Effective QR code marketing: The how and the why

Did you know QR (Quick-Response) codes were invented in 1994 to help improve a Toyota subsidiary’s manufacturing process?

Even though the birth of QR codes was in the 1990s, using QR codes wasn’t common until the rise of smartphones in the early 2010s.

Smartphones have added iOS and Android standard functionality to be able to scan QR codes. Since the Apple iOS 11 update in 2017, all iPhone cameras have been able to scan QR codes without the use of a third-party app. Since 2018, phones running on Android 9 or later also have been able to scan QR codes from the camera app.

It is estimated that 3.5 billion people worldwide have a smartphone, which makes scanning QR codes easy for most everyone. During the past few years consumer usage has begun to steadily increase with the popularity of apps — like Snapchat — that use Snapcodes to enable different features while using the app.

Fast forward to 2020: When the pandemic caused a decrease in contact with high-touch surface areas, such as menus, payment options and more, QR codes came to the rescue. The use of QR codes increased significantly during the pandemic as businesses moved to offer customers touch-free interactive experiences.

As the trend continues, it begs the question: How can businesses best integrate QR codes into marketing strategies and campaigns?

Why use a QR code?

As a two-dimensional matrix barcode that is scannable by mobile devices, QR codes take users to a variety of stored data, like websites, payment options and more. QR codes can store up to 7,000 characters of information embedded in the barcode and can be read 10 times faster than a normal barcode.

Static vs. dynamic codes and their uses

QR codes are used for connecting offline marketing with online marketing. Knowing the goals and objectives of a marketing campaign will determine which QR code to use.

There are two types of QR codes: Static and dynamic

Static QR codes use a fixed, unchangeable URL destination. The URL is part of the code’s pattern, making the pattern more condensed and unable to be changed. If the URL changes, the code will need to be changed as well. Static codes do not expire, so they are useful in situations where the typical user will only scan the code once.

The only way a static code expires is if the URL destination is broken or the code itself suffers damage and becomes unreadable. Scan metrics are not provided with static codes.

Even with these limitations, a static code can be useful. Uses include scanning for personal information like a business card or email address; one-off marketing campaigns that provide information that will not change; and to provide minimal data, such as a product description.

Dynamic QR codes use a modifiable URL destination. Unlike static codes, dynamic codes can be changed because the URL destination isn’t integrated into the code pattern. The pattern redirects the scan to the URL destination. Dynamic codes include metrics to track usage and scans. Similar to a static code, a dynamic code will not expire if the URL destination remains intact and the code does not get damaged.

Dynamic codes provide more flexibility and metrics to help evaluate the success of the tool. Uses for a dynamic code include displays at a trade show booth or conferences to drive landing page visits; print advertising or brochures to expand ad reach; and product manuals for customers to stay up to date on the most recent information. Dynamic codes are also well suited for payment and lead generation.

QR code best practices

In addition to knowing which code to use and why, it’s vital to know the best practices behind code creation. QR codes are designed for a 10:1 distance-to-size ratio. The key to creating the correct size is to predict the natural, comfortable scanning distance of the product and the user’s mobile device. The data amount affects the size of the code — the larger the amount of data encoded, the larger the code will be. Using shortened URLs can reduce size.

Resolution requirements for QR codes should be a minimum of 76 x 76 px or 2 x 2 cm. QR codes can sustain up to 30% of structural damage and continue to function. That makes them ideal for equipment that might experience a variety of natural elements outdoors.

How to build a QR code

Building a QR code takes a few easy steps.

The first step is to select a generator software to partner with. When deciding which to use, audit for the capabilities most important to your business and for integration with your tech stack. Software options include QR Code Generator, The QR Code Generator and Beaconstac.

Next, identify the type of content that users will go to with each scan or how the code will be used (e.g., document downloads, website visits, payments). After determining the content, decide if the code will be static or dynamic.

There are two best practices to keep in mind when building a QR code. One is the use of a trackable URL for website reporting when placing a QR code on a print ad. This URL can indicate everything from the publication and campaign name to keywords. Another is to promote usability by adding helpful copy text with the code. For example, “Scan this QR code to download XYZ document using your smartphone’s camera.”

Almost all code generators provide a free version and a paid subscription, and some offer the ability to add custom branding (e.g., a logo and colors to better communicate brand identity), scan tracking and more. Make sure that whichever generator software you choose fits the needs of your marketing campaigns — and always test the QR code for its intended usability.