QR Codes in Marketing and Advertising: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Dive In

QR codes are increasingly prevalent in marketing and advertising. They are, after all, a handy way to connect the physical to the digital in one easy step, and they still possess an intrigue factor for consumers. Consumers cannot help but be curious as to where the magical QR code will transport them.  The problem is, most QR codes never deliver on that implied promise in a satisfying way and, frankly, this will ruin QR codes for the brilliant marketers among us.

In light of this situation, I offer you 7 questions to ask yourself before you consider dropping QR codes into all of your marketing campaigns.


1. What is the Objective?

Do not get distracted by the shiny new toy. Just because you can use a QR code, does not mean you should use a QR code. As all good marketers know, you must have a goal and clear, measurable objectives for your campaign. The same is true for the use of QR codes. If you have no clear objective for incorporating a QR code into your campaign, then you probably shouldn’t.


2. How will you measure success?

Once you know your objective, you need to establish metrics by which to measure the success of your QR code initiative. One of the strongest benefits of using QR codes is their advanced metrics capabilities.  Tagging systems allow you to easily collect information on when and where your QR code was accessed, the type of device that was used to scan it, and allow for consumers to opt in to email or SMS campaigns. This adds yet another layer of data to a campaign that helps make the case for ROI.


3. Who are you reaching?

Have you considered who is scanning QR codes and then compared that to your target audience? Neilsen’s reports that:

  • 62 percent of those ages 25 to 34 have smartphones
  • The fastest growing segment of smartphone adopters is adults between the ages of 55 and 64
  • Teens are the slowest demographic to adopt smartphones

Do the research to ensure that QR codes are relevant to your target audience.


4. Where are you taking them?

Content is king. If you do not have a magical journey in store for the consumer, then leave them be. QR codes offer a chance to extend the consumer experience and move consumers along the path of engagement. They just took the time to interact with your marketing—you captured their attention! Don’t disappoint them with a meaningless trip to a flat website or repetitive messaging. Reward them for their efforts with something that adds value to their life.


5. Is there a call to action?

You caught the consumer’s attention, moved them to a digital platform for further engagement, and then….what? What do you want them to do next? There must be a call to action to continue the momentum and the journey.  It is time to think about how you want to mobilize the consumer.


6. Does it fit?

Think about your QR code at the beginning of the design process. QR codes are not exactly sexy design elements, and your design team will be none-too-pleased if you ask them to slap one onto an existing design. If you are serious about using a QR code effectively, then it should be at the center of your creative design from the start.


7. What’s the lifespan?

The beauty of a QR code is that you can redirect consumers to a new piece of content without changing the code itself.  This enables you to modify the consumer journey over time and extend the life of a campaign. By providing fresh content regularly, you encourage consumers to become repetitive scanners and increase your engagement opportunities.

Brands with a compelling story to share and the ability to shift paradigms from brand to consumer centric will be well served incorporating QR codes into their marketing efforts.  QR codes can amplify marketing messages, strengthen brand loyalty, and mobilize consumers to act when used properly.  If—after asking yourself these 7 questions—you feel like a QR code is right for you, then go for it! If not, please do not ruin the shiny new toy for the rest of us.


By Shannon DowneyShannon

Shannon Downey is the founder and president of Pivotal Chicago @PivotalChicago a digital, social media and mobile marketing agency. She is a digital trainer for the cities largest advertising agencies and is adjunct faculty at DePaul University. Shannon is co-founder of the Grant for Good and sits on the board of directors for Woman Made Gallery and the Firebelly Foundation.

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Comments (6)
  • I’ve also wondered about those QR codes used inside the El train cars. I’m 6’0″ tall and I would have a hard time scanning one of the codes. Yep, poor design.

  • Very good list Shannon. I “does it fit” and “where it’s going” are both really important considerations. Not only it should be a central part of the design but ideally it’s also designed with the location in mind. Those tiny QR codes perched high up in a train station were clearly not designed with the location in mind…

  • This is a great outline, Shannon! I have a bad taste in my mouth with QR codes because it’s rare you find marketers using them well anymore.

    I had a rant post a while back about QR Codes – I think you might find it entertaining!


  • Thank you both. I hope more people get really creative with QR codes. They could be so valuable! Have a great weekend.

  • Just because you can use a QR code, does not mean you should use a QR code. Well said!

  • Shannon, I’m so glad you wrote this post. I get asked about QR codes by clients all the time. Now, I can just direct them to your post. Awesome job!

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