It might be the greatest marketing debate of the 2010’s: are QR codes things of the past or the future? The question is more difficult to answer than one would imagine; on one hand, consumers consistently report low QR code use. On the other hand, marketers consistently rate QR codes as being effective. Who are we to believe? Are QR codes thriving or dying?

Statistical failures

Statistics drive marketing decisions, but when it comes to QR codes – like politics – statistics can be misleading. While some tout meteoric increases in the use of QR codes, others point to a decline in that growth as a harbinger of QR code death. The problem with both of these viewpoints is the statistics they employ are often unreliable, dated, or – most commonly – way too general to draw applicable conclusions.

HubSpot’s Lindsay Kolowich illustrates that dichotomy when she compares the results of a consumer survey versus those of a marketer survey. In those surveys, 97 percent of consumers reported they didn’t know what a QR code was; however, 65 percent of marketers said QR codes are effective. Are we to believe that marketers continue to invest in QR code technology when only 3 percent of all consumers even use it?

Targeted QR placement

The real measure of QR code success isn’t tied in overall use, but targeted use. Marketers’ understanding of QR code efficacy has evolved so that we know QR codes are more effective for certain types of business and producs than others. QR code usage also varies by consumer demographics.’s Live Stats and Trends page indicates that QR code usage is highest among males and those aged 25 to 34. Technophiles and those interested in consumer electronics are also more likely to respond to QR codes.

Ultimately, the question isn’t whether QR codes are thriving or dying – it’s whether they’re thriving in your industry among your customers. Choosing whether to use QR codes as marketing tools is as simple as studying statistics, however warped they might be, to see if your customers are likely to respond to them.

Even better, run QR codes in A/B tests against other mobile response mechanisms: short URLs, augmented reality, and even basic search. Just because the statistics say your customers aren’t into QR codes doesn’t mean they won’t respond to yours. As Xerox demostrates, QR codes work when they’re done right.

The future of QR codes

In addition to determining whether QR codes are good for your business, the marketing community along with the technology community as a whole must decide the fate of QR codes.

It’s easy to make assumptions why QR codes work for younger, tech-savvy demographics: these are people who regularly use the advanced features of their mobile devices. That is to say, downloading a QR code reader app and scanning a QR code is a piece of cake. Older consumers, and consumers who aren’t tech-savvy, may struggle to download an app or scan a QR code, making them less likely to respond to a QR code-driven advertisement.

Will marketers wait for the world to educate itself on the use of QR codes, or will they petition mobile device manufacturers to make QR code scanning more intuitive? It stands to reason that if smartphones can automatically detect human faces they can also automatically detect and scan QR codes – no extra download needed.

That brings us to the greatest hurdle for QR codes: the need to take an extra step. QR codes are often presented on the fly – on posters, flyers, and magazine ads, for example. Who wants to search for an app, download it, install it, open it, and then scan just to see what an advertiser wants to show you? If you could simply point your phone at a QR code and have it automatically ask you if it should open the link, would you use QR codes more?

There’s also the chance that QR codes are replaced by something better, but whatever technology that is faces the same hurdle. QR codes aren’t dying, but in order to thrive their use must become automated.