Many businesses have gotten excited about 2D bar codes, especially QR codes. They are popping up everywhere. Unfortunately, many businesses are using QR codes ineffectively. In the rush to jump on the band wagon with this compelling technology, these bar codes are being haphazardly printed in various media without an effective marketing strategy or meaningful context.

Like many similar communication tools that have come before, well intentioned business owners mistakenly think that merely adding the code to their marketing collateral will boost their customer base. They pat themselves on the back for being on the leading edge of this marketing trend but are unaware of how to reap the full benefits of this new tool.

The biggest mistake I have seen so far is using a QR code that leads to a web page that is not a mobile-friendly site. Why is this a problem? You are asking potential customers to scan the code with their smart phone and when they do, it automatically takes them to a page on your website. So you are obviously wanting them to view your web page on their phone. But if they don’t land on a mobile version of your website, it will be difficult for them to view and even more difficult to navigate, find your contact info or make a purchase. You are wasting their time and your leading edge code that results in a frustrating experience will do more harm than good. You’ve wasted your marketing efforts and dollars.

I hope you didn’t pay a marketing professional to set up your failed QR code campaign.

What Are QR Codes?

QR stands for Quick Response. A QR Code is a square black and white (though some are in color) bar code, that when scanned with the proper app on a mobile device, will take you to information or an online destination. This might be contact information, a website, video or a downloadable file.

It’s an ingenious concept, but before you join the ranks and spend marketing dollars to add a QR code to your paper towel holder, you may want to do a bit more research. QR codes may not be the amazing customer magnet that you think they are. And if you don’t use them effectively you’ve wasted perfectly good black ink (not to mention your time and money).

First of all they are not new. They have been used in Japan and South Korea for many years.

Secondly, they are still not accessible to most people, at least not in the United States. They are very effective in Japan because all Japanese cell phones come with a bar code scanner pre-installed. So the average Japanese citizen is familiar with them, has a scanner app on their phone and can easily scan till their heart’s content.

However, in the U.S. it’s a different story. There’s a lot of hype, but not yet much in the way of accessibility or familiarity for the average person. A smart phone is required and the user needs to download a bar code scanner and then learn how to use it. This might be a snap for those under 30, but many in their 40s and 50s are just not there yet.

Here are a few places where you’ll see QR Codes in the U.S.:

  • Magazine ads
  • Websites
  • Business cards
  • Signs
  • Fliers and brochures

And here’s a hoot – they are even on billboards! I’m not sure how your customers can scan the code while driving by, but hey you’ve got your bar code big as life!

Here’s what companies are doing wrong:

  • Placing them without an explanation of what it is or how to use it
  • Not giving the customer a compelling reason to scan it
  • Making them too small and therefore difficult to scan
  • Sending the customer to a destination that may not be what the customer wants
  • Sending the customer to a web page that is not on a mobile website
  • Not having an effective strategy
  • Sending the customer to a destination that doesn’t allow or encourage on-going connection
  • Placing them where one could not scan it easily or safely (like billboards)

What you need to know:

  • There are likely better ways to use QR Codes that you don’t know about
  • If you use a code that leads customers to a website – make sure it’s a mobile website
  • A marketing strategist who specializes in new media technology can help you optimize how you use the codes
  • There are far more effective leading edge uses of your marketing dollars than using QR Codes

QR Codes are fun and unique. So go ahead and use them, but save yourself time, money and frustration by getting advice from a marketing professional. Assess their usefulness for your specific business, make an informed decision and then learn the most effective ways to use them.

And if you don’t use them now, you can always make good use of them in the Afterlife. The very latest trend is to include one on your tombstone! 🙂