By Nate Riggs published July 27, 2011

6 Things to Know About Using QR Codes in Content Marketing

In 2010, we started to talk about QR codes … a little.

This year, QR codes are on the rise, popping up at every interactive conference, in magazines and books and anywhere you can print the fancy little squares. You’ll find some interesting statistics on consumer adoption of QR codes in this fascinating presentation by Austin & Williams.

A recent recent report published by ScanLife, estimates that 30-40% of all smart phone users have, at one time, downloaded a bar code scanning application. The report also revealed:

  • 61% of all scanned bar codes are from Android operating systems, compared to Apple’s 20% ownership of market share.
  • The top five US cities that have adopted QR codes are New York, Houston, Chicago, San Antonio and Las Vegas.
  • The largest demographic that has adopted the use of QR Codes are 25-34-year-olds, with 35-44-year- olds close behind.
  • 26% of QR code users earn an annual income of less than $50,000, and 35% make between $50,000 — $100,000 per year.
  • There was a 1,600% increase in mobile bar code scanning in 2010.

Adoption momentum

From an adoption standpoint, it’s probably going to be some time before QR codes make it out of the hands of Internet geeks and into the mainstream. But the trend is beginning to gain momentum.  My gut tells me that widespread adoption will occur faster than we think largely because of the marketing and consolidation of the QR code reader market and deeper integration with smart phone operating systems.

As consumers become more used to technology adoption in general, the habit becomes much less scary for us. Couple that with the rate that new startups are pumping out shiny objects and the widespread success of platforms like Facebook, Groupon as well as Andriod, and suddenly, the barriers are much less intimidating.

Beware the gimmick syndrome

Team Cbus and Friends at SXSW

My trip to SXSW this year was a virtual QR code frenzy.

A dense crowd of tech-savvy humans who knew what to do with these fancy little squares descended upon Austin as they do each year. This audience created the perfect environment to experiment with applications of QR code technology.

Some of the applications were very effective. Some were not. Some were simply annoying.

For instance, we saw a ton of shirts displaying QR’s. Good idea, right?  Not so much. Notice the slight fold in the individual’s T-shirt?  Good luck getting an application like QuickMark to actually process that image and bring up the link.

Then there were the cupcakes. While tasty, this was a completely failed use of the technology in my opinion.

If you think the shirt was difficult to scan, you should have tried these little snack items.

But don’t worry. My frustration was quickly calmed by the yummy icing.  I never made it to the landing page as the company would have liked me to. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you one thing about the company. Can you see the problem with this gimmicky approach?

Doing it right

44Doors is doing QR codes right in all directions.  While this is a paid platform, they are light years beyond the free QR Code generators you can find online.

One of the case studies that caught my attention immediately centers on 44Doors’ work with Kendall Jackson Wines.

By placing a QR code on the label or as a tag around the neck of the bottle, Kendall Jackson can offer its customers all kinds of different information at the point of purchase. It’s relevant, timely and unique, which can influence the ultimate purchase decision.

6 things to know about using QR codes in content marketing

When you are thinking about using a QR code as part of your interactive strategy, make sure you consider these important points:

1) Know where your audience is and what they need when they encounter your QR code.
Many users are not tech savvy and do not know what a QR code is. Provide some instructions to educate them on what QR codes are, what they do, and how to use them.

2) Suggest a QR code reader for your audience to use.
For less savvy audiences, you may want to suggest one or more QR code readers they could download. Make sure to recommend what you know works, and make sure readers are compatible with both Andriod and iPhone OS. Here are some readers I recommend:

3) Use an appropriate call to action.
Where do you want to take your audience so that they can take the next step? Once they land, what will you ask them to do?

4) Create the right landing page.
Once the QR code is scanned, make sure the information you deliver is relevant to where the end user is at that place and time. Location is a critical factor.

5) Display QR codes on a flat surface.
If you’re QR code is wrinkled or folded, your audience will have trouble scanning it, get frustrated and move on.

6) Always keep it simple.
Essentially, a QR code is a conversion point in real life. Don’t get too fancy or clutter up the code with noisy and distracting images and graphics.

There’s plenty more to consider.  What else would you add? How would you use a QR code in your marketing?

Author: Nate Riggs

Nate Riggs is the Founder and CEO of NR Media Group, a Columbus, Ohio-based marketing agency that works to change the way businesses use digital media to connect with customers, earn their trust and win their business for life. Nate will be releasing the Video Engineering Playbook early in 2015, and you can download sample chapters for free.

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  • Anonymous

    Hey Nate,

    This is some awesome info you have here!! I love your case study of Woodlands Tavern and how they’re educating consumers on the use of QR codes – excellent tips.

    I didn’t realize that QR codes don’t scan on a T-shirt – thanks for the heads up (should save someone a small sum of money before they go buck wild and print QR codes on a stack of T-shirts 🙂

    I also love the landing page that 44 Doors has designed for their wine client. It’s exactly what I’d want to see if I scanned their code. But it seems to me that it’s easy to design a landing page when you have a tangible product to showcase. What kind of landing page would you suggest for service companies/consultancies? Do you have some case studies for those?

    Thanks so much for this! – Best article I’ve read in weeks! (I’m sending you a Google+ request to connect 😉

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Great question, and off hand, I can’t think of any killer cases of a service-based business using QR’s. 

      Here’s some ideas I’ll throw out there as to what I would consider:

      Putting a QR code on something that people keep around is worth exploring. For instance, things like post-it notes have always been a great B2B guerilla marketing tactic in that most folks will use them so they sit on a desk or hang on a fridge. There are other products similar to that.

      The landing page is a tough one.  I’d look at curating some information or a list of resources that your clients might use to make better buying decisions around what you offer, while getting them infront of your contact info, face and other content. 

      Realistically though, I would think about the other content marketing you are doing and see how it could be supported with QR’s. For instance, maybe you can add people to your email list through a QR code scan and then schedule some drip emails that welcome them and help them with other info that they can use once they are back to their desk.

      If you can give me some details, I’m happy to brainstorm with you here. There might be some others who have ideas too… 🙂 

      @twitter-14857169:disqus – any ideas on this one?

  • http://twitter.com/AirPacInc Tina

    Thanks for this post.  Great info!

    We are a B2B air conditioning rental company and we are considering using QR codes on our equipment at a customer site.  We plan to use it for two purposes. 

    1.  Have contact info for prospects wondering who to rent the equipment from.  Many of our units are rented through a 3rd party and placed at a big event — like a golf tournament or a large wedding to cool a tent.  We are often not there to answer questions. Plus, who’s going to want to take a brochure or business card while they are at a social or corporate event — much easier to scan a QR.

    2.  When we leave equipment in a data center or retail store it is often there for weeks, sometimes months.  There are several people who come in contact with the equipment.  We are thinking about we are thinking about also using QR codes for general operating instructions.  People just don’t want to read instructions these days.  If we leave a manual, it gets lost.  Even when we post instructions on the equipment, they just want to pick up the phone and call.  We’re thinking we could use QR codes to take them to 30 second video posts on unit operation tips.

    What are your thoughts?  Would love your feedback.  Love to connect with you wise marketing folks!

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Tina — I Disqus would have allowed me to double Like this comment, I would. Bravo!

      I really think your head is in the right place with this, because it seems that you are focused on using a QR code to supply your customers with additional and relevant information at a time when they need it most.

      The marketing will come from all your customers who have a better experience with your equipment because you’ve made it easier for them use. Those are the folks who tell great stories to their friends about how your company went above and beyond the call to make it easier to get value out of doing business with you.  Seriously – a great idea and thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/AirPacInc Tina

    Thanks for this post.  Great info!

    We are a B2B air conditioning rental company and we are considering using QR codes on our equipment at a customer site.  We plan to use it for two purposes. 

    1.  Have contact info for prospects wondering who to rent the equipment from.  Many of our units are rented through a 3rd party and placed at a big event — like a golf tournament or a large wedding to cool a tent.  We are often not there to answer questions. Plus, who’s going to want to take a brochure or business card while they are at a social or corporate event — much easier to scan a QR.

    2.  When we leave equipment in a data center or retail store it is often there for weeks, sometimes months.  There are several people who come in contact with the equipment.  We are thinking about we are thinking about also using QR codes for general operating instructions.  People just don’t want to read instructions these days.  If we leave a manual, it gets lost.  Even when we post instructions on the equipment, they just want to pick up the phone and call.  We’re thinking we could use QR codes to take them to 30 second video posts on unit operation tips.

    What are your thoughts?  Would love your feedback.  Love to connect with you wise marketing folks!

  • Cindy

    Great post!  Timely. . .

    My company owns multifamily housing communities.  I was thinking about putting  QR codes on our signs that would take passers-by to the community’s website or Facebook page.  My thinking is that if they are looking for a new apartment community, and they pass ours and see the QR code, they might use it to find out the particulars of our community.  Once on the landing page they would have access to phone numbers, office hours, floorplans and rates.  I’m guessing there would have to be a little pull off so they could stop their car and click on the code.  I’d appreciate any feedback.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Cindy,

      It’s a good idea. One thing you might consider is where you located the codes. Remember that people get flogged or even ticketed (in Ohio anyway) for using mobiles devices while driving.  For a QR code to work well, the audience needs to be:

      1. In one place long enough to see it and be curious
      2. Enough time to get out their mobile, snap the code and visit the site, and even perhaps download an QR Reader app.
      3. Be teased enough to want to go get more information on something.

      If it’s a sign I’m driving by or even walking by, I might not have time for all that.  If I’m in line for something or waiting somewhere with nothing better, then those 3 things become easier.

      You might want to chat with my friend @30lines:twitter (Mike Whaling) since he’s a specialist in the multifamily industry and has some specific experience in that area with his multifamily clients. I think they did some of that with Urbane Apartments. 

      Does that help? 🙂

      • Cindy

        Thanks Nate.  Excellent points.  I do understand about the time thing.  I see a mobile landing page with buttons for office hours, phone number, etc. information for anyone who drives by everyday and thinks “Great location, but I can never remember the name of the community to look it up on the web!”  And I’ll definitely get in touch with Mike. 

    • http://30lines.com Mike Whaling

      Hi Cindy, I agree with Nate that you have to consider how you’re using the codes … I honestly wouldn’t expect too many people to pull over just to scan a code. You may want to consider a SMS code, a short URL or a phone number in these cases. 

      That said, I think there are a lot of potential applications for QR codes in multifamily. Follow Nate’s points, make sure your landing page is optimized for mobile and make it as easy as possible for the prospect to take the next step. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

  • http://twitter.com/Banff_Homes C.Vincent & C.Dubois

    Good post,

    We have been using QR codes to direct people to our mobile site in conjunction with print advertising. It is impossible in a cost effective way to have all of our real estate listings in one ad, but a QR code can direct people straight to a listings page. We have also put QR codes on our for sale signs with  the call to action of “for more information on this listing, scan the QR code”. Still in its infancy with tons of potential. 

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Nice work on this. 

      To me, this screams as an opportunity to try out a walking video tour of each house that could be displayed on the landing page? On the other hand, that also might reduce the amount of actual showings that get scheduled. Have you guys played with video in your use of QR’s? If so, did you see any results?

  • http://www.reportcontentwriter.com/ Rachel Agheyisi

    Thanks for another informative post, Nate.

    Regarding those cupcakes: perhaps the idea was for people to swallow each whole, and quickly move to a scanner to unscramble the code.

    Some of the issues raised here remind me of when the retail sector first encountered RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. Amazing waste followed due to poor (perhaps unplanned, hasty, clueless) deployment. There is certainly a need for a clear strategy, which incorporates the items you’ve identified in this article, and less of the “fad factor” that seems to characterize efforts by ineffective and  “annoying” early adopters.

  • http://www.reportcontentwriter.com/ Rachel Agheyisi

    Thanks for another informative post, Nate.

    Regarding those cupcakes: perhaps the idea was for people to swallow each whole, and quickly move to a scanner to unscramble the code.

    Some of the issues raised here remind me of when the retail sector first encountered RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. Amazing waste followed due to poor (perhaps unplanned, hasty, clueless) deployment. There is certainly a need for a clear strategy, which incorporates the items you’ve identified in this article, and less of the “fad factor” that seems to characterize efforts by ineffective and  “annoying” early adopters.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Lolz! 🙂  Well played, Rachel.

      Now THAT would be an interesting technology innovation. Digestible and scannable QR codes. Someone needs to call TSA and Hostess and get them working on that one.

      Something that I’ve been following is Google’s recent acquisition of facial recognition software, PittPatt (http://tcrn.ch/p5nSbO). If software can recognize facial features, it’s only a matter of time before it’s used to recognize logos, product labels or even package designs.  The question I can’t answer is, will this type of technology eventually boot QR’s into obscurity? It’s a bit harder to make that type of recognition a gimmick. 

      What do you think?

      • http://www.reportcontentwriter.com/ Rachel Agheyisi

        Nate, you’re so edgy on these tech stuff — it’s scary in a good way!

        Regarding the likely off-staging of QR codes.  I guess that is the (sometimes inevitable) way of tech advances: they appear (sometimes burst) on the scene, dazzle us for a while, but before long they are replaced by something better (sometimes scarier).

        Einstein is credited as saying that imagination is everything; it is a preview of life’s coming attractions.  So, as long as there are all those imaginative techies out there, we are in for new products with profound technological and commercial implications.  Lucky us!

        BTW if anyone does come up with a digestible and scannable barcode, you & I might be able to stake a claim to the idea.  So be on the lookout!

        • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

          Amen to that. It’s in writing now. All we need to do is figure out how to snail mail this comment thread to ourselves and we have a temporary patent.  Muuuhhwaaaaa!  [clicks print this page button] 🙂

  • Chris Edwards

    Nate, thanks for covering this. I also do consulting for small companies and assist them in creating QR codes. One of the things that you covered is my biggest pet peeve… landing pages that are not mobile friendly. I just listened to a marketing presentation by a large University in the area that is promoting their football program using QR codes. I scanned their code to find it taking me to their ticket information page, however this was their normal website. I had to zoom, scroll, deal with horrible navigation for mobile devices and then walked away thinking…you just spent several hundred thousand dollars to accomplish this? The way I see it, they just wasted all that money.

    If you don’t mind, I would love to share a link to an article I wrote that goes right along with yours. I talk about why you should have a mobile friendly landing page and I also give a few options that I have found that will help smaller companies make this happen. You can check it out at http://www.708media.com/qrcode/qr-code-landing-page-mobile-friendly/ and let me know your thoughts. 

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Thanks for the adding into the discussion, Chris.  

      Your post actually hits on two pet peeves of mine – site load time and crowding the landing site with too much information. I think mobile is a case where less is actually more, as long as it’s the most relevant version of “less” given the consumer and where they are in the buying decision.  Fast site load time is a must have in that I believe that with the accessibility of mobile web apps, attentions spans grow even shorter.Seriously dude, great post and thanks for adding to this one!

  • http://twitter.com/MaxxKnowsPromos Green Banana Promos

    Few things… 1) cool article. I enjoyed it. 2) For QR Shirts…it’s all about the printing. Size and position are key. And cupcakes…eat the cupcakes cause they are yummy. For edible QR codes go for the chocolate squares. All of this can be accomplished by getting a QR savvy promo company to do your products (www.greenbananapromos.com <- shameless plug)  and 3)  Best QR reader I've seen to date: NEOreader. In a field test we did NeoReader was the only reader that could scan at a substantial distance and scan a white code with almost instant recognition.  There's my 25 cents.  Keep on keepin' on.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Nice. Downloading NEOreader now. Good tip.

      Do you have a photo of these QR chocolate squares? I’d love to see what they look like…

      • Green Banana Promos

        Awesome. I’m just seeing this — you know…. 2 years later. Sorry about that. Yes – here is a picture lol

        In addition – here is a link to the latest tech we are using on promotional products, DigiMarcs. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=512462665441944&set=pb.105506936137521.-2207520000.1378317808.&type=3&theater

        This method prints the mark straight into a full color photo. We can also do custom coasters and a few other products that work with augmented reality. Pretty sweet.

        Let me know if we can ever put something together for you!
        – Charity
        ceo | green banana promos

  • http://twitter.com/ecenci Erica Cenci

    Great post, Nate. Very informative and I love the tips. I think the call to action is HUGE. It drives me nuts when I see a QR code just hanging out somewhere with nothing telling me why I should take a next step. I also think your comment below about making sure people have the time to do something with the QR code is important!

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Also having the QR code handy at exactly the time that the consumer needs additional information is a big one too. 44Doors did a nice job executing on that one with Kendall Jackson. 🙂

  • http://twitter.com/ColleenWeston Colleen Weston

    Well, I wish my company would have seen this earlier. We agreed to do QR codes on T-shirts for an upcoming show :-/ Great article! I’m hoping to find other ways to utilize this technology in the future. I see the potential for having a QR code on each one of the products we demonstrate and a tradeshow and they can be taken right to a page explaining more about the product. Is there a way for the user to then save that information? Do you know? Maybe there is a play to have these on a business card to bring the viewer to the companies page or maybe your bio with the company…just brainstorming, which is taxing at the end of a long day! Great article-one I have bookmarked! 

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Depends on the QR Reader you use, but there are some that allow you to save. I believe QuickMark for Android has that feature.  I do know of some folks who have QR Codes to VCards on the business cards and you can also do the same thing with SMS.

      At your show, try using a great BIG QR Code with high placement on your booth. Have you ever seen the booths that have the sail like banners that rise up above the floor? That would be a good place to out it since it’s noticeable and scannable from just about anywhere on the floor depending on your showroom.
      Here are a few more ideas you might be able to use at your show. Did this one a while back for Skyline Exhibits 🙂  Thanks for all the props. 🙂

      http://bit.ly/obdmxF  

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Depends on the QR Reader you use, but there are some that allow you to save. I believe QuickMark for Android has that feature.  I do know of some folks who have QR Codes to VCards on the business cards and you can also do the same thing with SMS.

      At your show, try using a great BIG QR Code with high placement on your booth. Have you ever seen the booths that have the sail like banners that rise up above the floor? That would be a good place to out it since it’s noticeable and scannable from just about anywhere on the floor depending on your showroom.
      Here are a few more ideas you might be able to use at your show. Did this one a while back for Skyline Exhibits 🙂  Thanks for all the props. 🙂

      http://bit.ly/obdmxF  

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Depends on the QR Reader you use, but there are some that allow you to save. I believe QuickMark for Android has that feature.  I do know of some folks who have QR Codes to VCards on the business cards and you can also do the same thing with SMS.

      At your show, try using a great BIG QR Code with high placement on your booth. Have you ever seen the booths that have the sail like banners that rise up above the floor? That would be a good place to out it since it’s noticeable and scannable from just about anywhere on the floor depending on your showroom.
      Here are a few more ideas you might be able to use at your show. Did this one a while back for Skyline Exhibits 🙂  Thanks for all the props. 🙂

      http://bit.ly/obdmxF  

  • jawka

    My question is are QR codes for B2C or B2B market as well? I can’t see a finance director taking out his Blackberry and scanning QR code from my leaflet.. Is it only me?

    • http://about.me/KariRippetoe Kari Rippetoe

      I have found that QR codes can work in both markets. Think of B2B conferences and how exhibitors can implement QR codes into their booths to deliver sales/marketing collateral (like PDFs and videos), product/technical specs, etc.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      I believe that they are. QR codes are for delivering additional information at the time when the customer or client needs it most. B2B companies can use QR’s at trade shows, on documents and proposals and in a variety of other ways.  It just depends on what information you’d like to deliver and how you’d like to deliver it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sissadora Tiia Vitikainen

    I actually saw a new Audi on the highway with a QR code on the back bumper that I was trying to scan (I wasn’t driving, fortunately) but I didn’t manage to actually scan it. Left me a bit annoyed… I can understand how this stuff can drive people nuts when not implemented correctly!

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      I would never recommend trying to scan a QR code while driving. Bad idea… 🙂

  • http://tonychung.ca tonychung

    Nate: Thanks for writing this great post about successful and not so successful implementations. My boss sent this to our team because we love tech. Personally, I’ve loved QR codes for years, and see lots of potential in the future. At a conference, rather than handing out business cards, I asked people to scan a QR code I’d saved into my iPhone photo gallery. My QR code added my contact information in their mobile device phone book.

    Printing QR codes is finicky, as while the image looks to be black and white, it also contains various shades of grey. Plus, as you mentioned usage is important. The t-shirts and cupcakes were an “interesting” concept. I saw an ad on the wall at a train station where the code was printed too small to be scanned from the on the safe side of the track. That’s another campaign that didn’t go anywhere.

    Intent, format, placement, and accurate printing are all very important.

    I’m surprised that I-Nigma by 3G
    Vision
    isn’t on your list of readers. It’s available for iOS,
    Android, and BlackBerry. I think they may also develop a library that
    others can integrate QR code support into their apps.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Thanks for the suggestion and the link. It’s interesting that there are so many readers available out there and yet, consumers usually only know about 1 or 2 of them at best.

      I think that in order to see QR’s really hit the main stream, we are going to need to see some consolidation in the reader market and have 1-2 major players rise as the popular readers to use. When one reader comes pre-installed on an iPhone or Android across the board, adoption will start to spike.

  • qr code pal

    Great article! Very interesting statistics! Thought you might be interested in the launch of a new QR Code scanner this month -QR Code Pal!
    The app not only scans bar-codes and QR Codes, but allows users to save, categorise, share via social networking, manage, and also includes safe browsing and mobile pay options. 

    Check it out on http://www.twitter.com/qrcodepal
    or at http://www.qrcodepal.com

  • http://twitter.com/toutattache Ugo Orlando

    Well, I would say these tips were already in every marketer’s intuition.
    Reach your target where it matters, drive it the way it matters, place your call-to-action “above the fold”.

    But, yes, useful for less “savvy” targets, for sure.

  • Jerebear

    We actually built a really easy-to-use generator that allows you to choose the two different colors.  We did this for our clients but decided to offer it publicly as well.
    You can check it out here:  http://www.qrcodify.com

  • http://www.yogico.pl/ serwis klimatyzacji

    It is very informative and benefical tips for the marketing.Thanks for sharing the blog and keep on updating.