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I first learned about QR codes back in 2010 during a casual conversation, not thinking much of them at the time. Shortly after, I began seeing them everywhere. Really, everywhere. Fast-forward to today, and the overuse and poor application of QR codes have left some marketers feeling underwhelmed since they haven’t seen the results to meet the hype. Does that mean that QR codes are a failed concept? Not quite. Just as with all marketing tactics, the use of this technology needs to follow a solid plan. If you’re thinking about trying them out, or are currently using them without much luck, make sure you’re taking the following into consideration.


QR Codes

This ad is a great example of making QR codes part of the creative concept. Although it doesn’t need to be the focal point of the piece, it should be big enough to be scanned quickly and clearly. It’s important to note that you’re not confined to black-and-white squares. Many effective codes have been created using colorful dots (or in this case, fruit). Just make sure that the contrast is high enough to make those dots stand out.

Also, not only does scanning a QR code to load a desktop homepage (or any homepage) pointless, it’s aggravating for your customers. What was the point? At the very least, make sure that the page you’re linking to is optimized for mobile. People won’t be viewing anything from a QR code on a big screen.


Chances are, you’re not going to get a lot of response for a QR code if there’s no apparent reason for it to be scanned. Make sure that you’re supporting the QR code with the right content. Add a call-to-action or refer to an incentive (discount, exclusive access to content, a free trial, etc.) that lends relevance to the QR code. Skip that part, and you’ve just wasted precious space. Use your QR codes with one fact in mind: it takes longer for your customer to pull out their phone, load an app (or install one, if they don’t have one yet), point it at the QR code, focus, click and load the result than it is for them to type in a URL. Make all that effort worth it.


Your QR code should send customers directly to what they’re looking for. No extra steps necessary, and not a lot of text/graphics/junk to confuse the experience. If it’s a coupon, just show the coupon. If you’re hoping to get contact information out of the deal, get as little information as possible. A name and email should be the most you’re looking for – forget about a mailing address. The idea is to give them exactly what you promised in the content of the print piece, and do it with as little effort on your customer’s end as possible.


I never thought I would have to point this out, but sadly, I do. Do not, under any circumstances, use QR codes for marketing online. They may be helpful for adding contact information to your smartphone, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a QR code on a webpage sidebar and, by scanning it, be led back to the original page I was viewing on my screen. QR codes are most effective when they bridge offline and online marketing tactics. New marketing technology can reap incredible rewards, if used wisely. By making sure that you’re using QR codes with a purpose, and its value is communicated clearly to your customers, there’s no reason why QR codes can’t be a part of your toolbox for years to come.

Posted by Patrick King

Patrick King is the founder and CEO of Imagine, an integrated marketing firm with offices in Manassas, Chicago and San Diego. Learn more about Imagine at

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