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QR codes can be a great response mechanism for mobile users, and have many potential uses for brands. 

Here is a rundown of the pros and cons of QR codes, as well as some examples of how to get it right... 

Pros

Ease of use

QR codes can be added to just about anything, from cereal packets to adverts on the Underground, and this versatility can be very useful for marketers. 

Range of uses

There are hundreds of potential uses of QR codes. Here are just ten suggestions for marketers, but they can be used to extend the user experience in restaurants, museums and more. 

QR codes are trackable

Using web analytics, and by using unique codes for different placements, marketers can gain some valuable information about how well campaigns are going, and what works and what doesn't. 

Easy way to send mobile users to online content

The QR code offers, as the name suggests, a quick response mechanism which saves users the effort of typing in a URL or an SMS shortcode.

Used well, and in conjunction with a mobile optimised landing page, it can grab consumers at the exact point where they have shown interest in an ad or video, and get them signed up for an email, tempt them into making a purchase etc. 

They appeal to mobile users' curiosity

Perhaps this will change once the novelty wears off, and codes become ubiquitous, but on seeing a QR code, I have the urge to scan it, just to find out where it leads. 

QR codes can be cost effective

Creating the QR code itself doesn't have to cost anything.

Cons

Other options are available

There are alternatives to QR codes which claim to offer a better user experience. For example, Blippar uses the creative itself, whether this is a logo, product image etc, and makes that the trigger for interaction. 

Users need to download a QR code reader

This is the big drawback for many. Mobile users have to download a (normally free) QR reader app before they can even begin to use them, which limits the audience. 

There are ways around this though. Some retailers, such as Best Buy in the US, have QR readers in their apps, while we my find that smartphone manufacturers will start to build this in to future devices. 

Scanning can be a long process

As Tim Dunn outlined in his recent article on QR, the actual process of scanning a code can be a pain. Users have to get their phone out, fire up the code reader, before scanning and waiting for the landing page. 

With a fast internet connection this may work fine, but on a variable 3G signal, many users may lose patience. 

Lack of awareness

I'm seeing more and more QR codes being used (I saw one on the BBC's Good Cook programme for instance), but only a minority of people are using them. 

For example, while comScore's figure of 14m US consumers scanning QR codes sounds a lot, it represents just 6.2% of US mobile users, and also mixes up barcode and QR scanning. 

People scan barcodes for different reasons (most obviously in store price comparison) than QR codes, which makes the figures a little misleading. 

Best practice examples

There have been some excellent, creative uses of QR codes, and these generally have a number of common factors: 

Give customers a reason to scan.

Curiosity alone may be enough, but if you can provide a more compelling reason, then users will reach into their pockets and scan the code. This AXA TV ad is one great example, but more obvious tactics like discount vouchers and games can also work well. 

Create some added value for users

This doesn't necessarily mean special offers, but extending the experience for mobile users. Radisson Edwardian's use of QR codes on their menus is one such example. 

Another is using QR codes on products in store, as Best Buy does. Customers scanning tags can see reviews and further information about products. 

Get the landing page right

People are on mobile, so landing pages, as well as subsequent purchase or sigh up processes, need to be optimised for mobile users. 

This is an obvious point, but not everyone gets this right. In the examples here, both MI5 and VK haven't thought this through. 

Mistakes to avoid

Not optimising your landing page is the obvious one, but there are other common mistakes to avoid. 

Not including a call to action

Explaining why people should scan a code and what they can expect to find helps... 

Give people time to scan the code

They can be a great response mechanism on TV or video, but you have to give people time to pick up their phone, launch the QR reader and scan.

How long this process takes may depend on the dexterity of the mobile user, but I'd say at least 10-20 seconds. 

I applaud the BBC's use of QR codes on the Good Cook programme to allow users to access recipes, but the code isn't on screen long enough, less than five seconds. Unless you can pause, it's useless. 

Don't just use QR codes for the sake of it

If you use these codes, it should have a purpose, not just to show off to your clients or customers. 

Graham Charlton

Published 15 August, 2011 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

Comments (17)

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Rufus Bazley

I actually had a company send me a QR code through twitter, it's was the most stupid thing I’ve even seen they wanted me to try and take a picture of it on a screen to then access a webpage on my phone when all i wanted was a link to a news article (epic fail on that one).

I think QR codes are a great idea when use correctly, on Tube Ads for example it's great idea and mean i don't need to remember a URL (because 99% of the time i won't remember it) but being used in twitter is just pure trend following and a waste of users time.

Thanks
R

about 5 years ago

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Russell Smith

Adverts on the tube are probably not the best place to put a QR code.

about 5 years ago

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Ralph Anderson

Great post, particularly good advice re the landing page. I have seen countless QR codes where the scan takes you to a non-optimised page.

However, I disagree with your second point in the 'Con' section - you still need to download an app to read Augmented Reality like BlippAR. These are all aimed at smartphone users because of what they are designed to do.
I would say the best QR reader app is RedLaser, because it can scan barcodes as well. If the creators of this app can incorporate an AR scanner in as well, it will be a really good app.

about 5 years ago

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Nick Moyes

A very good summary. One important missing point is the ability to have one QR code giving users different pages according to the language their phone is set to.

For example, Derby Museum in the UK was the first public institution to trial this earlier in 2011. It uses a single QR code generated from QRpedia.org to send users to different pages on Wikipedia. If there is no Wikipedia page in a users language (as recognised by their phone settings) the user is taken to the default language the original QR code was created for.

I've linked my name to a YouTube demonstration we did of this.

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Russell - yes, bad example. I was thinking of the Tesco Korea example, but that's only possible thanks to public wifi.

about 5 years ago

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Steven

I have to agree about the QR code on the good cook programme, I thought it was an excellent idea when I first saw it but I was at a house without a Sky or Freeview + box so pausing was not an option so it became pretty much useless.

about 5 years ago

Cleo Kirkland

Cleo Kirkland, Digital Strategist at Blue Fountain Media

Graham: great points and examples.

Russell: True. Jet Blue learned this lesson the hard way. And for "Worst Practice" examples what does anyone think about Betfair's stunt? For anyone that doesn't know, they put a QR code on the bikini bottom of several women's volleyball players. Created a lot of buzz, but the codes were nowhere near scanable. Win/Fail?

about 5 years ago

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Dubai Real Estate

QR codes are at the moment a bit of a gimmic.

I could see them working with real estate and i like the idea of using them for food shows.

tesco did an amazing job in the far east using them in the subways. worht checking it out

about 5 years ago

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Mary Meehan

I think another con to consider in the US market is that only about 26% of all cell phone users have smartphones, and just a fraction of those use applications. One good application of QR codes I've seen recently is actually in B2B: sales teams carry sell sheets with QR codes on them, and when visiting an account, will be served content based on their geographic location. (Model numbers, pricing, etc.) Good example of using tech to solve a marketing challenge.

about 5 years ago

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Matt Chandler

I wathced the BBC's cookery program at the weekend - great to see QR going mainstream!

about 5 years ago

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Mike McNamara

The use of QR codes is just one way of connecting a user to the online world. Publishers need to add these to their print products to help drive users their web sites etc.

With regards to the use on TV, also a very good idea. However, programme makers, please leave them on the screen for more than 3 seconds!!! The Good Cook, please take note.

about 5 years ago

chris todd

chris todd, ecommerce director at VF - The North Face

Does anyone have any actual QR code response data?

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

HI Chris,

There isn't too much about yet.

I have some stats from the Tesco Korea QR code on subway campaign - more than 10,000 people scanned the QR codes, new customer registrations rose by 76%, and online sales were up by 130%.

about 5 years ago

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Pauline de Robert

Odd - I posted a comment earlier on today which seems to have disappeared??

about 5 years ago

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Phil Coote

In response to Chris Todd's question regarding response rates, we (Kimtag) recently worked with a company who placed a QR Code next to a specific promo website URL on some print ads. We measured the response rates from the QR Code and the URL.

Response rates from the QR Code were almost five times that of the URL.

While it's worth mentioning that the ads ran generally in magazines with a mainly twenty-thirtysomething male audience and also that the stats didn't take into account that not everyone would have typed the full promo URL and some would have just typed the root domain (or indeed used the domain if the QR Code wasn't there) - it's a fairly strong stat all the same.

Our guess has always been that there's a strong curiosity factor taking place. Waiting for the ad with nothing but a QR Code...

about 5 years ago

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Terry Benge

Even if you have a scanner there are times when QR codes don’t work
When you are on the move for example.
What you need is something that is easier to remember than a URL.
Keywords are a cool alternative, and work well.
When consumers see an add, research shows that they rarely remember a url. Instead today’s savvy people subconsciously determine the keywords they will type into Google to find the product.
This in itself becomes expensive because most brands promote their products in Google Adwords so they are essentially paying for the ad twice.
ihop.to links the keywords directly to the advertisers website and in addition provides full tracking information so its clear which ads are working.

almost 5 years ago

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Nick Lachey

Perfect post. Learn how to incorporate QR codes in your web apps to deliver quick information directly to your users' mobile device http://blog.caspio.com/web_apps/4-ways-to-use-qr-codes-in-your-web-apps/

over 4 years ago

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