Reluctantly Supporting the QR Revolution

Guest blogger Henry Quinn is a  marketing manager who thinks a lot about how to get people to act based on direct mail, email and websites. He weighs in here on the practical applications of the QR codes that have generated so much buzz lately. Full disclosure: Henry is married to Idealware's executive director, Laura Quinn, which means we would have probably run this blog post even if it wasn't as insightful and entertaining as it is. 

Like most people, I hate and fear new things. New things remind me of my mortality, and they require that I take time out from my busy schedule of home-brewing and watching reruns of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to learn how they work. 

As part of a large marketing organization, I see a lot of new things. They tend toward the shiny and jargony, and years of hype surrounding shiny new marketing things has left me pretty cynical. But I’m on board with QR codes as a worthwhile part of a larger marketing strategy for a number of reasons: 

  • QR codes are complementary to other, existing marketing efforts, and carry a very low incremental cost. You don’t need to give anything up to implement them: you’re already mailing the piece, or buying the placement in the subway station or magazine. The only ‘cost’ is finding (physical) space within an existing effort to place the image.
  • A QR code is a clear, simple call to action. Pull out your phone, and point it here. There’s not even any typing.
  • One of the primary measures of marketing success is brand recall, because there’s usually a gap between impression and follow-up. A QR code eliminates this break, and recall ceases to be an issue. For an individual with a smartphone the practical distance between ‘reader of a bus stop poster’ and ‘website visitor’ narrows to almost nothing.
  • QR codes allow you to land a visitor much farther down whatever funnel of engagement you’re interested in moving them through. Rather than trusting a visitor to type in, a QR code can send them directly to the specific page you’d like them to see. Using a mail piece to solicit donations? Don’t just send a prospective donor to your website, send them directly to the donation page.
  • In contrast to this specificity of destination, the potential set of content a QR code can represent is as broad as you’d like it to be. A QR code can link directly to music, video, news—on or off your site—it can activate a phone call, send an SMS, open forums for conversation or social networking—anything that’s online and that’s going increase their engagement with your organization, you can put in front of a user with a phone, immediately, with one click.
  • Because QR codes require a smartphone to use, they will naturally select a (relatively) young and affluent segment of the population. Nothing wrong with that.
  • They’re eminently trackable. Bonus. 
  • There are cons, though I don’t think any of them are very compelling. QR codes are ‘ugly,’ I guess. Old folks like me might be scared of them—though we’re used to seeing bar codes and we’ll probably just ignore them. A QR code has a limited reach, given the need for a smartphone, but if you can tell me what marketing vehicle will reach everyone, you’re hired. 

Implementing QR codes across your marketing efforts is a tactic, not a strategy. They require careful consideration of the question, “What is the goal of this effort, and what is the most appropriate piece of content we can show people in support of that goal?” If the answer to that question is something other than ‘our homepage,’ QR codes can be a practical step toward a solution.  




Totally with you

It's hard for me to embrace new tech too (although the actual QR has been around for a while). BUT I've actually implemented them in my business. I sell tools and I have info and videos for every tool I sell so people know how they work. I linked my QRs (that I got from a website called to those videos and printed the QR onto my pamphlets. They offer a "business" option where I can have many QRs and manage them with my own user name. Plus they're recyclable which means I can change what they are linked to as many times as I want. Sales have gone way up and that is why I EMBRACE it!!

Good Stuff

Great article - plenty of good points, particularly the need for a clear call-to-action and a goal-based approach. I would also add that it's important to make sure QR codes resolve mobile-friendly landing pages (vs. standard desktop pages), as it's safe to assume that the person scanning the code is on a handheld device. Not enough marketers are taking these things into account just yet, but hopefully that will change as QR codes become more widely utilized here in the U.S.

Some cons are a bit more compelling...

Hmmm, while I agree that QR codes could be a worthwhile part of a larger strategy for some, I have to disagree - I think some of the cons are quite compelling.


For starters, if we're assuming that you're "already mailing the piece," then let's also assume that the piece you're mailing is a specific tactic to support a specific strategy to achieve a specific goal (as you've touched on). This piece, then, is crafted a certain way to do a certain thing... Does it really make sense to lump a QR code on top of it? I think in most cases just slapping a QR code on whatever you're already doing is likely to be a symptom of shiny object syndrome.

Maybe "slapping a QR code on" is not what you had in mind. If so, I'm not sure your 1st bullet point conveys that.


If you've managed to motivate someone to get out their smartphone, fire up their QR code-reading app and point their camera at it just right, you had better deliver something that is worth the effort, friendly to a smartphone (in format) and pertinent to this mode of access (has value for me to access "out in the wild").

It takes a significant amount of time, effort and know-how to create a landing page that delivers on these things. This is a significant cost. If you can't deliver on these things, why use a QR code?

Clarity and Reach

I'm not convinced that QR codes are a clear, simple, call to action outside of the echo chamber. Yes, you could possible reach a young and affluent group... Let's add the other important characteristics to that set. Must be: smartphone owners, know what a QR code is, know and have downloaded an app to read QR codes, engaged enough to use the app. I don't have numbers ot back me up, but I'm willing to bet that we're now talking about a relatively slim sub-set. For some, reaching this sub-set in this way may still be the most effective/efficient use of resources. Is it likely to be, though, for most?


Thank You

With a post as good as this one, you almost didn't even to disclose the marriage! 

I think that you nailed a number of very important points. Thanks for helping companies understand the value that QR Codes could add to their marketing efforts.