The Three E’s of QR Codes

QR Codes often get a bad rap, mainly because they are misused. Marketers like to write articles claiming that QR Codes are bad, useless or even dead.

But, here’s the thing – if we went by these types of arguments, we wouldn’t use any of the marketing tools available. For example…

  1. Email marketing – SPAM has made it more difficult than ever to gain traction with email marketing. Combine this with all the poorly executed email marketing campaigns out there and it would seem that email marketing is a colossal waste of time. Not true according to Marketing Pros DJ Waldow and Jason Falls. Their book, Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing, makes it clear that email is not only effective but still on the rise as a marketing tool.
  2. SEO – SEO has died a thousand deaths in the blogosphere. The cause of death is either black hat practitioners who get “punished” by Google or social media “making SEO irrelevant.” SEO is alive and well, thank you very much. It evolves as everything does online. It still matters. This infographic from Search Engine Land shows how SEO is very much alive despite the many attempts on its life.
  3. Websites – Your marketing standard for many years has been under attack. Social media marketers (a handful of them, not all, and not the good ones) have been questioning the value of websites. They’ve recommended killing the website in favor of a Facebook page or other social profile because “that’s where everyone is.” Social media pages and profiles are rented space. You still need a home base. You still need a website. Like this Marketing Land article says, “remember who the fish belong to.”

Now back to QR Codes. They’ve had a target on their backs for some time now. Why? Because so many marketers do stupid things with them. Or maybe because many folks still don’t know what to do with a QR code.

QR Codes are Targets

These are not reasons to abandon QR Codes altogether. When used effectively, they can be great marketing tools.

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A QR Code can be generated very easily. You can do it for free at It’s what you do with it that matters. Here are three ways to use QR Codes effectively…

QR Code Strategy Number One – Expand the Message

Printed handouts, product packaging, signs and placards – these things can be informative and educational, but there are limitations. What if you could extend the experience to include video, audio and other electronic media?

Add a QR Code to these materials and link it to a mobile friendly site with rich media to expand the message contained within the printed piece.

Despite what some have said you can actually have some fun with the funny looking code and incorporate it into your design. This example from a Macy’s Backstage Contest Poster shows how you can be creative with a QR code…

Photo from

Direct marketers can benefit greatly from QR Codes as well. Now, a postcard, which usually has a conversion rate of less than 1%, becomes an interactive mobile marketing piece that expands the message and keeps the recipient engaged.

And with QR Codes and targeted mobile landing pages you can track your results and adjust as needed. Try that with a standard postcard.

Don’t just slap it on there. Make it obvious. Our client, MyQRosites, uses QR Codes as a part of its mobile website creator. In this example from one of their trade show handouts, it’s no mystery what they want you to do with this code…

MyQRosites Trade Show Handout

MyQRosites Trade Show Handout

QR Code Strategy Number Two – Educate the User

Consider those annoying instruction manuals we get with products requiring “some assembly.” I don’t know about you but they always seem to be written by either a PhD or a drunk guy.

The last thing you want when someone opens your product is to frustrate them. What if you placed a QR Code on the instruction manual linking to a mobile friendly site?

  • On this site you could have video instructions on how to assemble the product.
  • You could also have some videos on different ways to use the product.
  • And you can list various product support channels.

The difference in effectiveness between this and a regular website is that the user is right there, with your product in hand, ready to get started. Chances are they have their smartphone nearby.

You can use QR Codes in just about any product directing customers to rich educational materials about that product. Mazda, as with other car manufacturers, places QR Codes on their engines…

Mazda QR Code Example - From GuideAutoWeb.comMazda QR Code Example – From

Now instead of a bulky user manual, the car owner or mechanic can scan this code and access video, instructions, and other useful content right there.

QR Code Strategy Number Three – Entertain the Audience

Maybe you’ve just created an ad. On that ad is a QR Code. If you are like a lot of marketers, you would link this QR Code to your website. Bad idea!

Be careful where you send them…

Remember when Ralphie got the secret message from Orphan Annie using his decoder ring… “be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” A crummy commercial. He was so disappointed.

What if the message he got continued the adventure? What if it kept him just as engaged and excited as he was when listening for the secret message?

Try using QR Codes to get your audience involved in a contest or maybe to solve a mystery. Have some fun with it.

Like the Macy’s example above, you can incorporate the QR Code into the design theme. Or, try taking it a step further. Create an adventure for the user.

For example, a shopping district might join together to host a scavenger hunt. A group of restaurants and stores participate by offering different clues at each location. All of this leads to a set of prizes. The exposure these locations get is fantastic.

It could look something like this…

Downtown Dayton Scavenger Hunt

Downtown Dayton Scavenger Hunt from

It’s How you Use it

Remember, tools are only useful if they are used effectively. A QR Code can be a powerful marketing tool used for entertainment, education or to expand your message.

Have you seen any clever uses of QR Codes? Seen any really bad examples? Let me know in the comments below.

Discuss This Article

Comments: 3

  • Lewis Fein says:

    A patent-pending QR technology that deals with the issue of brand engagement, along with database collection and Facebook integration, is

    This application is a major advancement in the broader category of QR marketing, bringing companies and customers together.

    You can manage your promotions, get valuable data and receive live analytics (to measure the success of your efforts) and direct ‘Likes’ to your Facebook page — permitting customers to further the news with their friends about a promotion they scanned and posted on their Facebook wall. Just one scan by any of those friends can result in a viral marketing campaign that draws the attention of consumers around the globe. The great new chapter in digital marketing is here!

  • Stephanie says:

    Great article. I think you really hit the nail on the head. I’ve come across so many mis-used or mis-placed QR codes, it’s no wonder people are skeptical about them. Some repeat offenders of bad QR placement are advertisers who put codes in subway stations. I’ve seen some in areas that are so dark that a phone’s camera could never focus on them. Or they’ve been so small that it would endanger someone’s life to get close enough to scan them across the subway tracks. It’s also pretty bad if there’s no internet connection in the stations. People will scan the code, see that it doesn’t work, and forget all about it later. I really appreciate your article teaching people how to use QR codes the right way. It’s a great technology that could totally advance how companies interact with their customers.

  • Thanks for this well-written article that helps refute the QR code naysayers. It inspired us to write an article referencing this one, from our vantage point as promoters of QR codes for print catalogs. Common Sense and QR Codes (

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