QR codes: effective tool or fad?

QR codes are becoming increasingly common to spot.

Not sure what a QR (or quick response) code is? Well, they are the little squares filled with black and white that remind you a bit of swiss cheese. Still not sure, there’s one in the image below. They are essentially links that you click on with your mobile phone by using an app that you can download from your favourite app store.

Since they started to emerge as a mainstream tech communications tool, there has been a debate on if they are simply a fad and whether they are useful or whether they are an effective tool. I don’t think they are a fad but if they aren’t used properly they could be. Eventually, I think they will be replaced by a better tool but for now I think they have the potential to play a leading role in your communications mix–especially if you are looking to add a cost-effective option to your toolbox.

Here’s Scott Stratten in a funny take on poor use of QR codes.

Make QR codes work for you!Boston Pizza QR code for online customer feedback

Like Stratten, I’m in favour of QR codes when they make sense and believe if they are used properly they can be really effective.

I found a recent example when my family visited Boston Pizza recently. In this case, they were looking to improve upon the traditional paper comment card by getting people to scan the QR code and give feedback immediately and easily. They also included some great prizes as an incentive including a prize just for using the code. I don’t know what the results are but I’m confident that Boston Pizza is getting more feedback than previously and that is also more useful since it is typed into a database instead of someone deciphering hand writing.

I’ve been experimenting with QR codes over the last six months and I’ve made my share of mistakes with them. So here are some tips I’ve learned about first hand or in doing some reading about them to help you make the most out of QR codes:

  • Have a pay off – You need to do more than just take people to a website. There must be a destination, call to action or other payoff to make using the QR code worthwhile. Examples might be a video or a download of a band’s song.
  • Be mobile friendly – By definition, people using QR codes are using their smart phones to get their. The destination should either be designed for that use or at least be a reasonable user experience.
  • Let people know what will happen – A QR code by itself relies on people’s curiousity to scan. Be proactive and let them know what will happen and what the payoff is.

How to create a QR code

Creating QR codes is simple enough. There are a number of  sites that generate them with a few quick steps. You can even download the code in a format suited to how and where you will use it.
Kaywa is one I’ve used. A Google search will give you other options.
Speaking of Google, if you are logged in and using its URL shortener service you can also make a QR code by clicking on details. I understand this option also comes with stats.

What do you think?

How could your organization use QR Codes and in a way that people would want to use them? Or do you have any examples of successful use of QR codes to share? Or failures?

6 comments
Chris Eh Young
Chris Eh Young

So I was just invited to participate in a top secret project with the largest QR code maker in the world. After seeing their research report, I can tell you that North America creates over 70% of the world's QR codes. I can also tell you that adoption rates are averaging an estimated 600% increase worldwide.

James Howe
James Howe

Wow! Thanks for sharing those stats Chris. Shows that QR codes are more than just a fad. I believe too that we're just starting to see their potential when used effectively.

DSGN network (@dsgnnetwork)
DSGN network (@dsgnnetwork)

Great post James! I think user experience from a mobile platform is paramount when it comes to QR codes and so many marketers have yet to realize that smartphone users want a mobile-friendly experience awaiting them on the other side of the code. Keep the articles coming!

James Howe
James Howe

Thanks! What you're describing is my personal take away from what I've read and done. QR codes are great if the user has a positive experience--and by definition that means when using a smartphone. Otherwise, don't bother. Also interactive is better than static. Just had a twitter exchange with @jonathongraspas where he recommends asking yourself if you really need a QR code before you use one. In other words, don't use it because just because you can or others are using them.

Matt Duench
Matt Duench

Great post, James. I wonder if in North America we're not killing QR codes. I've written a few posts on the technology as well. Check them out if you like, here: http://mduench.wordpress.com/tag/qr-codes

James Howe
James Howe

Thanks Matt! I'm glad you liked it. I checked out your posts and you definitely have a lot of great information for anyone looking for more depth. I liked how you highlighted the analytics. I received a comment via Twitter from Jeremy Wright (@jeremywright) that his firm's clients love them for that reason. He says they love the pure, raw data that they get. But you're right that North America may kill the QR code. Too much poor use such as no call to action, no payoff or used in places that don't make sense will mean people just won't bother with them when they see them.