13 Ways to Use QR Codes in Marketing

QR codes being used more

If you tried to scan a moving, neon QR code on the screen while watching the Superbowl last weekend, you’re not alone. Twenty million people scanned the code, which appeared in an ad for the crypto app Coinbase. It was just the latest example of QR codes being used more in marketing.

This Superbowl ad brought newfound attention to QR codes

Statistically, the chances are about 50/50 that you’ve scanned a QR code in the past month. If you’ve noticed QR codes being used more, you’re right. But they aren’t new.

These little black squares were invented back in 1994 in Japan to track parts in automotive manufacturing. Now they join face masks, Zoom and grocery delivery on the list of things that existed before the pandemic but are now entrenched in our everyday life in a way not seen two years ago.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

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Public-facing QR codes have been around, of course. Marketers tried to make them happen starting around 2010. I remember seeing companies trying to use them to share information with journalists, with little success. At the time, I remember being confused about how to use my BlackBerry Bold (RIP *sniff*) to read them. I wrote them off as a fad, a barrier to communication rather than an enhancer of communication.

QR codes increased in use, but not for the average person. We saw them on our plane tickets or our work ID badges, but the general public still wasn’t often scanning one to get information.

Make it Easier, Please

I suspected everything was going to change for QR codes in 2017. Apple’s iPhone camera could read QR codes without an additional app. There were marketers way back in 2013 who said (correctly) that QR codes were going to be a gimmick until phones could automatically read them.

Before this time, when people scanned a QR code, they needed to download an app to do it, and it could take seemingly forEVer to load a tiny, hard-to-read website.

By 2017, most people had excellent mobile internet service, and many companies had built mobile-responsive websites. The addition of native QR-scanning ability seemed like the final link in the chain of events needed for widespread adoption.

At that time, I brainstormed ways my clients might use QR codes to bring in leads. I soon shelved the idea when I realized a gap in the process: most people still didn’t know their phone camera could read QR Codes, making the “audience education” part of the tool a bit onerous.

No one had entirely succeeded in making QR codes “happen,” as it were.

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Another Pandemic Change

In 2022, audience-facing QR Codes aren’t making a comeback so much as they’re undergoing a renaissance, and it’s because of the coronavirus.

We had to learn to communicate in the time of COVID. Suddenly the humble QR code had a lot to recommend it as a way to share information without physical contact.

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Even more importantly, the pandemic has made the audience more comfortable with QR code use. Just like we’re more used to masks and online meetings, we understand what we’re supposed to do with a QR code. Not only that, we know it’s easy and convenient. THIS is what marketers have been waiting for.

I first realized the significance of the change when I went to dinner with a client during one of the virus’s first downswings. The restaurant had a QR code taped to the table instead of physical menus.  

I saw the merit of this particular use right away because I’ve worked in many restaurants, and wiping menus was something we only did when it was slow, and we needed to look busy. A LOT of hands touch a menu between cleanings.

QR codes are increasingly on product packaging, linking to lists of ingredients. They’re on movie posters linking to the trailer. They’re in parkades, showing you where you’ve parked. They’re integrated into a variety of payment methods. Since the technology is so easy and inexpensive to adopt, it’s worth considering how you might use it for your own marketing. I’ve put together a list of ideas:

13 Ways to Use QR Codes in Your Marketing

  1. Put a QR code on your business card that allows people to add your information to their contacts.
  2. Link a QR code to the signup page of your newsletter.
  3. Put a dynamic QR code on a brochure with information that may change, like dates or prices, to extend the life of your printed materials.
  4. Put one on a poster for your event that sends people to the ticketing site.
  5. Put one on the side of your work vehicle so people can easily save your contact information.
  6. Put one on your product, so people who see it can find out more about you.
  7. Put one on your receipts or invoices to make it easier to purchase from you again.
  8. Put one on your building signage with your hours or your website.
  9. Use them on your website to create a seamless handoff from your customer’s desktop experience to their mobile experience. For example, they could scan a QR code that calls your business phone number, connects them to you on social media, or send directions to your location.
  10. Run print ads with dynamic QR codes in multiple locations you’re interested in targeting. You’ll be able to see where your audience is the most engaged.
  11. Connect your Google review link to a QR code, so it’s easier for people to give you reviews.
  12. Print magnets or other swag with a dynamic QR code that directs people to your website.
  13. Create a QR code for your app in the app store to take people directly to download it in one click.

Before you jump into the world of QR codes, take a few minutes to read about the difference between dynamic and static codes. Also, keep in mind that as they continue to grow, so will the scams that use QR codes (this is why we can’t have nice things), so if you use one, make sure to tell the audience what will happen when they scan so they feel comfortable using yours.

Happy scanning!

Picture of author, Bridget Brown