QR Codes: A Comeback Story

Remember when QR codes were on everything? They popped up on billboards, on the sides of trashcans, and even (on tombstones). It seemed everyone wanted a taste of this exciting, new way to engage with customers. Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, they were declared dead.

The problem was they were simply not easy to use. You needed to download a separate app to scan the code, be in good lighting, and hope the company printed the code in a high enough resolution to be read. Plus, most people simply didn’t know what they were or how to use them.

It seems, though, that QR codes are making a comeback. The number of mobile phone users scanning QR codes has (doubled since 2015) thanks to increased awareness, built-in scanners, and integration with some of the world’s leading apps. If your phone runs anything from iOS 11 or Android 9 on, you can simply open your standard camera app, point it at the code, and off you go. They’re easy to use, free to generate, and trackable. Sounds great, right?

So, should you start incorporating QR codes into your print campaign? Well, it depends. Let’s start with the basics.

What Is a QR Code?

A QR code is essentially a barcode. In fact, that’s what it started as when it was first created by the Japanese company Denso Wave in 1994. It was originally used to track vehicles as they went through the manufacturing process, but, like many things created for a specific purpose in the 90s, the QR code has since been coopted, refined, and repurposed by the Internet.

What Can You Do with One?

Honestly, a lot! Most QR codes link directly to a website, but the opportunities are broader than that. Here are some of the things you can ask your QR code to do:

  • Reveal a special message or coupon code
  • Sign a user up for your newsletter or text club
  • Show the location of your business in Google Maps
  • Add a special event to a user’s personal calendar
  • Send an email or text directly to a phone number or email of your choice

“Wow,” you might be thinking. “These QR codes sound great! I’m going to start putting them on everything!” But hold up for just a second. While QR codes are a fantastic tool, they do come with some warnings and a few pointers.

The Good Bits

For the most part, QR codes are easy to use, deeply customizable, and trackable. The Internet is filled with free QR code generators, including a few that offer tracking and analytics for an additional fee. Finding the good ones might take a bit of digging and experimenting, so here are some places to start.

  • Easy Design: Both QRCode Monkey and Unitag give you broad control over the look of your code. You can customize both the color and style so it fits your brand.
  • Easy Tracking: qrd°by and QRCode Monkey offer paid services that automatically track your code and provide marketing insights. These services are especially helpful if you have multiple codes you want to track or if you’re running a large campaign. But if you’re a little more patient and a little more tech-savvy, you can use Google Analytics to track your codes for free.
  • Easy Training: For those looking for a deep dive into QR code land, QR Code Generator has a great blog that discusses best practices and industry trends. (Plus, it includes a free generator!)

The Less Good Bits

While more users than ever are scanning QR codes, it’s still used by a primarily younger demographic. 45% of QR code users are millennials according to Global Web Index, particularly ones who are early adopters and excited by innovative technologies. So, if you’re considering using QR codes in your print advertisements, here are few things to keep in mind.

  • Be transparent. First things first, make sure your customers know what they’ll get when they scan your QR code. Will it take them to a landing page with special information? Help them sign up for your newsletter? Offer a code for their next purchase? Be clear, and it will build your customer’s desire to scan the code.
  • Make it active. The code is just a code; pair it with a strong call to action to inspire your customers to follow through.
  • Keep your website mobile friendly. Most people scan a QR code with their smartphone (and a smaller percentage with an iPad or other tablet). Make sure the page you’re sending them to is optimized for mobile. 
  • When you can, educate. Not everyone knows how to scan a QR code so help them out! Integrate simple instructions into your design to increase the number of scans and, hopefully, conversions.
  • Give them an alternative. Even though QR code usage is on the rise, it still has a way to go before it truly saturates the market. For those who don’t want to scan a code or who don’t have the means to do so, make sure you offer an alternate, easy to remember path to the same reward. 

So Should My Company Use QR Codes?

That’s up to you. If you are advertising to young, hip smartphone users who are all about new technology, absolutely. QR codes offer a convenient way for customers to interact and engage with your company and open the door to fun and unexpected advertising campaigns. However, you should be cautious if advertising to an older generation or to people who are not as familiar with technology.

Still on the fence? There’s no harm in integrating a QR code into your next campaign and seeing how it goes. With so many free generators available and a simple way to track your code through Google, it’s a low-cost technology that just might generate even more leads for your company.