts of ways. It’s easy to generate a QR code, but it takes creativity and brainstorming to decide where to put it. Tracking the data from QR codes is just as important as ensuring the QR codes work the way you intend them to.