QR Codes: Marketing Brilliance or a Waste of Time?

A year ago, it seemed like the next big thing. A small code on signs, posters, restaurant menus, brochures and more that smartphone users can scan and be automatically directed to a website or ad. But a year later, many advertisers are asking the question, are QR codes working or are they just a waste of ad space?

The answer is, it depends. Like any other form of marketing, QR Codes work only as well as the skill with which they are employed. QR Codes on the side of fast food bags aren’t really all that useful, especially if all they do is take the customer to an information page. But QR Codes that promise automatic entry into a contest or a link to a great coupon get a customer clicking.

According to marketing research done by Forrester, only fifteen percent of all smartphone users actually scan QR Codes. Consumers need a compelling reason to take the extra step of downloading a QR Code reader app, but also some consumers still aren’t completely sure what QR Codes are. Increased education could help increase use, but continued exposure to these QR Codes will eventually incite use.

Thinking about using QR Codes to promote your small business? Here are a few steps to follow to help ensure success.

  • Understand the technology. SpringPublisher has a free QR Creator that will walk you through the steps of creating your QR Codes for use on your business’s publicity materials. Simply go to the site and create a new project. Once your project has been created, click “Insert QR Code” and your QR Code will be ready to go.
  • Location, location, location. Consider that your intended audience will be attempting to capture your code on a small device. Putting your QR Code on a difficult-to-snap target, like a bus or train, will be ineffective at best and dangerous for your customers at worst. Try to think like your customers and imagine what they would want to see.
  • Entice customers. Give them a reason to go to the extra trouble of scanning your QR Code. That reason should be better than “check out our Facebook page.” Unless you’re advertising an upcoming, highly anticipated movie, you’ll have to let your customers know that by scanning your QR Code, they’ll be taken to a list of specials or a usable coupon.
  • Give them a reason to stay. Scanning your QR Code is only the first step. If all you’ve done is direct the customer to your website, you’ll probably lose them. Make sure they are directed to a contest entry page, a coupon or special, or some other useful information they’ll likely be seeking when they scan your code.
  • Include how-to instructions. If there’s space, give customers a list of steps to get your QR Code. Connect them to a place where they can get a QR Reader. OptiScan and QRafter are popular for the iPhone and QR Pal and QR Droid are popular for Droid operating systems.

While QR Codes have a way to go before widescale use, it is still a viable marketing technology. By understanding the best way to get customers to go to the trouble to scan your QR Code, you can maximize your marketing efforts and find success.

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Stephanie Faris

Stephanie is a freelance writer and young adult/middle grade novelist, who worked in information systems for more than a decade. Her first book, 30 Days of No Gossip, will be released by Simon and Schuster in spring 2014. She lives in Nashville with her husband.

8 thoughts on “QR Codes: Marketing Brilliance or a Waste of Time?

  1. Guy Barretta

    It is very difficult for anyone to label QR Codes a fad. They have been around since 1994 in Asia and have created a situation where there is huge penetration in that market. The US, Europe and Canada are not there yet but it will only be a matter of time. As each day passes, more and more individuals switch to smart phones which will further create a market for QR Code and NFC technology. Often times you see articles stating that NFC will replace QR Codes but this is not the case. Both technologies will continue to expand in the United States and will have a happy co-existence. 

  2. Celine M.

    Key takeaway from this article is that users expect more from QR codes. So take the time to carefully consider ‘what your customer wants’. The ‘experience’ you offer at the destination of the QR codes is more important than what your QR code looks like. 
    To encourage scans, put a call-to-action or describe what users will get if they scan.

    Mobile engagement is relatively new, so there will be a lot of experimentation. So employ a QR code generator with advanced tracking to make it easier for you to evaluate the success of your campaign and gain insights on how to make your mobile marketing campaigns better.


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