What’s the Deal With QR Codes?

Japanese poster QRsBack in 2011, QR codes were a hot topic among manufacturers and marketers. Smartphones were rapidly gaining popularity and the app market was still new and exciting territory. One particular bit of technology that also gained momentum during this time was the QR code, but unlike other smartphone-based tools, it has steadily dropped in popularity. While apps, phones and tablets have only increased in usage, the QR code remains an anomaly in the smartphone market, seen by marketers as the odd one out whose place still remains unknown.

For those of you unaware, QR codes are black-and-white squares with little black boxes arranged into what looks like an abstract pixelated image. These squares are placed on a variety of posters, signs and other print media by companies, usually used as an advertising tool. When a consumer scans the QR code with his/her phone (it has to be a smartphone with a QR code reader app), it opens an URL on the phone, usually to a product or service.

So, how did QR codes falter in popularity? Firstly, the QR code is, by nature, a rather strange-looking image. This may pique curiosity from passer-by who wonder what that funny-looking box is, but engagement beyond the few initial scans is rare. Many smartphone users are still unaware of what a QR code even is!

Another problem is that marketers have been struggling to figure out how to best use QR codes. The marketer must know his/her target audience, how the code will be published, what kind of media the code will be linking to, and where the code will be located.

QR code billboard

Here are some ideas on how to best utilize QR codes:

  • Location, location, location. What makes QR codes unique (and troublesome) is that users have to stop, open their phone, align their phones' camera so their scanning app can register the code, and then view the data received entirely on their phones. Unless the user is idling, it is difficult to get people to stop what they’re doing to scan a QR code. Therefore, QR codes are best placed at bus stops, subway stations, in printed publication (magazines, newspapers, etc.) and the like—places where potential users actually have a moment to scan and view the information in the code.
  • Mobile optimized. Since the media the QR code will be linking to will be viewed on a mobile device, the media it is pointing to should be customized for viewing on a small screen. Don’t link a QR code to your desktop site that will be difficult to navigate on a phone!
  • Know your audience. Younger generations are more keen to trying out new technologies and more likely to own a smartphone.
  • What’s it linking to? You have a very small amount of time to capture the attention of a new user. The longer users have to wait for content to load, the less likely they are going to stick around to view your content. Videos are especially cumbersome to load and most users are in a place where they can’t conveniently listen to audio.

QR codes remain a strange beast in a booming market, but they don’t have to remain that way. If a company uses them wisely, there are many benefits to be reaped: easy access to engaging content, rich user engagement, and a great way to attract potential new customers.


Geoff Robinson


Geoffrey Robinson is the founder of Digital Earth Network, a leader in the emerging world of mobile and digital marketing content and associated applications. Geoffrey was the former founder of Eye Force Productions, a web based advertising company, and has an extensive professional background. Particularly in the Natural Foods industry, in sales, marketing, business operations, consulting, Point of Sale technology and other related verticals. Geoffrey can be reached at 941.366.8282 or through e-mail at info@digitalearthnetwork.com You can also visit http://digitalearthnetwork.com/




Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 8/27/13