Marketing with QR codes

Wondering how to get started with QR codes? Our guide showing the marketing applications and campaign examples

QR Code Billboard

As Smart Phones and Smart Phone Apps increase in usage we're seeing a lot more interest in how to use QR codes (also known as 2D barcodes or mobile tagging) as a part of the marketing mix. This in-depth discussion on how to use QR codes for marketing on our Smart Insights Linked In Group is an example of this interest.

Late last year Nielsen predicted that smart phones will be the dominant device by the end of 2011, so there's certainly a reason to be taking this area more seriously.

What are QR codes?

Firstly, in case you're not 100% clear on what QR codes are - QR - 'Quick Response', originally invented in Japan for tracking components in factories.

In short, they offer a method of effectively adding web based content, a URL really, to real-world messages, objects or locations. So they're great for integrated campaigns to offer a digital offer and drive engagement with a brand, ultimately leading to interactions on a website, social site through the mobile.

The novelty is the way your phone scans and "clicks" to access the content, so they're inherently tied to smart phone usage. Any user with a smartphone will need to do a one-time download a free application which makes use of the phone's camera, but other than that you're away.

Note that there are several variations of code too, so choose a widely adopted one like Jumpscan, EZ code (big in the US) or the original QR Code by Denso in Japan. Different code types require a different reader.

Marketing applications of QR codes

The applications for marketing are quite vast and pretty obvious when you think about it - you can even create your own QR codes easily enough, as explained by this this post last year on Mashable.

So to get started, we suggest asking the right questions as for any campaign rather than jumping onto QR for the sake of it:

  • Who are the audience - are they even using smart phones that way, what's missing that QR codes could add?
  • Amongst the many touch-points the consumer has with your brand - which could favour QR codes, why and any obvious quick wins to test that?
  • What are your campaign goals - Don't forget the real functional uses of QR codes, post-purchase or on the product itself - might that be the best place to test?
  • What are they going to do at the end of the QR code - shiny technologies don't mask awful content - please remember to make sure that the page you take the user too works well on a smart phone - obvious, but"€¦!
  • How powerful is your offer - Can you provide enough reward for using - something really helpful, valuable or rewarding?
  • Is the offer relevant to the audience and related to the service or product your promoting -  the example above doesn't get this right.

Remember to assist users with what to do, QR codes or 2D barcodes are still new enough that people will likely need a little direction as well as a good enough reason to give it a try.

Our top 7 applications for QR codes

There many decent blog posts (just Google "QR code examples") that illustrate a lot of uses of codes and will give you to food for thought, some are not so creative, but sometimes the simple functional campaigns are most effective - think QR codes on business cards, sorry that's really mundane!

Here's a list of the top applications that I feel have the best combination of practicality, cost and impact:

  1. Maps and signage - "point and find" or "you are here" - this can work well at events, theme parks are large complexes - where someone might need specific guidance to get to something, quickly. You can even create forms of engagement for virtual treasure hunts, or "find your nearest"
  2. Coupons and special deals - obvious and likely to become the most exploited, allow users to redeem offers in specific locations, ideally with a time limited offer so they act now
  3. In-store drive to web - when retail experiences can be so bland, imagine bringing content into that space that offers a richer experience (not a hard sell), check out the PUMA case study at the foot of this post for a great example of this one
  4. How-to advice - Rich advice based content in the form of "How to" video or maybe audio - great for DIY or interior design, even recipes and cooking advice, maybe a bottle of wine at a restaurant
  5. After sales care - ever struggled to assemble flat packed furniture or wondered where the specific help area is for the product you have, maybe you just want to add to the "new purchase" experience by having a value-add waiting online for that new consumer or use it for activating a guarantee with data capture
  6. Direct response mechanic on any advertising (press, TV, outdoor media, direct mail or brochures) - do ensure the landing page appreciates where I've come from, that's a wasted opportunity and can be limiting for the user
  7. E-ticketing - with the ease of creating QR codes, you can issue e-tickets easily enough and have that scanned from your phone to enable access

The common theme here is that QR codes make rich and relevant interactions possible, and they do it, well, quickly! You (the brand) get the opportunity to add value to the consumer or prospective consumer, they're not only about exploiting the opportunity of a "great offer" that you might want to make 🙂 Could be worth trailing something soon since the time maybe now for the best combination of novelty factor and consumer awareness as to what they are.

PUMA: using QR codes for a designer menswear launch

Having spoken only today with the marketing team at PUMA, they were explaining how they're implementing QR codes as part of a new product launch taking place at the London Selfridges store. The team are doing a great job of demonstrating the use of QR codes to provide in-store engagement at the launch a new designer range of range of PUMA menswear by the designer Hussein Chalayan.

As of Friday 4th Feb 2011, Selfridges will have a new installation that leverages the story behind the designer range, utilising over 50 decorated poles bearing individual QR codes taking you to different web content, each telling a part of the story behind the range, in this case it's various cities around the world that Chalayan has drawn from to create the range.

Kate Hasse, Lifestyle PR manager at PUMA UK, comments that "the goal is to bring Hussein Chalayan's design inspiration directly into the Selfridges store, to help provide a much richer experience for the consumer and immerse them in the new range."  What's more, the team are placing 1,500 co-branded cubes around Selfridges and nearby parts of the city throughout February, the cubes use a different, shared QR code for passers by to scan, these take you to PUMA's YouTube page which is currently promoting the launch at the Selfridges store and some information about the range.

Clearly this implementation could be done to varying extents at any store, so whereas the flagship Selfridges is a notably serious interior design installation, you could easily utilise a lightweight implementation in other, less prestigious stores. It's the bringing of the story (web content) into store that's neat, and also trying those QR codes as a means to generate in-store foot fall.

Another example of a QR code marketing campaign

Here's an example of a QR code campaign for business travellers in the US from Curio Consulting. We like this because:

  • It has a clear offer with a choice (although the offer itself is weak)
  • It explains the technology (important since QR codes are a new technology)
  • It integrates with the site (drives traffic even when there are no campaigns)

However - there is no clear connection of the offer with the service which is a fundamental flaw!

Let us know of any examples of QR codes that have grabbed you!

Share your thoughts

  • chris commented on May 18, 2011

    This is a new seperate comment.

  • We’ll soon be launching our QR Code coupon service called Qredits. I think you’re right that this will become the most exploited use of the QR Code and we plan to be at the top of it.

  • Nice post Danyl – there is no doubt that there are more and more QR codes out there and they are interesting.

    Do you have any research on how many people actually scan them? I haven’t seen that anywhere but would be interested to see some stats.

    If anyone is bored / having a slow Friday afternoon / is interested in exploring how many people scan the codes, have a look at a QR code test and see what you think. (Please note that this is a link to our site, but we hope that it serves a purpose related to this article. Totally understand if you want to moderate the comment!).


    • Thanks Joe

      I was hoping to see some response figures from our LinkedIn discussion, but there weren’t any. I think I”ll remain unconvinced until I see them clickthough rates (that’s click on the phone “shutter”)!

      I like your test, but it should explain what you get for the test!

      Hope all well.

      • Hi Dave,

        A shame that there was not a bigger response from the Linkedin discussion, as it would be very interesting to know.

        Is there actually any way to measure how many people click on the phone shutter though? All the apps that I have seen ‘translate’ the qr code into something (be it a url or message, etc.) but then give you the opportunity to follow that or not. You can obviously track click throughs to a url pretty easily, but I can’t seen any way to actually measure how many people scan the code?

        Our ‘test’ was more a bit of Friday fun rather than anything too scientific. We were going to put some incentive to scan it but decided against it on the basis that it was really just a test to see if intrigue got the better of people. Not very much traffic to the page, so hard to tell but I am not holding my breath right now waiting for QR codes to become the future of everything.

        I think they do work well in places though and always good to see discussion about these things.

        All good here thank you and I hope you are well. Always look forward to the Friday email!

  • Hello,

    we believe that QR codes will make the connection between offline and online worlds easier. That’s why we created our QR code generator with social features – You can add all your info like Facebook profile or fan page, twitter, youtube, etc. and connect with others.


    • chris commented on May 17, 2011

      this is a test reply to see how and indented message looks when you reply to another comment.

      • chris commented on May 17, 2011

        This is a third level comment to see how the indentation looks here too.

  • The potential that QR has as an additional form of engagement is great, I think it will take off because of the novelty value at the moment as you mentioned and the speed and variety of uses for it. Thank you for sharing.

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