QR codes have fluctuated in favor among marketers for a couple years now. It seems evident at this point that the concept of QR codes – the ability for marketers to offer a convenient means to connect the growing universe of eternally on-the-go, always-connected consumers with a deep and enriching experience that can be consumed mid stride – is here to stay. However, the ugly 2-D barcode we know now as a QR code will surely evolve into something more atheistically pleasing.

We were recently asked by a client to provide some insights on QR codes. This client had yet to implement QR codes in its marketing and was smartly doing its due diligence – exploring actionable data points, uncovering research and receiving input from various experts – before deciding on whether or not to add QR codes to its marketing toolbox.

During our discussion there were three questions that generated spirited discourse:

  1. Have QR codes shown to improve response rates of individual marketing efforts?
  2. How are the responses generated by QR codes tracked?
  3. What are some common mistakes when using QR codes?

Have QR codes shown to improve response rates of individual marketing efforts?

This question is a bit difficult to answer directly. We are not aware of any studies comparing a non-QR-code initiative against a similar QR-code initiative. (If anyone has, please feel share to in the comments below.) While this type of test could be done theoretically, we question the value of such a test, as there are very few, if any, scenarios where it is strategically sound to simply swap, for example, a URL for a QR code. Channel, content and, most importantly, audience dictate the use of QR codes.

Patrick Boegel, the agency’s Director of Media Integration, says it most succinctly, “If your intended audience is strictly mobile phone and smartphone users, a QR code by itself will likely suffice. But if your audience consists of smartphone users and the general consumer population, a QR code should be used to supplement whatever traditional call-to-action makes most sense – URL, phone number, etc.”

It’s our belief that both QR codes and traditional calls-to-action will continue to have places in modern marketing. When used properly, QR codes allow marketers the ability to offer a convenient means to connect a consumer with an immersive experience or to extend and deepen engagement. As of September 2011 there were 85MM smartphone users in the U.S – a number that increased by 10 percent from the quarter before. This segment’s desire for instant gratification is only becoming more acute. QR codes or 2-D barcodes provide this mobile, urgent audience with a point-and-click shortcut to take action on the behest of a brand.

So, it won’t be the results of a test that validates the use of QR codes. It will be the intended target audience, channel and content of individual tactics that will determine the need for QR codes.

How are the responses generated by QR codes tracked?

There are two options to consider when deciding on how best to track responses to QR codes:

  • Internal IT/call-center resources
  • QR code management firms

Internal IT/call-center resources

When tapping internal resources to help track the performance of marketing campaigns that include QR codes, the amount of data and type of data captured is reliant on the analytics in place at the desired call-to-action. For example, if a QR code is driving a user to a web page, analytics embedded on the web page capture data. If a QR code is driving a user to initiate a call, analytics available at the call center capture data.

QR code management firms

Marketers also have the opportunity to partner with a QR code management firm to acquire analytics. (This partnership can be fostered either via a direct relationship or agency partner.) By embedding additional tracking mechanisms into the QR codes, QR code management firms can offer the same level of analytics that you would receive from internal resources, but these third-party firms will serve up the data in easy-to-understand tables and charts.

This type of partnership can be valuable for two reasons:

  1. If you don’t have internal IT resources or IT resources focused on the marketing function.
  2. If you are a marketing department that needs an organized platform/dashboard to manage a complex, multi-channel campaign.

QR code management firms become less useful when a marketer’s primary call-to-action is to initiate a call. In these instances, the call center is really the only source for analytics.

What are some common mistakes when using QR codes?

Since QR codes have been around for a couple of years, there is opportunity to learn from other’s mistakes. Some of the most common mistakes include:

  • Not associating a call-to-action or reason to scan with the code.
  • Sending users to a site not optimized for mobile devices or that contain Flash.
  • Offering QR codes where there is no cell phone service (i.e. some subway systems).
  • Presenting a QR code that is difficult to scan (too dense, too complex, etc.).
  • Not ensuring the need for a QR code is strategically sound – don’t let the tail wag the dog.