There’s a Right and a Wrong Way to Use QR Codes

FreedomVoice QR Code

QR codes, short for Quick Response, were supposed to be the next big thing in mobile advertising. The pixelated square codes can be easily scanned by the more than 82.2 million smartphone users in the US, supposedly to earn some kind of instant benefit. It certainly sounds like a good idea, but many savvy marketers that have given QR codes a try have been sorely disappointed with the response. The number one problem businesses are having with QR codes is that the offer doesn’t live up to the expectation they’re creating. This isn’t just a problem facing startups and entrepreneurs – big businesses have struggled, too.

From my own experience, when I scan a QR code I expect some sort of immediate reward or Easter egg for taking the time to engage with the advertisement. There’s nothing more disappointing than scanning a code only to be taken to the regular home page of whatever company caught my eye. This is where marketers are failing. If you see a web address printed somewhere, you can remember it and visit it later. A QR code has to be scanned on location or taken home  for later review. That’s a lot more work, so there better be a payoff for the user’s time and energy.

From a customer’s perspective, that’s the gamble behind QR codes. You don’t know where it will take you, but you hope it will be worth your time and show you something useful. And when it doesn’t, the letdown can harm the brand’s reputation and the customer’s willingness to engage in the future.

If you haven’t had much luck with QR codes, or are yet to try them out, there are a few simple things you can do to give yourself a better shot of making them work for you.

Thumbs Up:

The Red Cross proved great design is possible with QR codes.

Customize your QR codes. You can alter about 30% of the image and maintain its readability. Try incorporating your logo or product in some way. Also, don’t be afraid to change the colors to make it really stand out. The QR Code is your call to action. Make it enticing. Test the code with multiple QR scanning apps before publishing to make sure your customization didn’t render the code unreadable.

Location, location, location. The most creative QR code in the world won’t mean a thing if it is in an irrelevant location. QR Code billboards on the highway? Bad idea and just plain unsafe. QR codes on a disposable coffee cup? Genius.

Thumbs Down:

Destination. Just as important as the physical location of the QR code is the destination of where the code will take the user. Making a QR code just to have one is tempting, but it needs to make sense. It seems obvious that users will be visiting your QR code destination from a mobile device, but many QR codes lead to non-mobile websites resulting in a frustrating user experience.

Content. Congratulations, your QR code has broken through the clutter and convinced someone to take the time to scan it. Will it be worth it? If you’re thinking, “Yes, take a picture and it takes you to our website. How cool is that!” then the user probably won’t think too highly of your brand. A good idea would be to create a special mobile landing page for the QR code. Offer an exclusive discount, an enticing contest, or at least a thank you for their taking the time to scan it. A little extra effort can go a long way.

Cool Tools:

  • Kaywa has a free tool for creating QR codes for URLs, SMS, phone numbers and plain text.
  • is a great URL shortener that automatically creates a QR code and tracks your clicks.

Also check out How to Use QR Codes for Small Business Marketing.

Quiz: Now that you have a better idea on how to use QR Codes, what did we do right and wrong with ours at the top of this post?

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