Are You QR-ious About the Future?

One of the great challenges for the print industry in the 21st century has been to maintain relevance in a world obsessed with going online. The ability to connect the world of ink and water with the dream-woven realm of pixels has been the holy grail. Will QR codes prove to be the portal that connects your offline collateral to your online existence?

History of QR Codes

A QR (Quick Response) Code is essentially a 2D information matrix similar to a barcode, but in the way a bicycle is similar to a motorcycle.

Scanning a codeA conventional bar code is capable of storing roughly 20 digits, whereas a QR Code is capable of handling up to several hundred times more. In fact, over 7000 characters can be stored in a single code.

The codes were first developed in 1994 by Denso Wave, a division of Toyota, to aid in the storage and recording of spare parts for the Japanese car maker. QR codes quickly became popular with the public for the same reasons that their simpler siblings had found acceptance – they were fast, accurate, and easy to access.

Japanese mobile phone makers were beginning to add cameras to their devices and were looking for as many ways as possible to use them – giving them the ability to read and process QR codes was almost a no-brainer. Today there are over 80million handsets capable of  interpreting QR codes in Japan alone, and most smartphones being produced globally either come standard with reader/scanners or can load them as apps.

Why They Should Be A Part of Your Marketing Mix

It is widely recognised that the best approach in marketing today is to spread your message across a number of channels, linking them where possible to provide as easy access as possible to your information or goods.

QR codes give potential customers immediate access to what they want then and there – they act as a physical hyperlink between the offline world and online platforms.

The advantage to the customer is they don’t have to wait to get home and fire up their computer. And as an advertiser you aren’t hoping they remember the URL. Having piqued the prospects interest with the code (which can be very creatively done) they can view it immediately and interact with the information provided.

QR codes can also provide marketers with a wealth of in-depth, accurate analytics. It is possible to measure exposure, the level of product interaction and location-linked data, all in real-time.

How Are They Being Used?

From business briefs to disaster relief, QR codes can be used to drive sales, inform people, link paper to pixels and entertain. They can even be found on tombstones! Below are just some examples.

Snap South Brisbane Qr codeBusiness cards – people are always trying to cram too much information on to their cards. With a QR code, it is possible present all that and more, linking to your company’s website, a special promotion for new customers, or a video presentation. Try Snap South Brisbane‘s code here, which links to a YouTube video.

Coupons – a QR code can take the prospect to a landing page where they can download a discount coupon in exchange for more information about themselves, allowing further marketing opportunites. Here’s how Dunlop Tennis used there code.

Ralph Lauren ad featuring QR codeMagazine ads – a magazine ad featuring a QR code lets the customer act on their impulse. It can also provide you with immediate insights on the level of reader engagement and geo-location information. This alleviates one of the major issues with press ads – getting a true measurement of reader involvement and reaction.

Museums and art galleries – enrich your visitors experience! A QR code beside each painting could link to a video on the life of the artist, a PDF catalogue of their works, or a dissertation on that particular piece. Museums could use them to link exhibits in similar ways. The institutions could use them to link to maps of the buildings. Fenimore Art Museum did it this way.

Gotham Guide QR code

Visiting a new city – QR codes on places of interest could link to audio presentations, work as virtual tour guides. Placed on bus shelters or train stations they can link to timetables and route maps.

Building Permits – In New York, building permits will carry QR codes as a means of keeping people informed on the progress and purpose of new constructions.

The Radisson Qr code on menuMenus – a code with each dish’s description could link to something simple like an image of the dish, to a video on the preparation and cooking of the meal, and the source of the food involved. The Radisson Edwardian found success using QR codes. There are more ideas here.

Postersplaced at concerts they can link to the artists website, offer exclusive downloads, or discounts from merchandising.

QR code used post tsunami

Disaster Recovery – a case study on how the Japanese Red Cross used a QR code post tsunami and earthquake to drive donations. (Clicking on the code here will open a larger image which can be scanned.) A QR code was also used to help in the aftermath of the oil spill that occurred last year in the Gulf of Mexico.

Qr-itical Errors to Avoid

1. Make sure your target audience is au fait with the concept and the technology. Who are they, what is their demographic, and where and how are you aiming to deliver your message. Remember that a good internet connection is vital – don’t place the codes where there is no reception available!

2. Until QR codes have become readily recognisable by the general public, you should probably explain to viewers in your marketing piece that they have to scan the code with a QR code reader. It won’t hurt to tell them where it will take them either. You might even recommend an app suitable for a number of phones – I use Optiscan on my iPhone 4.QR code on a building

3. A QR code can be almost any size, from about 20mm x 20mm up to something projected on a wall. Be aware a small image will often be too dense to scan if you’ve encoded a longer URL. Use a URL shortener like or to generate a short URL QR code. This will also allow you to track its effectiveness with the analytics on their sites.

4. Consider where your ads will be placed. A tiny code placed in a hard to approach space will get little use. Also think about the perspective your target audience will have. Will they be able to scan it from directly in front, or does it need to be skewed? Size, place and frame the ads accordingly.

5. Remember, people are using mobile phones or devices to scan your code. So please, make sure your target is mobile friendly! Nothing says FAIL quite so loudly as delivering a prospect to a site they can’t load, or doesn’t work on all devices. *hint – iPhones and iPads aren’t Flash friendly.

6. Before sending your code to print, test across a few scanners and devices. The text in the code cannot be changed so make sure you have it pointed in the right direction, and that it is mobile friendly. Better codes (i.e. ones you pay for) can be redirected multiple times. Finally before releasing it to the public, test it again.

So QR codes have much to offer both sides of the marketing mix. Customers can have a richer experience delivered in a variety of ways, from the printed page to places they pass everyday. Marketers can gather more reliable data on how customers are behaving and what they are doing in response to their advertising. It’s a win-win, and who doesn’t like that? Next time we’ll look at the alternatives to QR codes that are being developed.

Have you ever used a QR code in your marketing? Have you ever responded to one?

About Jeff Polley

I'm interested in life and making the most of it. I have a fondness for good coffee and scintillating conversation. I don't act my age. For more you can follow me on Twitter - @xmpieman
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