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When it comes to mobile marketing, QR codes are one of the first few tactics that come to mind. These two-dimensional barcodes are found on marketing materials or product packaging, scanned with a smartphone or tablet, and transfer the user to additional information.

Some people think QR codes are a smart marketing tactic while others are still afraid to jump on the bandwagon because they don’t see the tactic lasting. So are QR codes just a marketing fad?

The downside to QR codes.

The biggest problem with QR codes is that they’re not beneficial to everybody. In order to use a QR code, a user has to have a smartphone, and while smartphones are extremely popular, they’re not the only type of phone out on the market. When a company uses a QR code, they are only reaching the audience that has a smartphone and they are ignoring the rest.

The second biggest problem with QR codes is that having a smartphone is not enough, you also need to download an app to scan it and read it. Most QR code scanners and readers can be downloaded for free, but it’s still another step that has to be taken to receive some type of hidden message from companies.

According to a study by ScanLife, QR code scans increased 300% in 2011 from 2010. Though QR codes have gained in popularity over the years, they still haven’t caught on with everybody. Some people still don’t know what they are while others simply don’t want to take the time to download an app, scan a code and receive information, especially if they don’t know what type of information they’ll be receiving.

Since QR codes are still relatively new, many marketers are unsure how to implement them correctly. Some companies put QR codes in unscannable locations while others simply fail to test them and they’re unscannable altogether. When a customer comes across these failed attempts, it can hinder their desire to use them, and it also decreases the tactics effectiveness.

Other studies have shown that the target demographic for QR codes are people ages 18-34. If your target demographic isn’t in this age range, it seems irrelevant to try and incorporate them into marketing tactics.
The upside of QR codes.

QR codes are a great way to enhance your customers’ experience. With QR codes, you can now take them from a print ad and turn it into an interactive advertisement by bringing them to your website or offering them more information via online tools.

They’re also a great way to generate traffic to your website. Place a QR code on a poster or print ad, and with one scan, you’re now generating more traffic to your site. This now gets your company and your products/services in front of a new crowd, and more traffic to your site also increases your search engine page rankings.

The element of surprise still has customers wanting to use QR codes. Unless you specifically tell them what they’ll get by scanning your QR code, customers are more inclined to scan to see what’s on the other side. Will it be more information? Will it be a game? Will it be a coupon? Adding this element of surprise to your marketing collateral could be what continues to draw customers to using QR codes.

According to the below infographic from Management Direct, 46% of people are willing to use a QR code to receive a discount. If QR codes fail at their attempt to provide users with more information, using them for discounts may be what keeps them around.

So are QR codes a marketing fad?

At this point in time, it’s still hard to say. QR codes have been successful in Japan for many years now, and the popularity continues to increase. Since it’s still new in the United States, many people are still getting their feet wet with the idea of using them for marketing and deciding whether or not they’ll stay.

The need for a smartphone and an app coupled with its younger demographic may hinder its longetivity, but its uniqueness and ability to intertwine traditional and online marketing may give it lasting power.

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Posted by Charlie Adam

Charlie Adams is a tech guru and social media expert who often blogs about a variety of topics ranging from social networking advice to review monitoring tactics.


  1. Thanks for the article – very topical.

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