The Right Ways to Use QR Codes for Your Business

Quick Response codes are popping up everywhere in advertising and marketing, and with the rise of mobile phones, their use by consumers is increasing at a rapid clip. The market-research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey found that half of smartphone users have scanned a QR code, and 18 percent of them have made a purchase after doing so.

Websites like and make it easy for small businesses to generate QR codes to attract customers. However, for maximum impact, companies should carefully consider their target audiences and website content before deploying the technology.

Tim Hayden, co-founder of the digital-marketing firm 44Doors and senior vice president of mobile strategy for Edelman Digital, recently talked with the GoPayment Blog about how to use QR codes effectively.

GoPayment: How important are QR codes to small businesses?

Hayden: When you put one on a business card, brochure, or TV spot, you’re telling the audience — and your potential customers — that you’re mobile friendly, and there’s something actionable behind that QR code. Many people are learning to use their smartphones without typing, so when scanning the QR code, they expect to see a URL that works on their phone. There’s more work to it than just linking a QR code to your website. Part of the overall customer experience is educating people about how a QR code works and what to expect once they scan it.

What information should you put in a QR code?

The code should lead to something actionable, such as a survey, email subscription, or coupon — not just to a brochure or simple info. Because it’s a mobile experience, brevity rules the moment, so respect people’s time; they are not going to go as in-depth as they would with a desktop computer. For example, they may not be able to fill out a 20-question survey, but they could answer three to five questions. The mobile website you’re pointing them to should load quickly and have far less content than your standard desktop website. We tell clients to look at Google Analytics to determine the five most-visited pages on their websites (so they understand what people are coming to their websites for). They should direct their QR codes to that content.

Where should you place QR codes?

QR codes work well in print ads and direct mail because it’s a controlled moment. When people make time to sit down, they control their time and can pull their phones out. They also work well on packaging, point-of-sale signage, and on store shelves — people stand in front of them and may want to find out more about a specific product. One place not to put them is on highway billboards. When I’m driving 80 miles an hour along the interstate, I can’t pull out my phone or stop my car to scan it.

Is there an ideal target audience for QR codes?

In general, people in their 20s and 30s, and more men are adopting smartphone technology than women. However, it’s interesting to note that women over the age of 45 are scanning QR codes the most, because they’ve learned how to scan for coupons and get information on a product. The same thing is happening with ethnic groups, specifically Hispanics and African Americans. They’re saying, “We don’t need to buy a computer, because 80 percent of what we want to do can be done on the phone.”

Tell us some QR code success stories.

Bob Evans, a Columbus, Ohio-based restaurant chain, replaced its analog comment card with a comment card containing a QR code and a URL. The goal was to get customer feedback via email. With the analog card, they were getting 5,000 emails per month. In the first month they switched to QR codes, they received nearly 9,000 emails. This proves you can have your audience do something quick — and not require them to write.

The Black Sheep Lodge in Austin, Texas, used a QR code on its table tents for the same purposes. When it switched to asking customers to “like” it on Facebook instead of filling out a form, the company more than tripled its Facebook likes and email newsletter subscriptions. We’ve also had some small-business clients getting greater coupon redemption by putting QR codes in newspaper and magazine ads compared to doing direct mail or email.

Will some businesses profit more than others by using QR codes?

We found the best fit is for businesses in consumer packaged goods, retail, food and beverage, and hospitality and travel. Those are all places where the smartphone is a primary device. So, think about customers’ mobile behavior before you think about your mobile technology. You have to understand where your message will be seen — and where they’ll run into you — before you decide how best to deliver it to people.

About Vanessa Richardson

Vanessa Richardson is a freelance writer (and therefore a small-biz owner herself) in San Francisco who covers business and financial topics.
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