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QR Codes: Rules, Response Rates, and Opportunity

I recently began testing the use of QR (Quick Reference) Codes in an effort to see how they could be leveraged as a new marketing tool. I have scanned these square barcode style codes using my smart phone plenty of times before, but usually when reading an advertisement or brochure in an effort to learn more about the product or service being sold. My objective, however, was a bit different: I wanted to see what it would take to transform these codes into a tool that could help me build relationships more effectively for our company, and ultimately bring more work in the door.

If you aren’t familiar with Quick Reference or QR Codes, they were created in 1994 by a Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave. You have probably seen these square codes numerous times even if you haven’t ever scanned one. The rapid increase in the use of the codes for marketing is, in part, a result of their ease of use, and because Denso Wave chose to make the codes available for free without licensing requirements. As a result, QR Codes can be easily implemented into a marketing program with less effort than it takes to ensure you have the proper licensing to use a stock photographic image.

Common uses for QR Codes

You have probably seen the codes in numerous places, but throughout our industry and others QR Codes are being leveraged in a number of marketing platforms to provide an additional connection point with clients. The most common uses include:

  • Brochures – QR Codes are often used in brochures as a way for the reader to find additional information. Recently I scanned a code that led to a short YouTube video with additional images and information.
  • Post Cards – An effective post card traditionally has an action for the reader to take. QR Codes can help the reader take those actions even if they don’t have immediate access to a computer.
  • Advertising – Including QR codes in print advertising is increasingly being used to direct potential clients to additional information imbedded in videos or websites. Hickok Cole Architects in Washington, D.C. even started an industry scavenger hunt with QR Codes in a recent advertising campaign.
  • Business Cards – Including a QR Code on the back of your business card can create an easy way for contacts to download your vCard or to connect using social media.
  • Promotional Products – Many companies are having QR Codes printed on promotional products such as t-shirts that are given away at special events and trade shows.

Response Rates and Opportunity

As with any new marketing tool, it is important to start with research into the associated hit rate. A recent study at the Harvard campus showed a response rate of 0.3% when 160 signs that were distributed to gauge a response to the QR code experiment. For comparison purposes, this rate is analogous to the hit rate on your average post card mailing. For the study, half of the signs had instructions on the use of QR Codes and half did not. Notably 60% of the activated codes were from the versions with detailed instruction on how to use the QR Code, indicating that the awareness about QR code usage is still in an embryonic stage. Therein lies the opportunity for marketers to take advantage of this new tool, but it also shows that in order to increase your hit rates it is highly advantageous to provide detailed instructions on the use of QR Codes when using them in marketing.

Knowing the QR Code Rules

As with every marketing tool there are a handful of best practices that every marketer should know to effectively implement the tool. For QR Codes consider the following 5 rules:

  1. Smart-phone friendly – QR Codes are designed to be scanned by smart phones. Don’t send out a post card with a QR Code that leads to a website that is not smart phone friendly.
  2. Keep it short – Every character that you place into a QR Code must be translated into the code, thus be certain you shorten links before creating your code by using a website such as http://bit.ly If you want to use the QR Code for a complex function such as sharing a vCard consider developing a smart-phone friendly webpage that you can embed the vCard in since QR Codes with too many characters will not be readable by every smart-phone.
  3. Provide value – Don’t use QR Codes just because they exist, instead ensure that they provide value or your hit ratio will suffer.
  4. Instructions – Remember the Harvard campus study and give instructions on how to use QR Codes until you are certain that your target audience knows how to use them.
  5. Have fun – Get outside the box with designer QR codes. Check out www.customqrcodes.com for unique QR Code graphics that will set you apart from others in the industry.

Building Relationships: Scan Here to Connect

As I have been experimenting with QR Codes, one of the most successful ways I have used the code is on my business cards. For an industry built on relationships it didn’t take long to discover that using the codes to focus on individuals quickly led to new connections and new project leads. For testing purposes I created a quick smart-phone friendly website (www.TimKlabunde.com) that contains links to all of my social media connect points including LinkedIn, Twitter, Plaxo, my blog Cofebuz, and YouTube. In addition, I created an easy link for visitors to download my vCard. I then created a QR Code at http://qrcode.kaywa.com and imprinted it on the back of my business cards.

The results have been intriguing to say the least. From a website analytics perspective, the hits have been much better than I expected and far better than the Harvard campus study: about 1 in 4 recipients have scanned the code. The true success of the experiment, however, has been the conversations that hatched when I first handed someone my business card. The QR Code has become a topic in-and-of itself, as it opens discussions related to the most effective uses of technology in marketing.

Technology as a Tool

As marketers, we often see new technology like QR Codes and begin to use it just because it exists. The problem is that technology for technology’s sake does not create great marketing. Great marketing happens when tools are leveraged together to meet a predetermined set of objectives, and in our industry that objective must be the establishment and furthering of great relationships.

This article, written by CofeBuz author Tim Klabunde, was published in the August edition of Marketer magazine.

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One Comment

  1. Kenneth says:

    I really like the landing page website idea that your business card QR points to. Great idea, and conversation starter!

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