QR Codes: A cautionary Tale




So you’ve probably heard the buzz by now about QR codes (if you haven’t, check out our blog post QR Codes for Dummies to learn more.) Perhaps your marketing department is pushing you to start adding QR codes to all your printed pieces. There are no doubt, great ways to incorporate this new technology into your marketing. However, there are things to keep in mind when using them, and we are here to help you determine if and when to use them.

The first thing to understand is that QR codes won’t increase responses automatically. Just because you start throwing QR codes on your pieces, does not mean people will scan them. According to Nielsen “One in four (24%) American smartphone users surveyed reported scanning a QR code or a barcode in the previous 30 days.” Now you could take this information one of two ways. One, those are great numbers. Almost a quarter of Americans have used a QR code in the last 30 days. However, you also need to keep in mind that it means three out of four people have not used a QR code in the last 30 days. So if you are ONLY giving your audience a QR code to access the information, you are alienating a majority of your audience. However, if you are adding a QR code in addition to another way of accessing the information, then it would be an effective way of catching the attention of early adopters while still giving others the opportunity to take part.

Consider the user experience for a moment. Let’s say the prospect receives a direct mail piece with a QR code at their home. There are a couple of different questions here:

  1. Do they know what a QR code is or how to use it? If not, they obviously will not scan it. If there are instruction along with the QR code, they MAY consider taking the time to download a QR reader app and scanning.
  2. Even if they know what a QR code is and how to use it, do they want to view this information on their smart phone or tablet? We know they are probably viewing this information at home or work. Is it easier to go to their computer, type in a URL, and view the information from there on a larger screen?
  3. Does the QR code work? This is a BIG one! You would be surprised how often we’ve come across QR codes on a printed piece that simply does not scan correctly. Perhaps they are too small for your QR reader to focus on, or they open up the information in the incorrect app, or perhaps your QR code reader won’t read them at all! All can be an extremely frustrating user experience.

These questions lead us to our recommendations regarding the use of QR codes.

  1. ALWAYS give people an alternative way to access your information. Make sure it is as visible and easy to read as the QR code. This will ensure that people who do not, cannot, or do not want to use the QR code will still be able to access the information.
  2. Give people instructions on using QR codes. Even if it is only a few people, it may entice a couple of your prospects to learn how to use them to access your information. Something along the lines of “To scan this QR code, search and download a ‘QR reader’ app from your smart phone app store.”
  3. Test, test, test! Test your QR codes from multiple devices and using multiple apps. Just because one phone or app reads a QR code fine, does not mean they all will. Do not make it more difficult for people to access your information (you’ll more often than not lose them all together.)

So keeping all of these things in mind, here are the things we feel utilize QR codes the best (when done correctly of course.)

  1. Contact Information – You can create a QR code that holds your business card information (name, phone, address, email, etc.) and when someone scans the code, it will open up a new contact in your phone, making it extremely easy for you to save their information without manually typing all of it. This can be added to the back of a business card or a direct mail piece. Just remember, don’t alienate those not familiar with QR codes. Still provide the written information somewhere on the piece.
  2. Variable data QR codes – New technology allows for unique QR codes to be put on each direct mail piece. These unique QR codes can direct prospects to a personalized URL which has information directly targeted to them. Read more about PURLs here.
  3. Extra incentive – There may be an instance where you are willing to alienate the portion of your audience that does not scan QR codes in order to obtain additional information about leads that are early adopters. Giving them some sort of extra incentive to scan a code is a great way to do this. “Scan here to…” receive 50% off? Enter to win X? The key is having the lead complete a short form or using a PURL, so you can track this and measure its effectiveness.
  4. Additional form of information/communication – adding a QR code as an additional way for people to access the information can be very effective. People who are familiar with QR codes and their use will find it a convenient way to access your information, yet people who are not familiar with them should still be able to access the information.
    Just remember, sometimes using QR codes incorrectly can lead to a trade-off between enticing people who like to use the new technology vs. turning away people who don’t know how to use them or find them difficult to use. Don’t create barriers in the conversion process unless it’s a calculated marketing decision.

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