Saving the QR Code

QR Codes for SmartphonesThe first time I used the mobile barcode known as a QR Code, I was disappointed. The code was for a product at a local retailer. Instead of an offer, a list of innovative uses, or even product instructions, I was taken to a screen to register for their newsletter. Why would I register for their newsletter when I wasn’t even sure I liked their product yet? I didn’t register.


I tried a few other codes that I found in magazines, at coffee shops and even from direct mailings. Not one of them impressed me. In fact, they were such a disappointment I disregarded QR codes as something that had potential, but wouldn’t be useful until marketers stopped thinking about themselves and started thinking about their CUSTOMER.


On July 17, 2012 eMarketer posted, QR Codes Aren’t Giving Consumers What They Want. The post and accompanying report backed up my feelings on QR codes with metrics. It seems that although the percentage of US adults who use smart phones continues to grow, thereby growing the total market for QR code usage, a full 60% of people who scanned a QR code in 2011 did so only once (data from International mobile payments and marketing company Mobio). That 60% doesn’t even take into account users like myself  who either due to curiosity, or because it’s part of their job, give new technology and tools a second, third, even forth try before putting it to rest. When you take these users into account, I would venture to guess that the percentage of QR code users who are dissatisfied or uninspired with the experience is much higher than 60%.


Are QR codes dead and half buried? Can QR codes be saved? Mirroring the early days of blogs or social media, some marketers have been using QR codes to push their message and take information from their customer instead of considering what their customer wants or needs. The unfortunate result has been a feeling on the customer side that QR codes are not worth the effort. According to the eMarketer post:

“…marketers seem more focused on delivering brand messaging or on list-building. A September survey by the Association of Strategic Marketing of US marketers who used QR Codes found that two-thirds of the codes delivered product information, while less than one-quarter delivered discounts.”


On the marketers side, many fear that by using QR codes for coupons, discounts and deals, the QR code becomes of no more value than the common coupon mailer. It is true, 43% of US Internet users surveyed by Chadwick Martin Bailey in October 2011 said they would be interested in scanning QR codes if they contained discounts, coupons and free items. But do all QR codes need to be associated with a deal? Putting your customer hat on you soon realize QR codes have much more potential than a coupon mailer. In addition to discounts, coupons and deals QR codes add value to the customer for:

  • Product instructions – Try different formats such as video, text, PDF, a combination.
  • Complementary products – For example, you buy a kayak, the QR code shows customers kayak storage and travel solutions with buying options.
  • Product innovations -Can your product be used for more than the obvious? Explain.
  • User groups – For example, software has online user groups, cars have online user groups, does your product or service have a user group of fan club?
  • Customer service – Do you have a hotline, Twitter, Facebook, or website for help?
  • Videos – This one is especially fun for an event. Interviews with the speakers or a preview of their content.


With so much potential to be a valuable source of information and tool for the customer, I’d hate to see QR codes die. It’s up to good marketers to make QR codes a success, NOT the customer. The customer will use QR codes, or any other marketing tool, only if it fulfills their needs or suits a purpose. If it just fulfills the need of the marketer, expect a burial in the near future.



Tweets: ‏@RedElixirBiz oh I couldn’t agree any more! Lots of potential but people just don’t get it. Maybe that’s the problem.

Comments: Kevin Berger via Linkedin: do you think that having the QR Code coming from 3rd parties rather than having a phone standard is one reason for their limited popularity? Also, there’s been so much talk about QR Code viability but we have to remember that its a tactic and not a strategy.

Karin Khuhro response: Thanks for the thoughts Kevin. Not having a standard can be a problem, but if there was something really compelling for the customer, a standard would likely make itself known automatically. I think the bigger issue is that people don’t care. Give me a reason to care and I will use the tool. Regarding tactic vs. strategy – absolutely right, QR codes are just another tactic in a long list of tools available to the marketer. If used right it could be a tactic that helps to add cement to your strategy.



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About Karin Khuhro

Karin Khuhro is a Digital Marketing Strategist, Speaker and Copywriter. As the owner of Strategy E-ssentials she works with other savvy marketers, digital specialists and business leaders to bring knowledge, know-how and solutions to small and medium sized businesses. Connect with Karin on Google+ or Linkedin.


  1. Kevin Berger says:

    do you think that having the QR Code coming from 3rd parties rather than having a phone standard is one reason for their limited popularity? Also, there’s been so much talk about QR Code viability but we have to remember that its a tactic and not a strategy.