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Over the past couple of years, QR codes have cropped up everywhere from billboards to ketchup bottles, and have become a must-have gimmick for some marketers. 

At our Digital Cream event this week, I was discussing QR and mobile marketing with Mark Brill, who had been moderating the mobile roundtable. 

The upshot is that, when used well, QR codes can be a useful tactic for marketers, when used badly they're utterly pointless. 

Mark showed me some excellent examples of QR codes, good and bad, from his Pinterest page.

Here is a selection of those....

Good QR

QR at point of sale

This example is taken from Selfridges and, in case you hadn't guessed, it's a molecular cooking set. I'm not totally sure what it does, but I want one. 

The object itself arouses curiousity, but the QR code allows shoppers to find out more:

Why is this good? According to Mark Brill

There’s plenty of dwell time as it’s in the kitchen department of Selfridges. The engagement is pretty good, as it links to a useful video to explain how this new product works. It’s also well targeted. Those interested in molecular cooking are likely to be techie, probably have smartphones and will probably bother to scan the code.

Good use of QR in print

This is simple, but well-executed and would apply to a number of offline businesses. 

Simply scan the QR code on the VW ad, download the app, and find out where your local dealer is. 

Bad QR

Scan for T&Cs

No-one wants to read terms and conditions, let alone scan to view them on a small mobile screen. Why did they bother? 

Bad landing page

It's not just about placing a code somewhere people want to scan it, the whole journey needs to be taken into account. Look at Toyota for a good example of this.

While there's nothing especially wrong with the placement of this QR code, it takes users to a site with an out of date security certificate.

Ugly QR

On a travelator!

Yes, a travelator. This video was taken by Mark at an airport, and the QR codes are on a Minolta ad. Not exactly easy to scan... 

What is QR best practice? 

  • Make sure the QR code serves a purpose and adds to the user experience.
  • Make sure it leads to a mobile optimised site. 
  • Consider location. Look to place them where people have the time and opportunity to notice and scan them.
  • Don't just use QR for the sake of it. You're spoiling it for those that use it well. 
  • Put it where people will notice it.
  • Make the code big enough so people can scan it easily.
  • Include a call-to-action (CTA) telling users what they stand to benefit from scanning the code.
Graham Charlton

Published 22 March, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Raleigh Web Designer

I don't know that the VW print ad is really a good example of QR code for marketing. It seems like a lot of steps to find a dealership location. Wouldn't it be simpler to Google "nearby VW dealer" ?

about 3 years ago

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Roger

The 'Scan for T&Cs' is much worse than you think. Possibly the worst I have seen in five years of writing about QR Codes....

http://2d-code.co.uk/weetabix-qr-code/

about 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I take your point, though the VW app should be a better mobile experience than Google.

To be honest, a lot of QR can be replaced with a URL, unless mobile users already have the apps to make the most of QR.

It's just one of many tactics for marketers, useful if used well, but no better than many other tactics.

about 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Roger Good grief, that is awful. The 'install coupon printer' part is particularly bad.

Good of you to take the pain of that journey so no-one else has to ;)

about 3 years ago

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AZ

I think this is the most innovative use QR code I've ever seen (made by cakes!):
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2012-12/31/c_132074452.htm

about 3 years ago

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Mike

Ha! These are great! I laughed out loud actually! I'd never given these enough consideration though and this is getting my wheels turning, QR-wise! Thanks!

about 3 years ago

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Tw

QR codes are an awesome way to get people to lose control of their devices by sending them to a website where they may have no idea what is happening. A hacker need only to place a sticker in the wild, over a legitimate display. Add a false promise, perhaps a Free lingerie model, and the hook's got bait.

I like knowing about the good uses though, thanks.

about 3 years ago

David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

I really appreciate them on the billboards next to the freeway so it's out of range or you almost have an accident using your phone... also always great placement on the back of bus shelters on the road side so you have to stand in front of on coming traffic to scan it...

about 3 years ago

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Stephanie Fung

I like your example of the good QR being used for that molecular cooking set. I recently scanned a code on a kitchen appliance that just took me to a pdf of the same content that was printed on the packaging so some are still failing at QR codes at the point of sale.

Vodafone had a really cool campaign turning a metro station into a digital library in Romania. http://qrartist.net/blog/?p=290

about 3 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

Nope - Selfridges QR is a FAIL for two reasons.

I noticed the QRs were not the same, so I checked them.

1.
Both QR codes in your picture have a call to action of 'Scan here for video'.

BUT the top one links to the molecule-r.com home page and not a video as implied. The bottom one links to their YouTube channel - though I was expecting to get an immediate video shown.

2.
Neither QR has any tracking in the URL so they have no idea how many people scanned or whether they should do more of less of this in-store QR placement. The simple question of was it worth it can't be answered.

Whilst the concept may be better than some of the other QR code uses, the execution let's this campaign down.

Good marketing badly executed = bad marketing.

about 3 years ago

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Denyse

Whilst many comments here, and in general about the topic of QR codes, refer to whether or not they are of use, Tim has pinpointed the problem. As with everything, a tool can be well or badly handled, which makes for good or bad workmanship.
QR codes are a fabulously simple way of engaging your customers IF used in an appropriate place and time. If not they just take up space and use it poorly.

about 3 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

For the Selfidges one wouldn't it be better to just have a small TV with the video on it and not bother with the QR code at all??

I would say a good percentage of people who saw it would either

A - have no idea what a QR code is

B - not have the right app to scan it on their phone

C - not have good enough internet access

D - not have the time to scan it

E - work in marketing and think, "ooo a QR code, I wonder what they done" and scan and watch he video

F - be an actual customer and happen to scan and watch the video

I suspect there wouldn't be many Fs!

about 3 years ago

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Ewan Murray

At our wine tastings we put a QR code on the paper order form included in the tasting notes. This takes the taster through to a dedicated landing page for the particular tasting they are at, enabling them to easily click and order. So simple, convenient and appreciated. They used to have to wait until they got home, but now they can order on the spot, even in the most remote of locations.

about 3 years ago

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Andrew

I'm wary of QR codes as I'm not completely convinced that we know how best to really use them yet.

I've seen the tracked data from a few QR codes on campaigns that my employer has run, and they generally have little/no traffic. Admittedly this could be down to the CTA (why would you even scan that American Express one above - where's the CTA?)

I've seen them in (what i consider) good usage with regards to tourism - where they give more information about a building/monument etc.

Rio de Janeiro:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21274863

Monmouth, Wales:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/wikipedia/9274591/Monmouth-to-be-worlds-first-Wikipedia-town.html

.. and i've seen them being used on graves (yes, right there on a headstone!) where the QR code links through to a webpage which contains photos, videos, memories etc of the loved on buried beneath your feet.

about 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Tim Good points, I think the placement and size/contrast etc are good in the Selfridges example, as well as the idea of linking to a video.

However, the top QR doesn't do at it says (I didn't check, assuming it was the same as bottom one) and yes, why not track usage?

It's amazing, when best practice is relatively easy to define in this area (easy to scan code, good placement, compelling reason to scan and mobile landing page) how many can't seem to get the full excecution right.

@Peter I guess the reason is that QR is cheaper than TV, and perhaps Selfridges assumes that the target audience for such a product is tech savvy (not an unreasonable assumption). I'm definitely an E btw...

@Tw if they ever really took off (while I doubt) then spam and malware would become a real problem. Perhaps, as Mark Brill suggested, the spammers know that no-one uses them ;)

about 3 years ago

Steve Harvey-Franklin

Steve Harvey-Franklin, Director at AttercopiaSmall Business

Thanks Graham,

There are always people, looking for the silver bullet in marketing, the get rich quick scheme, these guys will try anything once but not think it through from the consumer's journey, then say it doesn't work. How many people do we know after doing 2 blogs say "it failed" (and would we be surprised if the first post was "welcome to our new blog".)

I think the QR code is and can be a great marketing device, but as you intimate, slapping QR codes everywhere with no plan, purpose will almost always fail

about 3 years ago

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ScottyDog

We have tried something different, a QR code on our ski test van.

http://www.edgeandwax.co.uk/blog.aspx?tag=ski-test

When we are at demos or even on the Dover-Calais ferry we have had people scanning the QR code, not quite as effective when we are on the Autobahn heading to Austria though :o) But we have seen it being scanned as skiers and boarders are wondering what we are doing, who we are, etc.

about 3 years ago

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David Lee

I've seen QR codes put on buses. Now unless it's stationary no one will be scanning. Then the thought that should drivers in their cars, vans etc should be using their smartphones when they should be driving?

about 3 years ago

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Kevin Evans

@Roger @Graham,
Alpen is not alone. Tesco's current 'find the eggs' campaign also uses the coupon printer. Shocking customer experience.

about 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Kevin Unbelievable. What is the point of the coupon printer?

about 3 years ago

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MediaLab 3D Solutions

Love these, Graham!

Wondering why, though, more companies aren't using QR codes for helping customers *after* the sale has taken place...like for product installation and troubleshooting. Does anyone have any good examples? For example, adding a QR code to a water filter that instantly shows how to install? Some other ideas of how QR codes could help in customer service:
http://blog.medialab3dsolutions.com/2012/05/qr-codes-sale/

Thanks!

about 3 years ago

Aaron Kocourek

Aaron Kocourek, Chief Strategist at Reputation Advocate

Honestly I can't remember the last time I scanned a QR code it has been that long ago. Isn't this trend dying off pretty quickly?

about 3 years ago

Lenka Istvanova

Lenka Istvanova, Marketing Project Manager at Freestak

Great post Graham! Many small business owners should read and learn from it as they think they can use it just for the sake of it.
I think that with QR codes you need to be especially creative and know your audience. You can see so many bad and not effective examples (just look around you). It's all start with the target audience; if your target market are people over 50 they certainly won't be able to use their simple (not smart) phones to scan it.

As we can see QR codes can be very effective but again you need to research whether the usage of QR codes in your campaigns is feasible.

about 3 years ago

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Malcolm Martin

Lenka - over 50's not having Smartphones? Where do you live?

about 3 years ago

Lenka Istvanova

Lenka Istvanova, Marketing Project Manager at Freestak

Hi Malcolm, I know some of them are using even iPads. However I doubt that majority are proficient on smart phones and all of the technology gadgets. Why would companies (eg Motorola) even come up with phones made for old people.

about 3 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

@Lenka @Malcolm No need to guess about smartphone use in the UK.

New IPSOS Mori survey data shows smartphone penetration in over 50's at around 20%, indeed much lower than younger people.

Read the highlights of the survey data here:
http://www.smartinsights.com/marketplace-analysis/customer-analysis/ipsos-british-internet-use/

Its got a really good breakdown by age and social grouping.

about 3 years ago

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Rajiv

Is it possible to have two function in single 2D code itself so that 1) user while scanning with mobile can to go web site 2) while a 2D scanner can read serial number in it.

Pls. advise

about 3 years ago

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Kell Egbert, Co-Owner & CSMO at Wave Unified Communications

I really liked your post Graham. A year has pass and people still have doubts about QR Codes and its best practices.

I also added a blog post about it on our website: http://www.waveuc.com/qr-code-small-business-marketing/

about 2 years ago

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