QR Codes: Should a marketer care?

Lately I have been wondering more and more about QR codes.  They have been around for a while and part of marketing initiatives – on billboards, print advertisements, fountain drink cups, business cards and store shelves.  It seems that only a small percentage of mobile phone users are actually scanning QR codes.  According to a study released by comScore, 14 million mobile users in the U.S. scanned a QR code on their mobile device in June 2011, representing only 6% of all mobile users.  This means that 94% of mobile users are not scanning QR codes, leading me to hypothesize that either QR codes are a technology with untapped potential for marketers or it is not the right medium for marketers to use.

What is a QR Code?

QR (Quick Response) codes were originally developed in the early 1990’s by the automobile industry to track vehicle parts during the manufacturing process.  QR codes are now used for multiple applications including marketing to consumers.  The codes are two dimensional and can be scanned by a smartphone or tablet with a camera, and the device must have a code reading app installed.  There are different code reading apps that can be downloaded from app stores online.  The app allows the camera to lock onto the QR code and then the information – a website, video, data link, or vCard for example automatically open up on the smartphone or tablet.  QR codes are easy to generate and there are free websites that allow you to create simple codes.  For example, the QR code at the top of the page was generated from the website

Why should a marketer care about QR codes?

QR codes can be a great way to get a lot of information to a consumer.  The most important point that I want to make here is that the consumer must want to take out their mobile device and scan the QR code.  Therefore, it is imperative that the QR code is easily accessible and provides some form of value – either relevant information or a reward.  QR codes as a marketing tool can engage a target audience, deliver value and strengthen consumer loyalty.

Value of QR Codes for marketing:

One company that has recently invested in the area of QR code marketing is Starbucks.  They have partnered with Scanbuy to design QR codes for print and outdoor media.  Starbucks QR code marketing campaign will provide consumers with more information about its coffee and promote its mobile payment app.  I think that Starbucks is moving in a direction where they want to be leaders in digital commerce with consumer mobile devices being the tool to success.  They are using QR codes to encourage consumers to use mobile devices to read advertisements, get promotional items, buy gift cards and make payments at stores.

First things first – Education!

In my opinion, in order to maximize the usage of QR codes the first step is consumer education.  The question then becomes who will educate the consumer? As mentioned earlier, only 6% of mobile users are using QR codes.  With most new technologies there is an adoption life cycle – innovators and early adopters lead the way with technology usage, followed by the early and late majority.  The problem is that this technology is not new.  Hopefully with the buzz around Starbucks’ QR code initiatives and other companies investing in QR codes will get early and late majority interacting with this technology.  Only time will tell.

Other uses of QR codes

There are many innovative ways to use QR codes from swapping business card information to making payments at stores.  I came across a website that provides fifty creative uses of QR codes – this website helps to point out that the use of QR codes is boundless.  Here are some areas for usage of QR codes:

  • Explanation: Piece of art at museum, historical site, assembly instructions
  • Packaging: Food information, recipes, product details, origin of ingredients or materials
  • Games: scavenger hunt clues, puzzle answers
  • Real Time Information: music, videos, traffic, weather
  • Purchasing: payments at Starbucks or other stores with QR code capabilities
  • Contact Information: vCard, website, twitter account, blog

QR codes have a lot of potential for innovation and creativity.  As of today, in my opinion the number one priority is to educate the consumer on the value of QR codes.  Once consumers understand how these barcodes work then this technology can really drive innovations in marketing and other areas.


One thought on “QR Codes: Should a marketer care?

  1. In today’s world the only real use I see for QR codes in the near future is as a tool to share contact information. Having a code on a business card is a great way for someone to add your information right into their contacts with trying to type on a smart phone.

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