Experimenting with QR codes

Quick response – or QR – codes are 2D barcodes that allow the consumer to decode text, a hyperlink, photo, video, or other data using a scanning application on their mobile device. It is a form of pull marketing, rather than push, which allows the consumer to request more information. However, nobody wants more information. Matter of fact, the consumer wants as little information as necessary; they want more value. So when experimenting with QR codes, as with any form of subscriber-model marketing (much of the social space), ensure that you’re providing added value, not just a URL with more information. Over the past few years, there has been a mixed reaction to leveraging QR codes as a marketing tactic.

The negative reaction is based on a seemingly low adoption rate, poor strategic implementations, weak tactical executions, and a clunky mobile scanning experience. The positive reaction revolves around the online-offline brand connection that is now possible for consumers. With marketers jumping on one side of the fence or the other, let’s zoom out and take a look at where QR codes have been recently, and where they’re headed in the future.

How have QR codes been used in the past?

QR codes are truly exciting because they allow for a real connection between the brand experience online and off-line (also known as the real world; you may have seen it). Consumers can use their mobile magic wand to unlock richer experiences and interact with the brand in a multi-layered fashion. Companies, large and small, have been experimenting with QR codes to drive those richer experiences to early-adopter consumers, and the tactical trend seems to be approaching the tipping point to ubiquity at least on the experimentation/implementation side, if not yet on the adoption side.

Online, both Google and Bit.ly allow you to append .qr to any shortened link to instantly create a QR code that directs the scanner to that webpage. This reduces friction in the creation process, and is a step in the direction of mass prevalence, which can contribute to mass adoption. For the meat of the bell curve to actually embrace QR codes, though, it’s the scanning process that must become more fluid, not the code creation process. When the majority of consumers can instantly recognize the value that will be derived from a particular QR code (mostly the marketer’s responsibility) and then can effortlessly scan it (mostly the OS’s responsibility), the marketing tactic will have passed the tipping point and matured from ‘experimental tactic’ to ‘strategic marketing mix element.’

Dachis GroupAs for actual uses, thus far we have seen brands implement QR codes that allow consumers to scan products for additional information (and additional images or helpful videos), travel to branded microsites, enter a sweepstakes online (although this execution raises several questions; centrally, why would you scan the screen, instead of just clicking a link?), compare product prices, bring up product reviews, redeem coupons at POS, or like pages on Facebook.

How will they be used tomorrow

We’re starting to see a more integrated approach to the incorporation of QR codes into marketing efforts, and with the rise of smartphone adoption, QR savvy is sure to follow. Some cross-channel marketing efforts are already leveraging the technology in a natural fashion. Soon, consumers will need less how-to information, and will be able to dive right into a relatively seamless online-offline experience. At the checkout counter at your grocery store, consumers will scan the QR code on their 24-pack of Coke to Like the brand on Facebook and unlock a $.50-off coupon; customers at Best Buy will be able to send a product to their Tech-Savvy Facebook friend Group to get their thoughts on a possible purchase with one touch of their phone; restaurants will be able to show patrons how their dish is prepared, or bring up user reviews of that dish, simply by a scan of the code next to that menu item.

With the advancement and maturity of the mobile space, and the notion that the “phone” now serves as the magic link between the web and the world, keep an eye out for more and more integrated and strategic executions of mobile tactics, like QR codes, for the second half of 2011 and into 2012.


  • Mobile technologies will streamline to allow for tactical ubiquity of QR codes
  • Once the masses have caught up, QR codes will be a significant conversion driver
  • Businesses of all sizes – from bike shops to Starbucks – have been experimenting with the above tactics, and they will be the ones that will be operationally equipped when QR codes improve and evolve
  • Fail fast is a strong R&D strategy but not a good marketing strategy. Don’t experiment with a tactic just for the sake of it; if you’re going to leverage QR codes, incorporate them strategically into your marketing mix