Take Your Marketing To The Streets: A QR Code Primer

QR codes are powerful little marketing tools. These 2D barcodes

QR codes are powerful little marketing tools. These 2D barcodes bridge the gap between the real world and mobile Internet, allowing customers to interact with your content in new ways.

We showed you how to build your email list offline with QR codes that link to your web form. Here are some best practices to keep in mind, along with some other ways that QR codes can supplement your email marketing.

Best Practice #1: Use For Offline Marketing

QR codes boil down to ease of use.

Through the magic of QR codes, consumers can interact with your brand in unexpected places. Mobile web means they can explore your content away from their home computer.

That’s why QR codes make the most sense in print – on billboards, stickers, fliers, signs, business cards, in magazines, anywhere people might see them on the go. The point is to drive them to your mobile site to make a purchase, join your mailing list, download a coupon, find out more about your business or something else that makes their interaction with you easy and enjoyable.

It makes sense to print a QR code on a business card to hand out at conferences and build your email list. It doesn’t make sense to use a QR code in your email newsletter itself.

When your subscribers are already online, it’s much easier for them to click a text link to access your extra content. QR codes are about ease and convenience, remember? Asking readers to scan a code instead of clicking a link isn’t easy or convenient.

Offline, they make sense and enhance the user experience. Online, they’re a hassle.*

Key Practice:
Don’t use QR codes in place of a text link online. Do use QR codes in other venues when you want to give customers easy access to your information.

Best Practice #2: Make It Easy To Scan

QR codes possess a novelty factor that makes them fun to interact with. That also means that not every smartphone user is going to know what to do with your code.

Providing some quick instructions will help clueless customers engage with your content.

Kellogg’s has a fun QR code campaign on boxes of their Crunchy Nut cereal.

They clearly explain how to interact with the code and where the customer ends up when they’ve scanned it.

Also remember that not everyone has a smartphone. Give customers another option, like Kellogg’s does here. If your QR code links to a landing page, include the URL with the code so those with mobile web access but no scanning apps can still interact.

You should also consider your QR code’s density – the number of small dots your code contains. QR codes that contain a lot of data are denser and harder to read. If you’re linking to a long URL, use a link shortener to keep your code easily readable.

Key Practice:
The more scannable, the better. Shorten links if you need to so your QR codes are less dense and easier to read.

Best Practice #3: Make Content Worth Scanning

Embrace the novelty of QR codes by offering something useful and fun.

EMarketer revealed in a recent study that most customers scan QR codes to access discounts and additional information about a product or service. The more valuable the information linked to your QR code, the more people will want to scan it.

You’ll also need a clear call to action. What are you offering? What happens when your code gets scanned? Where does it take your customers? What do you want them to do once they reach your landing page?

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you were confronted with your code and call to action, would the offer compel you to reach for your phone, download an app and scan the code to view your content?

If the novelty of your QR code doesn’t get you excited enough to scan it, it won’t excite your customers either.

The Vancouver Opera brought patrons to the theater through this cryptic QR code campaign.

Codes peppering the city linked to a YouTube video presentation on the historical legend behind the opera.

The posters were intriguing enough to get people scanning. The video content was relevant and interesting to their target audience.

Internet radio station Y-Not Radio uses QR codes on fliers distributed at concerts.

Scanning the code with a smartphone opens a page that links to downloadable radio apps for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.

The apps let listeners stream the station on the go.

Key Practice:
Make it worth your audience’s time to scan your code and reward them for their efforts.

Best Practice #4: Get Creative

QR codes let you engage your customers in fun, new ways. Charm your customers with some other creative uses like:

(via The Fifty)

Sending them on a scavenger hunt. Place a web form on your landing pages so customers can sign up for clues. Include pieces of a coupon on each landing page with the last piece linked in a QR code at your storefront.

This image is an example of a scavenger hunt that Red Door Interactive ran at South by Southwest in 2010. Players looking for clues were registered to win a new laptop at the end of the game.

(via Social Media Examiner)

Google ran a Favorite Places campaign that gave establishments across the US a QR code decal linking to their business profile with location information and customer reviews.

You can carry on the spirit of Google’s initiative by generating your own code that links to your Yelp! reviews or map location. Place it in your window so people passing by can get all the information they need in one quick scan.

(via Flickr user Amanda Mooney)

Linking your physical store to your online store. Retailers like Ralph Lauren take window shopping to the next level with QR codes that customers can scan to purchase items they like when the store is closed.

(via 2d Code)

Wineries use QR codes to give their customers more information about vintages, varieties and food parings. The code on this bottle from Cortes de Cima links to a mobile page with tasting notes from other wine connoisseurs.

Wine fans can also check out related varieties and get more information about the winery on the landing page.

Embrace The Viral Potential

When used right, QR codes can bring your site more traffic and your email campaign more subscribers. They have a ton of creative potential even beyond the uses discussed here. And the fact that they’re new and a little mysterious can send your campaign viral with the right content. It’s all about the focus and the value.

What kind of fun, engaging content can you use to supplement your email marketing campaign?


  1. Angela Wills

    10/28/2011 10:37 am

    These are great examples of using QR codes.

    I’d never given much thought about how to use them because I still have no clue how to get a QR code or even how to use them myself! (bad business owner, lol).

    Your post does have me thinking though:

    – QR code linking to a video made specifically for people who scan the code. Some sort of message congratulating them on being techy enough to use it and offering a freebie of some sort.

    – QR code linking to a special offer.

    – I’m also a website designer, I think a code linking straight to my portfolio for potential clients would be pretty cool.

    Any suggestions on how to get a QR code? Is it something that I have to pay to have done or can it be automatically generated from any URL?

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Rebekah Henson

    10/28/2011 10:52 am

    Hi Angela,

    Those are all excellent ways to use a QR code!

    As for generating a code yourself, the post I linked to in the beginning of this article shows you how to do that: https://www.aweber.com/blog/email-marketing/build-your-list-with-qr-codes.htm

    That post recommends a free QR code generator called Kaywa, which you can find right here: http://qrcode.kaywa.com/

    Just copy and paste the URL of your web page, video or web form, click the “Generate” button, and the site creates a QR code for you. You can save the QR code image to your computer and add it to your print materials in any graphic editing program.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Tyler

    10/29/2011 12:53 pm

    QR Codes are a great way for businesses to connect with clients and customers in new and exciting ways. As a marketer you connect your clients to website URL’s, phone numbers, email addresses, Facebook Fan Pages (Like button), Twitter Follow button and much more.

  4. Lasse Rouhiainen

    11/1/2011 11:01 am

    Thanks for these great examples.

    I think the most important thing is to teach your organization everything about QR codes so they can educate clients on how to download the best app for Iphone etc… The main thing is to teach your employees so that everyone sees the potential QR codes really have.

  5. Andre

    11/1/2011 12:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing these ideas. I especially like the idea of making QR codes fun and using intrigue. It’s a great way to approach marketing with QR codes.

  6. Tim

    11/1/2011 1:35 pm

    I just noticed that http://bit.ly now has a built in QR generator for their short links (you may have to sign up for a free account, but it is worth it because you can track ALL of your links, clicks, traffic, etc. in 1 place)

    Just something I noticed recently which makes it very convenient to work with QR codes.

  7. Ryan G

    11/1/2011 6:40 pm

    Ever since someone pointed out to me the gaudiness of QR codes in advertising I wasn’t able to look at them the same. It was like my marketers eye blinded me from seeing how out of place QR codes can be. Some would argues this is a good thing, because it sticks out and all, but reality is that so relatively few people recognize them or know what to do with them that the adverse affect they have on the visual experience can outweigh the benefit.

    Some companies, such as Budweiser, and Toyota who originally invented QR codes for tracking inventory purposes, have come out with their own “tagging” system”. It doesn’t simplify the process for the advertisee, but it is more visually appealing and brand-minded.

  8. Brian Knox

    11/2/2011 2:41 am

    G’day everyone,
    One thing that I don’t like is when articles use acronyms like QR and do not explain what they mean. My understanding is that QR stand for Quick Response (Code). Maybe I missed the explanation somewhere. If I did please accept my apology.

    Many thanks for the article, it certainly gave me some ideas for my marketing business.

  9. Jeni

    11/5/2011 5:55 pm

    We are trying to find a way to track inventory better.The inventory consists of metal containers (nothing exciting to see online).Anyone knows if QR codes would help with our inventory? It is very time consuming to match the inventory program with the item since they are so big and in many locations.
    I’d appreciate any input.