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I am a fan of QR codes… when they are used well.

What I hate, hate, HATE is QR codes (or any kind of digital media/technology) used gratuitously or badly.

I was unfortunate enough to see one such example this week.

Please see the evidence above. A QR code. On an ad.
On. The. Back. Of. A. Bus.

WTF!?

Granted, it may work. But let’s think about it. It’s on a moving object. And not on the side of the bus, where it is most visible to pedestrians, but on the back, in the ad area that is aimed at people driving in cars. Yes, moving cars may have a passenger, but they ALL have a driver. WHO IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE USING A MOBILE PHONE WHILE DRIVING!

Even as a passenger, I could not scan this QR code from our car.

What made me even madder is that the ad is for a SCHOOL EDUCATION EXPO! Surely they should know better.

It’s up there with a few other (what I thought would be) obvious no-nos for QR code location:

  • On a website or email (what’s wrong with a link? why make it harder?)
  • Somewhere where there is no internet reception (although most readers do store the link for later access)
  • Where people can’t easily scan it, like a billboard, TV commercial, or ON THE BACK OF A BUS!
  • Where people are unlikely to have their mobile phones on them

For those who don’t know what I’m ranting on about, I’ll back up a bit…

What is a QR code?

QR is short for “quick response” and is a type of matrix or two-dimensional barcode that basically stores data. They can be scanned by a QR code reader that can be downloaded as an app to a user’s smartphone.

Their most popular use is as a link (i.e. storing the destination URL) however can store a wide range of data types, including:

  • Website URL
  • YouTube video
  • Google Maps location (e.g. for use on an invitation or event poster)
  • Twitter link
  • Facebook link
  • LinkedIn link
  • FourSquare link
  • App Store download
  • iTunes link
  • Plain text
  • Telephone number
  • Skype call
  • SMS message
  • Email address
  • Email message
  • Contact details (VCARD, e.g. for use on a business card)
  • Event (VCALENDAR, e.g. for use on an invitation or event poster)
  • WiFi login (Android Only)
  • PayPal Buy Now link

There is a range of free QR code generators available, that are super-easy to use, such as QR Stuff.

There are also some great free QR code reader apps available, such as:

QR codes are the new black

Angry Birds QR code example

QR codes have been around for a while, but they are definitely “in”. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked by people: “can we put a QR code on that?” My standard response is: “yes” (because you technically can put one on anything) “but why do you want to?”

Doing anything badly reflects badly on the organisation, brand or person doing it. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean that you should. Like any marketing, have a strategy for what you want to achieve, and determine what tools are best to help you achieve that.

A QR code is just a tool, it’s not your concept or campaign.

And remember, QR codes are for use on mobiles, so make them relevant to mobile use/content.

There are some very cool ways that QR codes can be used to be the focus of your marketing such as:

The two important C words for use of QR codes

These good examples – besides having a strategy – have considered my two important C words for use of QR codes:

  • Context
  • Content
Context

Where is your QR code going to appear? On what? In what area?

Is it relevant to the information it is appearing with/on?

Will the audience know what it is or will you need to provide some education about it, such as suggested QR code readers to install?

Are they likely to have their mobile phones with them? Will they have internet reception?

Will they be able to scan it easily?

Content

What data will the QR code store? What will it do once scanned?

If it is linking through to a website, is the website optimised for mobiles?

Will the content be useful to them in a mobile context? Or would written information suffice?

Will it make their lives better/easier/more fun?

More important considerations for using QR codes

Once you’ve determined your communications strategy, and whether QR codes are relevant for the context and content, here are some other important considerations:

  • Have a clear purpose for using a QR code.
  • Use a quality QR code generator.
  • Use link shorteners to create cleaner codes.
  • Use a clear call to action with your QR code.
  • Ensure the code links through to mobile friendly content.
  • Ensure your code can appear at least 2.5cm wide x 2.5cm high with clear space around it so it can be scanned easily.
  • Avoid using QR codes on reflective surfaces.
  • QR codes don’t have to be black and white. Like the Angry Birds example above, you can customise the design, just make sure they are still scannable. Here are some design tips from Mashable on how to make your QR codes more beautiful.
  • Test your QR code with a few different readers to make sure it can be read (both iPhone and Android).
  • If your audience might not know what a QR code is or how to use it, provide a brief description, instructions, and the data in another format so that they don’t miss out (providing you have adequate space for this extra information).
  • Track use of your QR code. This can be done via a bit.ly URL shortener, a custom or friendly URL specifically for this use, or a QR code management system such as Delivr.

Do you have any more tips for best use of QR codes?

And please let me know if you’ve seen any great (or horrific) uses or QR codes in the comments.

Erica Stacey

Erica is a Google Analytics and Google Ads certified professional, so you’re in qualified hands. Erica has had over a decade of experience – working for agencies and a wide range of clients – in digital and social media marketing strategy, website development, search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing (SEM), content marketing, inbound marketing, online advertising and so much more. A professional in the field of design, branding and marketing, she is a trusted name in the South Australian and online community to help an array of businesses sort out and achieve their marketing objectives.

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