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Why Unique QR Codes Aren’t Just Another Nerdy Marketing Gimmick

Posted by Cynthia Fedor on March 16th, 2011

Most marketers are failing to use QR codes in smart ways; and, many consumers are not paying attention to QR codes because marketers often do not provide incentives and/or a good reason to use them.

As blogger Ashley Brown noted in her article, 5 Digital Marketing Trends to Watch, recently published on Mashable, QR codes appear to be just a “nerdy marketing gimmick.” She describes her encounter with a QR code during a recent shopping trip to Sephora:

I simply do not understand the success of QR codes… on a recent shopping trip to Sephora, I noticed the use of QR codes to collect additional information about products around the store. Considering I am admittedly secluded within the tech industry, I was anxious to know just how successful a somewhat “nerdy” marketing gimmick could be on the average, everyday consumer. So, I quickly asked a nearby sales clerk, “How many shoppers do you generally see scanning your QR codes each day?” Her response: “What is a QR code?”

There are many SMART ways marketers can use QR codes to collect data, track ROI of marketing campaigns, and deliver RELEVANT content to consumers. It’s just not being done that much right now.

Using her Sephora experience as an example, rather than simply linking to more product information after she scanned the QR code, they could have provided her with a coupon—instantly delivered to her cell phone—in exchange for her address or her subscription to their eNewsletter. They’d get something out of the transaction (customer/prospect data along with the opportunity to close a sale) and she’d get something out of it (a coupon that could be used immediately while she was still in the retail environment).

Done correctly, unique QR codes on printed materials may be used to deliver information that is both useful to and meaningful for a consumer. For example, imagine a family with a child getting a direct mail postcard from a photo studio. The postcard could feature a unique QR code that offers driving directions from the family’s home to the nearest photo studio location.

Example: Using a unique QR code on a personalized direct mail postcard to provide detailed driving directions to a store’s location.

Since the QR code is unique and tied to a specific recipient, the marketer will have the ability to see who responds to a marketing piece and when. This type of data could then be used to further refine and personalize marketing messages or for targeted follow-up campaigns.

To explore other smart ways in which digital response technologies, like unique QR codes and SMS, can be integrated with print to provide value to both marketer and consumer, watch the short video on QuantumDigital’s site.


  1. Carlos Gonzalez
    Posted March 17, 2011 a 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Great post. Agree, when used wisely as in your example -qr codes can be very effective -even after the current hype and buzz around them is gone.

  2. Posted October 18, 2011 a 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi Cynthia,

    Well stated piece, but I will have to disagree here. I think for >95% of the marketers out there, the QR code has value almost exclusively as simply a gimmick. QR in practice seem to be added to campaigns as either an afterthought, or to make the company in question seem like they are on the cutting edge of technology.

    Even with ‘intelligent use’ as you argue for, I can not envision a scenario in which the marginal value of using a QR over a shortened link would exceed the hassle/opportunity cost of the format.

    If you think about your traditional marketing funnel as it relates to a campaign, you are already fighting an uphill battle for engagement. In the case of a bus stop advert with a traditional URL, it would be (very unscientifically): Potential eyeballs –> Eyeballs –> Interested Eyeballs –> Eyeballs with smartphone –> Action (going offline to online) –> conversion.

    The dropoffs at each of these levels are huge as you know. If you consider replacing a traditional url or shortened url with a QR code, you add another huge hurdle in there by limiting your reach to smartphone users who possess both the knowledge/savvy and the technology to use the code effectively. I just don’t see any potential benefit of QR that could outweigh reducing your effective audience by easily 50-80% or more.

    URLs are definitely not the end-all be-all for offline to online conversions, and I am certain that a better technology will usurp this and make for a compelling alternative, but QR isn’t it. Imagine the possibilities instead of a scanless option such as RFID in which data could be passed one or 2 ways between advert and smartphone. The possibilities and value there are much greater in my opinion.

    For stats and more qualitative opinion on this that falls in line with my thoughts, check out this great related blog post here:

4 Trackbacks

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