Are QR Codes Dead? [Charts]

5 QR Code Challenges for Marketers

While QR codes have been popping up all over marketing collateral, buildings and other objects, do they really work for marketers?

Before answering this question, consider the following data.

  • Two out of five US mobile owners have a smartphone, according to Nielsen.
  • One out of three consumers know what a QR code is, according to Simpson Carpenter’s recent survey of online respondents.
  • One out of fifteen American mobile users scanned a QR code on their mobile device according to comScore.

3 Consumer QR code hurdles

If you’re planning to use QR codes in your marketing, understand this behavior isn’t second nature to most consumers.

  1. Consumer must want the information at the other end of the QR code. Like other forms of marketing, a QR code won’t work unless the prospect or customer wants your information. For newer methods of engagement, you may need to offer them an incentive.
  2. Consumer must have a smartphone. Even if the consumer wants your information, they need to have an appropriate device to be able to get it. Depending on your target audience, smartphone ownership may not be a given.
  3. Consumer must have a QR code scanner installed. Another stumbling block, in addition to motivation and correct type of device, is that the consumer must have installed a QR code reader. If you have additional space adjacent to the QR code, explain how to download an app, incorporate one in your mobile app or website, or send the user a shortened URL via a text message.

5 QR code marketing challenges

As a marketer, here are five questions to ensure your QR code marketing maximizes its effectiveness.

  1. Can the QR code be read? Consider the surrounding background since it can impede the scanner’s ability to read the QR code. Additionally, think about the QR code’s location. For example will the QR reproduce with sufficient clarity or does the QR code appear in a location without connectivity such as a subway car.
  2. Is a relevant call-to-action included? Don’t forget to incorporate a message to encourage passers-by to scan your QR code. You can’t assume that they’ll know what to do. To this end, include short directions.
  3. Is the associated landing page optimized? Think user experience (UX). Ensure that the landing page or other information is easily readable on a mobile device. Consider what information the person scanning the QR code is looking for. This can vary significantly if QR code is on a product in your grocery store or in a shop window.
  4. Do you offer non-smartphone carrying prospects an alternative method for getting more information? Extend the reach of your marketing materials by offering alternative channels to provide additional information to prospects. Use a shortened URL and/or phone number. Remember your goal isn’t increasing QR code usage but rather supporting information distribution and/or sales.
  5. Have you created a unique tracking code? To determine the effectiveness of your QR codes, incorporate tracking information to measure how many people used your QR code. [Here’s more information on QR code metrics.] Additionally, put in place related tracking associated with tailored landing pages to measure how many of the prospects who scanned the QR code, took the next step.

While these QR challenges may seem insurmountable, don’t lose faith. They’re worth your marketing investment since they can work in environments where other marketing efforts can’t. Roughly 65% of consumers who scanned a QR were in a retail or grocery store according to comScore. QR codes let you be where your prospects are. Even more importantly, one out three scanned a QR code on product packaging. This is a way for manufacturers to deliver information direct to their prospects regardless of the retail outlet. Additionally, one out of ten scanned a QR code in a store window; this is a way to get information to prospects after hours. As this data shows, QR codes extend your ability to engage and offer useful information to prospects that you might not reach otherwise. Therefore, while the overall numbers are still low, QR code usage is growing in areas where other marketing formats can’t break through.

The bottom line is that most consumers still can’t use a QR code even if they recognize a QR code and want the information associated with it. This is simply because they don’t have a smartphone. That said, since QR codes are a space efficient way to provide consumers with additional related information that helps them at times and places other marketing doesn’t, why not start testing and building engagement with your more tech-savvy prospects?

What’s your opinion about QR codes? Are they really dead as a marketing tool?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Here are some related articles on QR codes, mobile and shopping you may find helpful.

Photo credit: MarketRumba via Flickr

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5 Responses to Are QR Codes Dead? [Charts]

  1. Great article, Heidi. I’m glad someone finally laid out the QR code issues so clearly!
    I don’t think QR codes are dead. I think they aren’t yet alive. In the same way that the internet was not widely used until people universally had faster speeds at which to use it, QR codes will not be widely used until it’s clearer to more people how to use them. When and if it becomes second nature to enough people, and enough value is at the end of a scan for them, it could be huge. So far, though, most companies are putting QR codes on only because it’s the latest, coolest thing. I’ve seen companies adopt QR codes that didn’t get many more critical uses of digital marketing. So, QR codes have great potential. First, the cycle of more consumers adopting their use has to reach critical mass. Second, marketers need to use them to offer real value.

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Ilana–Thank you for your input. I agree that marketers need to provide information that consumers find useful and more consumers need to have a smartphone with a QR code scanner installed. Additionally, marketers must be able to track results. This means planning for success and having unique codes and URLs. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  2. Steve G says:

    Thanks Heidi for your post and observations regarding QR Codes. I realize that every new marketing technique can become the “flavor of the month” but I do believe in today’s society where many consumers seek instant gratification, QR Codes have their place in the marketing mix.

    My experience w/QR Codes have been on site at events, (including restaurant table tops and retail clothing stores) on direct mail, with street team promotions, and in the digital space. In each opportunity, the QR Code lead the curious consumer to a mobile landing page, and not a url address/website. (More “app like” than a website) The content, like in all advertising, was relevant and engaging to the consumer and offered options/channels (ie, video content, coupon, bonus material, point of purchase, social networking) The call to action was nothing more complicated than the phrase “SCAN ME” and in many cases (especially with the younger consumer) they knew exactly what they needed to do w/out direction.

    We can measure not only how many individuals scanned the QR Code, but in my estimation, how long they were engaged with the mobile landing page.

    It is my thought that as SmartPhone technology becomes more of the norm, QR Codes will have their place in the marketing mix.

    Thanks again Heidi for the post.


    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Steve–Thank you for the thoughtful input. I agree that QR codes, while slow to take off, provide useful marketing information, especially at points where marketers may not otherwise be able to interact with prospects. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  3. I’ve said it a number of times before and will say it again: NOTHING is ‘dead’. If you have the right audience, the right technology and the right marketing vehicle, whatever method you’re using probably works.

    That said, I’ve been skeptical about QR codes in marketing for as long as they’ve been around.

    QR codes were originally devised for parts tracking through machine vision. It’s only natural that people would try to duplicate the idea in other realms, such as marketing, but – in my opinion – at the cost of ignoring more efficient methods.

    For example, if your ad QR needs instructions on how to download and install a QR code scanner to the viewer’s smartphone, couldn’t that space be used for the marketing message itself? Plus a URL (shortened and customised) for more info?

    If non-smartphone users are also targeted (and why wouldn’t they, they’re the majority), they need the ad to be spelled out, which again brings us to the questions above.

    Whether the viewer uses a smartphone or not, a QR code needs some explanation. A ‘hieroglyph’ won’t create any interest by itself; the minimum accompaniment is a product name or company logo, probably also some kind of call to action. Again, why not say what you have to say right away?

    The fallacy in using QR codes instead of more easily understandable communication (in my opinion, again) is probably the novelty factor. For marketers, though, it’s dangerous to replace a straightforward message with a riddle the consumer needs to solve.

    Compare these alternative ads:

    1. The QR way:
    “Try our new XYZ and win a week in the Caribbean, all expenses paid! (QR code). Explanation how to download a QR scanner & use the scan, blah blah blah for at least 3 or 4 lines of copy. (logo)

    2. The simple way:
    “Try our new XYZ and win a week in the Caribbean, all expenses paid! (customised short URL). (logo)

    Even the smartphone user won’t have to spend more than a few seconds to type the short URL for more information, probably less time than going through the scanning route, and the non-smartphone user will also be covered. The short URL being something like ‘’. Both the QR code and the short URL leading to the same microsite with exactly the same breadth and depth of information.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to denounce QR codes in marketing. I just don’t get it why marketers would want to use them rather than a ‘usual’ marketing message.