It looks like a small black and white puzzle, tucked away on product boxes or mysteriously appearing on a magazine page. For most marketers, solving the riddle of how to use QR codes in marketing is much more of a puzzle.

We are here to help you make sense of it.

How Do QR Codes Work?

A QR (“Quick Response”) code is a two-dimensional barcode that can be scanned by smartphone cameras or other devices. The scan reads the black and white squares as data, which can then be translated into a web page, text message, or other action.

Compared to a typical bar code, QR codes can hold 200 times more alphanumeric characters – over 4,200 in total.

This makes adding a website URL easy.

History of QR Codes

QR Codes were first introduced in Japan in 1994 as a way to track vehicle parts during manufacturing. The inventor came up with the idea while playing a game called “Go”, which is popular in Asia and is one of the oldest continually popular board games played in the world.

It wasn’t until 2009 that QR Codes started to gain popularity in the Western world.

The commercial and marketing use of this new technology became more and more popular as mobile phone cameras and operating software improved, but many consumers did not understand how to use them. Adoption of QR code technology has been slow.

Until 2017, smartphone users needed a separate app to read QR codes, which did not lend itself well to marketing campaigns based on quick “scan-on-the-go” ideas.

QR codes were “resurrected” in 2017 when the Apple iOS 11 update included native support in the camera app for QR codes, eliminating this need for a separate app. Google’s Android followed in 2018.

QR codes in the COVID-19 era

In Asia, compared to the West, QR codes had been embraced much more quickly as a technology for small, peer-to-peer payments, like Venmo. Small businesses and restaurants were faster to accept payments via a mobile device.

In many places, you could tip your server by scanning a QR code on their name badge.

As people around the world were distanced during the COVID-19 pandemic, this safer and more sanitary form of payment and link sharing gained traction. Dining in restaurants offered fewer points of contact and reduced paper menu waste with contactless ordering from menus via QR codes. Other innovations arose.

And, as people have gotten used to QR codes in everyday life, the opportunity to use them in marketing campaigns has grown as well.

How To Create a QR Code from a URL

The technology to easily create QR codes has improved as well.

A quick Google search for “create a QR code” will likely land you on a site that delivers what it promises in a sea of popup and display ads. Some will offer customization options to help deliver a nicer-looking square.

Be careful, though – some might create phishing scams or other security issues.

As an alternative, Google Chrome users can click the “share” icon from the URL bar and see an option for “Create QR Code”. Desktop users will no doubt notice the dinosaur graphic in the middle of the pattern, but the mobile version does not have this dinosaur feature.

For those committed to marketing with QR codes, a paid service is a modest cost that can ensure functionality, flexibility, and security.

Dynamic vs Static QR codes

There is a simple difference. Dynamic QR codes have fixed information, like a URL, that never changes.

Dynamic QR codes use a shortened URL to redirect, and this can be changed within the QR code service. So if something is printed on a label and needs to be changed in the future to point to a new location, it can be done easily without reprinting.

What Else Can You Direct Users To with QR Codes Besides Web Pages?

Use QR codes in your marketing plan to have users:

  • Click to dial
  • Add events to a calendar
  • Messenger apps & SMS text
  • Send an email
  • Download app
  • View location
  • Social media pages
  • Product pages or coupon codes
  • Video/YouTube marketing
  • Menus or service lists

“Anytime you’re making a link to your site, you have a tracking opportunity. First, add campaign tracking code to your link using a URL builder. Then use that link with the when creating the QR code. Voila! Now you can see every visit to your site that the QR code generated. Find that traffic in your campaign reports”

Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder / Chief Marketing Officer, Orbit Media Studios
image courtesy of Andy at Orbit Media Studios

A Quick Marketing Reminder

Studies have shown that it takes 5-7 brand exposures before customers make a purchase.

In the mortgage industry, that number is 58 touches before the final close!

Using QR codes, like most marketing tools, is best used as part of an overall strategy.

The Purchase Process: A Refresher

There are many variations, but typically the consumer purchase process comes down to the following steps:

  1. Awareness: The consumer becomes aware of a problem or need.
  2. Interest: The consumer begins to develop an interest in a product or service that can solve their problem.
  3. Evaluation: The consumer compares their options and begins to develop a preference for a particular product or service.
  4. Purchase: The consumer takes action and buys the product or service.
  5. Post-purchase: The consumer uses and evaluates, and reviews or recommends QR codes can be used in most of these steps, some more effectively than others.

Generate Awareness with QR Codes

Awareness can be generated in many ways, but some common methods are paid advertising, public relations, or word-of-mouth.

For QR codes, some ways to generate awareness include:

Using QR codes in direct mailers

Most direct mail pieces are not saved, even if they generate interest on their own. Mix in a QR code with your CRM or appointment setting app (like Calendly) to allow recipients to book an appointment quickly before tossing or losing that direct mail piece. Have an app? Include the QR code to download your app to make interacting with your business a breeze!

Using QR codes on business cards

Link to your personal page, social profile, or business website to give people more information quickly about your background or company. This is great for networking events. Using a QR code on your business card also makes it easier for those who receive your card to easily take action like make a social media connection or visit your site right away. The easier and faster things are, the more likely your connections are to take action and not forget because they have to do it later.

Using QR codes in print advertising, such as magazines or newspapers

While print is declining, it is not dead by any means. It makes sense, however, to augment your print investment with a digital component. With QR codes, you also have more room for creativity and imagery, leaving the text or fine print for a landing page.

Adding QR codes as a graphic on business vehicles

Our office is in downtown Chicago. If you are like me, you have ample opportunity for thought and reflection as you are stuck in traffic that doesn’t seem to move. Take advantage of that captive audience by adding a QR code to your vehicle graphic.

Passengers (and unfortunately some drivers) who are in the market for your product or service can use their phones to get more information. Because those potential customers often consider driving idle time, try using a QR code with a “scan to call” feature so that they can book an appointment from their front seat.

Also consider pedestrians that may be interested in your business. Food trucks often move, let your regulars view your location schedule with a QR code, or make your menu easy to see for those at the end of the line or passing by with a large QR code they can scan from a distance.

Generate Interest with QR Codes

Once someone knows you, QR codes can help you persuade them to purchase. Consider the following ways you can influence that decision:

Front door signage

You might not be open 24 hours a day or on the weekends, but people passing by or checking out your location can find information about products or services if you include a QR code on front-door signage. This is great for restaurants also who want to show their whole menu but have limited window space.

Trade show booths and signage

Trade shows can be hectic and many businesses spend a ton to get just the right spot or the booth that stands out. Add QR codes to sponsorship signage to help attendees find your booth, or to your booth signage to help them get more information about the products and services you are offering.

Here it is also a great idea to allow people passing by to book an appointment or demo, or even to enter a drawing or raffle with the aid of a landing page.

Help Customers Evaluate Your Product or Service with QR Codes

In evaluating a purchase, customers might want to know:

  • How your product works (or how your service is delivered)
  • What the return policy or guarantees are
  • How others have rated your product or service
  • Link to a video that shows how to use the product (or even an unboxing)

Including a QR code on your packaging or service list is one way to do this – it’s like giving the customer a free sample before they even make a purchase.

For local businesses like restaurants or those who have a retail storefront, a QR code with a link to a map can help customers evaluate if you are convenient to visit, and then subsequently plan their route.

Let Customers Purchase with a QR Code

This one is straightforward.

  1. Link to your product page.
  2. Link to your online ordering.
  3. Allow customers to make payments with a QR code link.
  4. Tell customers where the closest retail store is that they can buy your product.

Follow Up Post-Purchase with QR Codes

After customers have made a purchase, you can use QR codes on packaging, directions, or receipts to:

  • Get feedback with a survey to improve future marketing efforts
  • Provide warranty information or product manuals
  • Ask for product or business reviews

Savvy marketers who are confident in their product or services can also create marketing automations that work with referral or rewards programs.

What’s Next for QR Codes in Marketing?

QR codes have many applications in marketing, and it’s not hard to understand why they are becoming such a popular choice with innovative marketing teams.

So, what’s next?

Are wearable technology items like Google Glass going to make a comeback? There are big privacy concerns, not to mention people still seem to think they look weird. But, if they do resurface, QR codes seem like a natural fit, as someone can get instant information or take action without even getting their mobile device out.

I can see screens that can dynamically generate QR codes for special purposes. For example, asking a question to a voice recognition artificial intelligence system on a storefront or kiosk could allow a display to show a QR code that would send the individual to a web page with the answer.

Marketers are talking about the “metaverse” and virtual reality marketing opportunities. It’s hard not to think about the possibilities of QR codes and this new frontier. 

Can QR codes take you to new locations in the metaverse? Grant you VIP access to virtual parties or meetings? Can QR codes based inside virtual reality hangouts function in the same ways as the ones in real life do?

Conclusion

QR codes are a versatile tool that can be used in a variety of marketing situations. They are affordable, easy to use, and can be placed in a variety of locations.

They connect the world of digital with the world of traditional media.

QR codes can be used to increase awareness of your product or service, to help customers make purchase decisions, and to follow up with customers after a purchase. As technology continues to evolve, the potential uses for QR codes in marketing will likely increase.

Are you using QR codes in your marketing? What has been your experience? Let us know in the comments!