QR codes have a long and complicated history dating back to 1994. But just in the last two years, they’ve really become useful and taken off as a marketing tool and a way to make communicating with your audience simpler and more effective.
But it still leaves many marketers and designers with questions about how and when to use QR codes while not detracting from their overall message and mission of creating eye-catching designs.
Get insights into what QR codes are, how to use them, and ways to integrate your branding to make the QR code speak to who you are.
What Is a QR Code?
QR stands for quick response. These codes store data within a 2D matrix barcode and were originally designed for use in the auto industry. The specifics of QR codes were added to the ISO Standard in 2000, making the data and technology readily available for use as smartphones began to grow in popularity.
The challenge QR codes faced was that smartphone users had to download a QR code reader app on their phones. As phones filled with photos and other data and websites adapted seamlessly to the size of screen a website visitor was using, people scaled back their use of mobile apps and QR code readers rarely made the cut.
It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic transformed marketing in 2020 that QR codes finally had their moment. As businesses sought ways to reduce high-touch surfaces, such as restaurant menus, smartphone technology also adapted to integrate QR code reading into the photos app so that users didn’t have to maintain or find another app.
Then, one of the most mainstream uses of the QR code came during the 2022 Superbowl when Coinbase ran one of the simplest television ads imaginable that had big results. The ad featured a QR code bobbing about the screen much like DVD screen savers do. For many viewers, the animation was nostalgic, and it came with the offer of $15 in cryptocurrency to help investors get started with the app.
It was so popular that it crashed the Coinbase website while also further solidifying the use cases for QR codes. After nearly 30 years, the unique barcodes are finally demonstrating the power they can have when interacting with customers.
How to Use QR Codes Effectively
When new technology springs up, marketers can rush to use it in their campaigns. But before you start adding QR codes to every printed document your company produces, think about your audience.
No marketing tactic is right for everyone. Instead, you’ll need to evaluate whether a QR code makes your content more readily available to your specific audience or if a URL might better serve your needs.
Will your audience be willing to scan the barcode? Would they prefer to type a URL or write it down for use later?
Regardless, you need to make sure the code is a good fit before adding it to your marketing materials. But even once you determine that your audience will find the QR code useful, you need to evaluate the medium.
If people are likely to be viewing the content on a mobile device, there’s no reason to include a QR code. But if they might be viewing the content in a print format or on another screen, then you might consider including a QR code.
Some companies use QR codes on their website as an easy way to download their app. That way, if you’re viewing the website on a computer, you can pick up your phone and quickly reach the app store without conducting a search. So even though the website is a digital communication tool, providing a QR code here can be valuable.
To get your thinking about ideal places to use QR codes, here’s a list of some ideal scenarios:
· Product packaging
· Business cards
· Inside a store to download coupons
· Store windows to request an online review
· During in-person conferences where you set up a booth
· Video end screens as a call to action
· Print ads
· Press passes
· Presentation slides
· Handstamps at events/venues
· For sale signs
Customizing Your QR Codes
While you probably most often see QR codes in black and white, they do not have to be presented that way. You can customize your QR codes to match your branding and integrate them with where and how you’ll be using the code.
Many people don’t realize that QR codes have many redundancies, meaning you could cover a portion of it and the customer’s smartphone camera can still pick up enough content to know what link to send them to.
But the key to customizing your QR code is to do extensive testing before placing it somewhere. And realize that the longer the URL is, the more intricate and complicated the QR code will be, which means you’ll need to allow enough room for the code to be large so that the smartphone can read it effectively.
Some ways you can customize your QR code include:
1. Using brand colors instead of black and white (just be sure these meet accessibility standards, which will also help smartphones read the details in low lighting)
2. Integrate your logo into the QR code design
3. Add a frame around the code with a clear call to action (CTA)
4. Customize the QR code’s background
Flowcode offers ways to create a custom QR code design while ensuring its effective usage.
No matter what you do to brand your QR code, test and retest it. If you can, use a variety of devices to scan the code at various distances and in different lighting. This will help you ensure you don’t end up with wasted space on your marketing materials due to an unoperational code.
Why You Still Need Clickable, Memorable URLs
Although QR codes are a hot topic for marketing right now and the newest way to improve the customer experience with ease of use, they also have their limitations and challenges. One challenge is that hackers and bad actors are using them to steal private information about people, which is making some people hesitant to scan the barcode.
And although you think you know your audience, there will always be outliers who don’t fit your customer personas perfectly, making it more challenging to know what they’ll do when presented with new technology.
That is why you should always include a clickable, simple URL in addition to the QR code. Try to make these URLs short and memorable so that typing them in won’t feel cumbersome.
Monitor trends to watch out for changes in consumer demand for QR codes to ensure you’re always communicating with your target audience in the best way possible.
In summary, here are a few quick points about using QR codes:
1. Only include a QR code if it matches your audience and communication medium
2. Avoid QR codes on messages often read on mobile devices
3. Don’t make them too small, especially if the code directs to a long URL
4. Try to shorten URLs as much as possible to keep QR codes simple and easy for smartphones to read
5. Don’t forget accessibility
6. Customize the code to match branding and help it stand out
7. Test and retest the code to make sure it works even with minor customizations
8. Always include a clickable, simple URL in addition to the QR code
At Design Positive, we help brands make new friends by creating frictionless customer communication and design, while doing it all in an access-to-all approach.