QR codes seem to be everywhere these days. Those black and white square barcodes pop up on advertisements, products, menus, business cards, and more. Simply scan them with your smartphone camera and instantly direct you to a website, coupon, video, or other digital content.
With the rise in QR code usage over the past couple of years, especially during the pandemic, many businesses wonder if they should be using them too. A QR code generator can be a helpful tool for businesses looking to create custom codes that can be scanned by customers for various purposes. Are QR codes an effective marketing and engagement tool or just a fad? In this comprehensive article, we’ll examine the pros, cons, and best practices around QR codes to help you decide if they’re right for your needs.
A Brief History of QR Codes
First, let’s quickly look at what QR codes are and how they came about. QR stands for “quick response” code, and they were invented in 1994 by a Japanese auto parts company called Denso Wave. The intent was to track vehicles during the manufacturing process.
However, QR code took off when the camera functionality in smartphones became mainstream in the late 2000s. Once people could easily scan the codes with their phones, new uses emerged. Over the past decade, QR codes have become popular for:
- Product packaging and marketing
- Sharing website URLs
- Signing up for email lists
- Downloading apps
- Accessing menus
- Getting coupons or special offers
- Watching videos
- Following social media profiles
- And much more!
During 2020 and beyond, QR code use accelerated even further. They provided a seamless, no-touch way for restaurants, event venues, schools, and other organizations to share digital information.
Now, let’s analyze the key benefits and drawbacks of QR codes for business and marketing purposes.
Benefits of Using QR Codes
1. Convenience and Instant Access
One of the biggest appeals of QR codes is how quick and easy they are for users. Rather than having to manually type in a long URL or search for something, scanning a code immediately pulls up the desired content. This delivers convenience and makes accessing additional information ultra-fast.
2. Trackable Analytics
Unlike static print marketing, you can track analytics around QR code scans to see how many people engage with your content. This helps inform your marketing strategy. Some QR code generation platforms provide detailed metrics like:
- Number of scans
- Location of scans
- Times of day/week scans occur
- Which device types scan most often
- Scans by the operating system
These insights allow you to optimize your QR code advertising and placement.
3. Versatile Use Cases
As mentioned, QR codes can direct to all sorts of digital content, everything from videos to coupons to menus and more. This versatility makes them useful across industries and use cases. Dynamic QR codes can even have their destination URL changed without altering the code itself.
Overall, QR codes represent an affordable marketing tactic. Free or low-cost code generators are abundant. QR codes can be added to existing print materials like signs, flyers, business cards, and product packaging without driving up design and printing costs. For maximum reach, you can share digital QR graphics on your website, emails, and social channels at no extra cost.
5. Consumer Engagement
When used strategically, QR codes grab people’s attention and satisfy their desire for immediacy and digital connection. Rather than merely providing static information, scannable codes deliver an interactive experience. Users feel rewarded when the code gives them exclusive access to a coupon, contest entry, or video content.
Drawbacks and Challenges of QR Codes
Of course, it’s not all upside to QR codes. There are some disadvantages and obstacles to consider as well.
1. Security Vulnerabilities
One downside of QR codes is the potential for misuse. Hackers can redirect codes to malicious sites to spread malware or steal data. However, reputable code generators have built-in scans to detect these risks. Only create and scan codes from trusted sources.
2. Perceived Complexity
For those less tech-savvy, QR codes may seem complicated or intimidating. Some demographics, like senior citizens, have lower smartphone adoption and may struggle with scanning codes. Provide clear instructions and guidance to make the process seamless.
3. Poor Design Integration
Sometimes QR codes feel like an afterthought slapped onto a product or ad without a strategic purpose. Poor visual design integration can detract from your brand. QR codes should enhance the user experience, not clutter up your marketing materials.
4. Low Scan Rates
There is no guarantee that QR codes will get scanned by consumers despite prominent placement. Scanning rates vary widely based on positioning, contextual relevance, scanning incentives, and user awareness. Don’t rely solely on QR codes to convey critical information.
5. Lack of Tracking
Unlike digital ads, you can’t track whether someone looked at or noticed your QR code — only if they actually scanned it. The percentage that gets scanned out of the overall impressions is unknown.
Now that we’ve explored the upsides and downsides, let’s look at some tips and best practices for QR code success.
Tips for QR Code Effectiveness
Follow these strategies to boost scans and get the most mileage out of your QR codes:
Place QR Codes Strategically Based on Purpose
- Put a code leading to more product info or reviews on product packaging, shelves, or advertisements.
- Include a code with a coupon or special offer on signs, menus, and flyers.
- Stick a code that opens a landing page on marketing handouts and event materials.
- Add a code that saves contact info to your business card.
- Embed a code opening an online feedback form at the checkout counter.
Think about your goal and then position codes where users will find them relevant and convenient.
Make Them Visually Stand Out
QR codes already attract attention thanks to their distinctive pattern. But you can make them pop even more by:
- Enlarging the code size if possible.
- Adding white space around the code for clarity.
- Using colors, logos, or designs to highlight the code without distorting readability.
- Placing codes in expected locations like corners rather than the center of designs.
Notify Users with Call-to-Actions
Don’t just stick a QR code on something and hope users notice and scan it. Prompt them to act by adding text like “Scan code for coupon” or “Learn more — Scan now.” Clarify the value.
Give Users Mobile-Friendly Destinations
The destinations you link your QR codes to should provide a seamless mobile experience. If someone scans your code and lands on a desktop-only website with tiny text, that’s frustrating. Send them to mobile-optimized pages.
Use Dynamic Codes When Possible
As mentioned earlier, dynamic QR codes allow you to update the digital destination without generating a whole new code. This lets you easily switch a code from one link to another. It also enables you to track scans over time across multiple campaigns using a single code.
Provide Incentives and Value
Give users a compelling reason to engage with your QR code, whether a coupon, contest, exclusive content, or something else of value. Simply directing people to your homepage isn’t intriguing enough. There should be an immediate payoff for scanning.
Follow these tips and best practices to create scannable codes that captivate audiences and enhance your marketing.
Examples of Effective QR Code Uses
Here are some real-world examples of brands using QR codes effectively:
COS, a contemporary fashion brand, printed QR codes on the hang tags of select clothing items. Scanning opens an immersive augmented reality experience showing unique behind-the-scenes video content about the product’s origins and design details. This engages customers while educating them.
Target uses large QR codes on outdoor banners and print ads, directing people to mobile-friendly landing pages with deals, product info, and online shopping for advertised items. The Instagram-like pages nudge customers along the sales funnel.
TGI Fridays restaurants in the UK put scannable QR codes on tables during critical moments instead of physical menus. Users could peruse the menu on their phones and order directly from their tables, minimizing contact and paper waste.
Software companies like Salesforce integrate QR codes on business cards that, when scanned, automatically add contact info to someone’s address book or LinkedIn network. No manually entering details.
These real-world examples demonstrate how QR codes can provide value across industries when paired with compelling content.
To summarize the key points in this comprehensive guide:
- QR code use is growing, especially after the pandemic made touchless engagement essential.
- The biggest benefits of QR codes are convenience, trackable analytics, versatility, cost-effectiveness, and user engagement.
- Potential downsides include security risks, design issues, low scan rates, and lack of user awareness or tech comfort.
- Strategic visibility, appealing destinations, relevant contexts, and incentives drive scan rates and effectiveness.
- Dynamic QR codes allow updating destinations without altering visual codes.
- Follow best practices for placement, design, calls-to-action, and mobile-friendly content.
Carefully consider your goals, audiences, and ideal user experience as you explore integrating QR codes into your marketing. Used strategically and seamlessly, they can be an interactive, instant way to engage digital consumers. Just be sure to avoid treating them as an out-of-context afterthought.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What percentage of people actually scan QR codes?
QR code scan rates vary widely based on positioning and campaigns. Some studies have shown 1-2% average scan rates, while others indicate up to 35% for targeted promotion-driven codes. The key is strategic visibility and giving people an incentivized context to scan.
What happens if someone scans my QR code that no longer works?
With dynamic QR codes, you can swap out expired destinations for updated active links. For standard static codes, users will get an error if the code goes nowhere. This demonstrates why dynamic codes are ideal if you plan to run QR code campaigns long-term.
Can I track QR code scans over time?
Yes, most reputable QR code generators provide analytics like the number and location of scans over given periods. This allows you to track trends and optimize usage.
Do QR codes work for email marketing campaigns?
Absolutely. Include scannable codes on email newsletters, promotions, e-vites, and more that direct recipients to online content. The ability to track click-through rates provides metrics on engagement.
What’s the best way to get people to scan my QR codes?
Smart visibility, enticing destinations, clear calls-to-action, and providing immediate value upon scanning are key to driving people to interact with your QR codes. Think strategically about placement, messaging, incentives, and user experience.