Times are changing. A friend recently told me a story about his son, who makes some extra money over the summer by mowing yards and providing labor. He had small advertisements put up around the neighborhood, but this is next part is what jumped out to me.

Traditionally, my friend’s son would list his or her phone number of the bottom of the page, cut into strips so a potential customer could grab the number and give him a call. This time, however, his son simply used a QR code. And the result? He made more this summer than the previous two summers combined.

QR code basics

While the example above is a gross simplification of what mobile marketing and QR codes are capable of doing for business, it’s important that people understand QR codes and their implications for commerce.

Quick Response, or QR codes, are those 2d black and white squares you increasingly see all over the business world. QR codes are accessed with a smartphone, and users scan the codes in order to access some sort of digital information. Normally, this digital information is in the form of a company’s website or social media pages, but businesses are also beginning to use QR codes in new, creative ways.

Let’s step back momentarily – the codes aren’t anything new. They have been around since 1994, and were invented in Japan for the auto industry. The 2d codes can store more information than traditional 1d barcodes, and were originally used to track auto parts.

But recently, QR codes have become popular with businesses because of their potential to create customer engagement and sustain customer relationships. As mobile technology and mobile use continue to blanket society, businesses are looking to QR codes for help.

Each year in recent memory it seems like someone claims it to be the year of the QR code, and that QR code popularity and use are on the brink of exploding into the marketing scene. Yet it hasn’t happened on the scale that many analysts and businesses anticipated, for a few good reasons.

Why QR codes are unpopular

QR codes have a huge amount of potential, but come with a few glaring, fundamental issues. Understanding why QR codes are relatively unpopular will help avoid mistakes that have already been made.

1) Businesses misuse and abuse QR codes.

To a certain extent, QR codes have been the butt of jokes and sarcasm. The problem is that businesses are not always using codes responsibly – and sometimes, it seems like they aren’t thinking at all. Take a look at the following examples:

While QR codes on a Volleyball team’s rear end might sound like a good publicity stunt at first, this is a blatant misuse. The codes are rather small to begin with, and it is unlikely a consumer would be able to get close enough to scan the code with their own device.

In addition, the girls would have to stand near perfectly still in order for someone to capture their QR code. Even in a digital photo, the codes are too small and blurry to scan for most consumers.

In the second example, a small QR code is visible on the poster advertisement on the far side of the subway tracks. However, this code is much too small to be scanned from afar, and in order for a consumer to scan it, they would need to be standing on top of the tracks. The implied dangers speak for themselves, and as a business, it is irresponsible to potentially put your consumers in harm’s way.

2) To use a QR code, one must use a smartphone.

This creates a challenge for businesses. Although most adults and many youths in North America already own smartphones, prompting consumers to take devices out of their pockets and use them can be tricky. For many consumers, the effort is not worth the reward, or lack thereof.

3) QR codes need the user to download an app before they can be scanned.

Unless your smartphone comes with a QR code scanner or image recognition technology preinstalled, you will most likely need to download a separate application in order to scan QR codes. While downloading a scanner app is simple and in most cases doable in less than a minute, this still acts as a barrier to use.

4) There is often too little incentive to scan a QR code

While QR codes can be great marketing tools for business, a huge drawback is the lack of payoff for consumers when scanning a code. The majority of codes simply take the user to a generic business website, which sometimes is not even mobile-optimized. If there is nothing special being offered, why should a consumer scan the code?

5) Many of us have negative opinions about QR codes due to past experiences

If consumers have a few bad experiences with QR codes, they are less likely to scan codes in the future. All it takes is a few bad scans, and consumers become weary of QR codes and the little-to-no benefit received from scanning them.


Why QR codes still have immense potential, and why businesses should love them

It isn’t all bad news for QR codes. In fact, businesses should be looking at them now more than ever, for some oh-so-compelling reasons.

1) Mobile use is on the rise

According to a PEW research study published earlier this year, nearly 60% of Americans own smartphones, and another 35% own cell phones that aren’t smartphones. As mobile technology becomes cheaper and more efficient, the smartphone ownership statistic will only continue to grow.

The implications for business are clear: 60% of the population now has a device in their pocket that can allow you to interact and engage them, a means of communication that was unheard of only a handful of years ago.

2) QR codes can create customer engagement and help sustain customer relationships

Taken from a past blog about customer engagement, QR codes provide a means to interact with consumers. Interactions and engagement create a kind of ‘track record’ with consumers, and repeated successful interactions build up trust and in turn, loyalty.

Repeated interactions can also lead to a business becoming the ‘routine solution’ for a consumer’s need or want; anything (including customer engagement) that can make a consumer’s life easier usually benefits the business. Customer loyalty can pay off as repeated sales interactions, and high potential for positive word-of-mouth advertising. The hope is to maximize the lifetime value of each customer.

3) Creativity loves QR codes

QR codes are traditionally black and white and rather mundane, but they are actually very versatile. In some cases, upwards of 25-30% of the QR code image can be blocked, and the code will still be scannable. This means businesses can get creative with their designs, and make their codes more attractive. A more attractive code is a code that yearns to be scanned! Check out a few cool examples below. However, keep in mind that the more a QR code is distorted, the harder it will be for others to scan it.

4) QR codes can be placed almost anywhere

Another reason businesses should love QR codes is the fact that they can go anywhere. Codes can be printed or painted and applied to advertisements such as magazine ads, flyers, brochures, and more. They can be made into stickers, and affixed to pretty much anything, even products and product labels. QR codes also work online as digital images. All this versatility should be leaving companies drooling at the opportunity to engage customers.


Getting consumers to scan your QR codes

With all that was said about the negative opinions surrounding QR codes, it is still possible to change the perspective of potential consumers. QR codes need to offer consumers something special – they can already access your website on their phone, without the help of a QR code.

Offering a special promotion or deal can prompt consumers to scan your code. Even asking people to like or follow your social media profiles can be a good idea, IF you offer something in return. Why should people follow your company? Surveys show that most people follow businesses in order to get special offers or sales, so this is a great place to start.

Companies are also directing users from QR codes to their own brand application. In a practice that is becoming more common, companies are creating their own mobile applications for consumers to install and use. These applications offer a variety of functions, such as store maps or specials, store locators, and more. They offer value to consumers and allow for repeated interactions, creating trust and loyalty.

The newest innovation in QR codes – Audible Tags

Audible Tags give voice to business through scanning technologies such as QR codes. Check out a past blog about creating customer engagement via mobile marketing and Audible Tags.

Free QR code scanners:

Need a scanner for your smartphone? Here are our favorite free scanners, by device:





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