2022 edit. QR codes have become more mainstream with the update in the accessibility of just using our camera phones. I must admit that some of the information is still applicable, but some of the opinions of uses has changed along with the technology itself!

Harold says: Everyone is moving to the QR Code as a great new approach to marketing. You’ll see these codes on business cards, in advertising and on signage as a way to get existing and future customers to take a step to learn more about your company.

The Truth: While there might be a couple of acceptable uses for these scannable codes, most people we see using them are looking like
amateurs. Some of the largest companies in the world are making this costly mistake.

Let’s think it through. Someone hands you their business card, and along with their name and professional details sits the code. You shake their
hand and while they are introducing themselves to you and asking you about your products and services, you decide to pull out your phone and
scan their code. Who gives a crap about what they are saying – just ignore them for the sake of technology.

Here’s another scenario. You are driving down the interstate at 80 mph when you see a great billboard with a QR Code on it. You grab your ph…never mind… you just ran off the road at 80 reaching for your phone (thanks Mr. Advertiser).

Here’s another example. I’m sitting in the waiting room at my physician’s office thumbing through a magazine. Voila, there is your ad. I glance at the page and your headline is clever and the design compelling. That’s when I see your fancy QR Code at the bottom of the ad. I immediately scramble to take my phone out of my pocket because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to take the next step… because I REALLY care. I grab my phone, navigate to my scanner app, and start
scanning. Thanks to my 3G data speed, 4 minutes later your page loads where I get to read MORE exciting information about your company, except that I wasn’t THAT interested to begin with, so I left the page so I could check my Facebook while I had my phone out – and, they just called my name.

In advertising and marketing, the best approach considers a common sense, human approach to the problem (we call it the “human sense” approach). And that is the argument here. In case you are in love with the QR Codes, let’s talk about some acceptable practices and how to use them if you are going to use them.

1)    Information Mode: If you believe the code is for you, then we advise that you use the code when your customers are already in information mode. They must be genuinely seeking to learn and gather information on your product or service. Imagine, if you will, standing by a painting at a museum. You are enjoying the painting. You are reading a bit about the artist — the medium, format, and/or technique — on the plaque next to the painting. You, then, are offered the
opportunity to learn more about that specific painting, it’s author, and the context surrounding its creation by scanning the code. Perfect. You are there taking in information (intentionally) and kindly offered access to more information that wouldn’t otherwise fit on the plaque next to the painting.

In this example, the user is already engaged. By sharing the QR Code, you ADD value to the experience by sharing more.

2)    Transparency: If you want folks to scan the code, be transparent. Most of the uses I’ve seen almost attempt a sense of mystery behind the code. Don’t do that. The average consumer doesn’t care enough to take the next step. Especially if they don’t know where they are stepping! Be courteous. Gently explain to them the plan. “For more information about how we create the soles for our shoes, scan the code.” Imagine I am the kind of guy that only cares about shoe LACES. Then if you trick me into pulling out my mobile device, scanning your code and then tell me about shoe SOLES, I’m going to be annoyed.

3)    Options: I’ve also recently seen a QR Code with a message that gives the viewer an option to use ANOTHER communication avenue. The code I refer to said, “Scan this code or Text WORD to 1234.” This is great. Users LOVE options.

QR Codes are a trend. They’ll get their 15 minutes of fame. I think about 12 minutes of that fame should already be up. I can appreciate your wanting to find new and innovative ways to communicate with your audience. But the proper litmus tests must be in place to make sure the information and approach actually add value to their experience.

What adds such value? A human sense approach. Ask yourself what YOU would do if you were presented with an ad or marketing piece about leather pants. And the leather pant company had a QR Code on the piece. What would compel YOU to scan?