What are the most common mistakes and best practices while using QR codes for marketing purposes?

QR Codes Best PracticesI was at an airport in Chicago a few months ago when I saw a person kneeling in front of a sign. No, he didn’t lose a contact lens. He was scanning a QR-Code. The man had to stoop over so far to scan that QR Code. It made me wonder if the designers had put any thought into how people will interact with that sign.
Since then I’ve started to pay more attention to QR Codes and how marketers use them. In the upcoming posts, I’ll present different cases on the uses of QR Codes. First, it is important to establish a common ground on what QR Codes are and how they should be used.

QR Codes General knowledge for Marketers

What is a QR Code

QR Codes Best Practices - Tweet this articleA QR Code is a piece of information such as a website address, a phone number or a SMS that is encoded in a two-dimensional code. It is called QR (Quick Reach) as the format allows you to grab the information in a very convenient way. In order to access that information you need a QR scanner that can grab the picture and decode it. For example, to read QR codes with a Smartphone you must have a specific app installed.

What type of information can you put in a QR Code?

The most common usage for QR Codes is to encode a URL, directing a user to a website page. Other uses and examples include:

  • Calendar Events: Print a QR Code on the back of a ticket or invitation. When it is scanned, the event will be added to your calendar.
  • Contact Information: Print a QR Code on your business card and, when it is scanned, your contact info will be added as a vcard.
  • Email Addresses: When scanned, it will prompt the user to send an email to the encoded address.
  • Geo-Location: Encode a specific Latitude and Longitude and. when it is scanned, the location will open in a map. A Query (i.e. business name) can be added as well.
  • Phone Number: Scan an encoded phone number to “call me now”.
  • SMS: Open your smartphone text message functionality with a predefined text and number.
  • Text: You can “hide” a sentence or paragraph that will be reveled when the QR Code is scanned.
  • Wi-Fi Network: Includes the SSID and Password for a Wi-Fi Network. If you have a guest Wi-Fi network, create a QR Code so customers can scan and be provided with the name and password to access that network

How much does it cost to make a QR-Code?

Zero, zilch, nada. You can create your own QR-Codes for free with apps on your smartphone or with websites. Try these two: ZXing Project or QR Monkey.

QR Codes best practices – 10 rules marketing professionals should follow

Why are QR Codes often frustrating? For marketing purposes, Mobile is not a technology, it’s a medium. I go into more detail about this in my presentations. You should not only know how to create a QR-Code, but also what the rules of engagement are. Consider the whole customer experience and keep in mind the following rules:

1- Direct the user to a mobile optimized page

90% percent of QR-Code usage is to direct a user to a web page. It is thus the most important rule to remember : that the QR code directs the user to a mobile optimized site. The only way a customer will read your QR Code is with a mobile device. So it is pointless to direct them to a page that is not optimized for mobile use. If your website or landing page is not mobile optimized, do not use a QR Code. There is nothing more annoying than being invited to a web page, only to discover your phone can’t read it properly.

2-Only use QR Codes in places with wireless reception, if internet connectivity is required to access the encoded content

If your QR Code leads to a web page or requires an internet connection to deliver the information, it shouldn’t be implemented in places without available wireless connections. While this may sound obvious, it is often ignored. There are countless signs with QR Codes in NY subways. What do the advertisers expect to happen when customers scan their signs? It makes more sense to use QR Codes that don’t need an internet connection in that type of situation, i.e. to push a calendar event to the customer’s smartphone in a “save the date” format.

3- Provide a call to action

I’ve seen many QR Codes that direct you to the homepage of a brand or a business. Once I arrive at the homepage, I’m often not sure what they want me to do. Only provide a (QR) Quick Reach Code if you plan on immediately giving value or expect to get a Quick Response from your customer. For example, direct your customer to watch a relevant YouTube video, get a coupon or buy a ticket. Note the reasons for scanning: watch, get, and buy. They are all actions. If you lead a customer to your home page to simply “be there”, they will leave and not return.

4- Inform the customer of what will happen after scanning

People are curious by nature, but also are very concern about their privacy and what you are putting in their smartphones. Provide the customer with a sense of what will happen after scanning a QR-Code i.e. “scan to watch product usage instructions” or “scan to check-in with Foursquare”. Use common sense, your business card not necessarily need a “scan to get my contact info” reminder.

5- Make your QR Code easy to scan

QR Codes Best Practices - NY Subway
A QR-Code on top of a subway door will be hard to read when the train is moving and impossible to scan when it stops and people are entering and leaving in a rush. When placing a QR Code, consider what your customer will need to do in order to scan the QR Code. If you put it on the side of a bus, by the time a person grabs their phone and opens the app, the bus may already be five blocks away.

6- Consider place and environmental conditions

It’s okay to keep branding directives, but size and contrast matter. If your brand color is pink, having a QR Code in pink over white will lead to many frustrating and failed scans.
Remember that your camera needs to be able to read the QR Code. Therefore, if you have it behind a reflective panel it will only frustrate the customer’s experience.

7- Use QR Codes where it makes sense to

Using QR Codes in emails is pointless. What is the pint of having a QR Code when it could just be a link. If I opened the email with my smartphone, it would be impossible to scan.
It can sometimes make sense to have a QR Code in a website. Consider themeforest.net, where you can find wordpress themes. If you are looking for a mobile version of a theme, a QR Code would make sense. It would be the best way to check the same theme on your mobile and desktop.

8- Measure results

You can use any type of analytics to measure results. If you use Google Analytics, check their URL Builder . Many QR Code generators offer analytics. Most of them are paid services and you will need to relay your campaign URL embedded in the QR Code to be on a proprietary short code.

9- Consider page redirection and shortening URLs

Keep your QR Codes as simple as possible. In the example bellow, both QR Codes lead to the same page, contact-us, on this website. The QR Code on the right is shortened using bit.ly services. The drawback in this case is that you relay your QR Code to third party availability. If your QR Code is a seasonal coupon, make sure you can redirect your shortened URL to the new address. This is what many sites call “dynamic” URLs. You can achieve the same redirecting pages on your website.

Georillas - Contact Us QR Codes Best Practices example

The right QR Code use Bit.ly – Both send you to http://georillas.com/contact-us/?utm_source=QR+Code&utm_medium=BLOG&utm_term=QR+Codes+and+Marketing&utm_campaign=QR+Code+part1

10- Test multiple devices and QR-scanners

Different phones and app can vary greatly from one another in the way they read QR Codes. What is readable with one app, can fail with a different one. The way contact info is saved can differ between phones. As a rule, check as many devices as possible and with different apps in each one. Making QR Codes requires more than just plugging in a URL with a QR Code generator.

11- Contact a professional that understand mobile as a medium

Yes, I did say 10 rules, but if you follow the 11th rule, you won’t need to worry about the previous 10.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share some of the best, real life QR Codes best practices and malpractices, how to use QR Codes for social media and much more. In the meantime, if you have any questions or want to share both good and bad examples of QR Code usage, please leave a comment, send me a note or tweet me.