QR Codes Are Here to Stay [Data]

5 Ways QR Codes Meet Marketing Needs

QR codes are the glue that connects offline media in its broadest sense to online, namely mobile, with a snap of your smartphone (of course you must have a QR code reader installed.) While QR codes aren’t mainstream yet, they’re past the early adopter phase. A little more than one out of four smartphone owners has scanned a bar code according to Compete’s November 2010 research. This is consistent with ScanLife’s findings that both 1D (UPC code) and 2D (QR code) barcodes scans increased in 4Q2010. Further, ScanLife’s findings that the number of women scanning increased 13% and the 35-54 age group increased 25% shows that barscans have moved beyond the early adopter phase.

Of course, increased QR code penetration and use is dependent upon increased smartphone penetration, particularly new devices that come with QR code readers pre-installed, reducing the need to educate your audience.

5 Ways QR codes meet marketing needs

Marketers should incorporate QR code placement into their communications mix because they meet consumer needs.

  1. QR codes enable price comparison. This tops consumers’ reasons for scanning across a variety of research findings, including ScanLife’s. Price comparison, however, can be a double-edged sword for marketers, since it trains customers to look for the best price and can sway them to buy from competitors. Therefore, promote your house brands where your margins are higher or bundle products so that it’s difficult to tell a specific product’s price. Also, be aware that clear plastic wrap can hinder scan usage.
  2. QR codes display product reviews. Remember, customers trust other customers and they read about other shoppers experiences with your product before they buy. Use QR codes to connect potential customers to this marketing content.
  3. QR codes distribute coupons. While customers are comparing prices before buying, why not offer them an added incentive to close the deal while they’re in your store? Since this may train customers to wait for the best price, try offering deals for future purchases or incentives to shop online.
  4. QR codes provide additional product details. Research shows that shoppers use their smartphones while they’re in a store to get more information. Use QR codes to provide the useful content they seek. This content can help customers post-purchase by giving them details your collateral doesn’t contain. For example, show them how to use your product or provide recipes or instructions. Leverage this additional content to upsell customers.
  5. QR codes supply purchase specifics. QR codes give shoppers information about your store on the go. In some cases, users may be able to purchase directly from their smartphone.

3 QR code marketing challenges

While the time is ripe for incorporating QR codes into your marketing content, here are three challenges of which you should be aware.

  1. QR codes require a smartphone with QR code reader software. While U.S. smartphone penetration is currently about 30%, only new smartphones come with a reader pre-installed. Older phones require the user to download a QR code reader from an app store or market, which may be a stumbling block to usage.
  2. QR code usage isn’t intuitive. Since it’s still the early days of QR codes, add a call-to-action and explanation for how to use QR codes so viewers understand what’s in the QR code and what’s expected of them. Depending on the environment, it may be useful to provide a short how-to demonstration or explanation.
  3. QR codes require connectivity to work. If your QR code contains a URL then you must consider its placement. Recently, Jet Blue received negative reviews on their advertising campaign in the New York City subway system where there’s no cellphone reception underground. (That said, the ads still show that JetBlue is on the leading edge and reenforce similar ads used where consumers do have Internet access.)

As a marketer, now is the time to start testing QR codes to determine how your prospects and customers use them and what information they’re searching for.  Since it’s still early in the usage cycle, expect QR code metrics to be low but, at a minimum, it will help your marketing evolve while showing consumers that you’re using leading edge technology.

Have you incorporated QR codes into your marketing mix? If so, what have you learned? Please share your perspective in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Here are some related mobile marketing columns:

Photo credit: Vitor Baptista via Flickr

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11 Responses to QR Codes Are Here to Stay [Data]

  1. Troy says:

    Why not use SMS as a gateway to offer more content for consumers? 87% of the market vs. the 5% that might be comfortable using QR?

  2. Paul Douglas says:

    Excellent article. Very insightful data that’s well presented. I have implemented QR codes on our business cards for Melon. They link the user to our Facebook page (as our 145 page website is not mobile friendly). Looking forward to more of your articles.

  3. Leo Ferraro says:


    I left a successful career in New Media Marketing back in 2008 to Startup a new venture. I’ve been developing & implementing QR Codes since 2008. Back then, nobody knew what a QR was;-)

    I’m excited that 2011 is Year of the QR Code. I too believe they’re here to stay and as more users migrate to smartphones, they’ll interact with brands like never before.

    Sample of QR Code Projects Deployed…

    More than a QR Code Scanner…


  4. Phil Coote says:

    While people need to download an app to see a QR Code, there will always be issues with using a code as an integral part of a campaign. You would expect this to change and it will be interesting to see if the iPhone5 will come pre-installed with a QR Code reader.

    • Heidi Cohen says:


      Agree that the need to download a reader is a stumbling block in the short term. To encourage prospects, give them guidance for using one.

      Longer term, more smartphones including iPhones will come with a reader installed.

      Happy marketing,
      Heidi Cohen

  5. Lisa Foote says:

    Heidi – The most common mistake we see marketers make with QR codes is linking to a website that’s not mobile-friendly.

    The second most common mistake is forcing the QR code scanner to do something without the consumer’s choice. Examples include immediately launching a video.

    Finally, the third mistake we see is not offering consumers opportunity to engage with the brand. This is easily corrected by simply including a link to the brand’s Facebook and/or Twitter accounts (and even more sophisticated methods can and should be used as well).

    We’re enthused about QR code growth, and eager for marketers to learn more QR code etiquette to reinforce usage and consumer enthusiasm for them!

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Lisa-Agree. Marketers should give viewers insight into what they’ll receive when they use a QR code (the same holds for other types of marketing as well.) Thank you for the additions. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  6. Joseph Ruiz says:

    Heidi a couple of other applications:

    We use QR code on our business card links to our contact information granted it is a bit of a novelty but useful conversation starter.

    They could also serve as a form of gamification e.g. codes could reveal clues or could be used to provide other information designed to engage consumers.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Great article, Heidi! I’m with you. QR codes are definitely here to stay. They just make too much sense. I incorporate them in all of my clients’ campaigns.


    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Ritch–QR codes are a quiet game changer and will take time to have their full impact on marketing and how information is distributed and consumed. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  8. Dan Fonseca says:

    I have, for a while now, been a champion for QR codes. I am glad to see that they are beginning to make their well deserved splash but am looking forward for a little more action. With NFC coming in the near future, QR codes and these chips will work beautifully together. I can not wait!