As an American consumer, I see QR, or quick response, codes nearly everywhere I go. In fact, just the other day while driving on the freeway I saw a QR code on the back of the car in front of me. “Not sure how safe this is,” I remember thinking, “considering that in order to fully see the product or information being promoted, I would have to pull out my phone and take a snapshot of it while driving to explore it later…” Anyway, my musings on driving safety aside, two considerations became clear to me.

1) I see these often tiny, square-shaped black modules nearly everywhere I go.

2) I have never once even considered scanning the code to my phone to see what the person is selling or promoting; do others?

I wondered how many other people actually use QR codes, and exactly who? I decided to do some research to investigate just how effective these codes are in serving their purpose and why businesses might use them. Conclusion: they actually have the potential to be a potent and effective new marketing tool to consider!

QR codes, or matrix bar codes, were first designed for the automotive industry in Japan. Their popularity quickly spread to other industries due to their broader and more rapid capacity to store, track, identify, market and manage data over the traditional bar code system. A recent Forbes Magazine article revealed the various uses of QR codes and the reasons why we as a society are using them incorrectly. For example, the writer uses the example of billboards (similar to my driving story). Does a driver or passenger really have the ability (or audacity…) to take a snapshot of a code on a billboard while driving 70 miles per hour down a highway?

The article also reveals, however, some examples of effective uses of QR codes, including the idea of connecting online content to offline rewards: “If any QR code had text that read, ‘Scan now for free tickets to the Renaissance Fair,’ I would predict the number of scans to rise 400 percent,” the writer says. I pondered this for a moment and realized that if QR codes were used like that, I would certainly use them.

I am sure that businesses already are using QR codes beneficially, and I simply overlook these codes without considering the advantages of scanning them. This is where marketing is crucial. As consumers, we like things. Not just things, but things that are worth our time. In this day and age, people are less patient when a world of knowledge is at their fingertips. We prefer tangible rewards over invaluable information. Heck, if we are going to take two minutes to scan a code and receive something in return, it better be worth those two minutes! Sad? Selfish? Demanding? Perhaps. Every generation has its negative adjectives and reputations. Yet with our apparently decreasing patience in a digitalized world, we are also gaining knowledge, exposing our minds to new considerations, and expanding our ideas more than ever before.

Who uses QR codes?

According to an article on emarketer.com, “A recent study of QR code usage among consumers in the US, UK, Germany and France found that Americans were the most likely to have used the technology.” Young adults across every country were more likely to have tried scanning a magazine (27%) than a digital screen, such as a website (13%).

Furthermore, Pitney Bowes reveals the following statistics:

  • 60% of the QR codes scanning audience is male.
  • 37% of the audience is aged 18 to 34 years old.
  • 20% is aged 35 to 44.
  • 17% is aged 18 to 24.
  • QR code scanners tend to be more affluent, too; 36% have an annual household income of above $100,000.

So can do QR codes really work when so many of us are already actively engaged in the digital world? On an NBC guest blog, writer James Ellis puts it this way: “The issue is that QR codes are used indiscriminately, like ones on banner ads and emails. If you’re already in a web world, the QR makes no sense. It’s carrying a passport when you’re not crossing the border.” This article conveyed the same message as the Forbes.com piece: QR codes are not pointless; they just have not been utilized properly. We need new ways to introduce and implement the codes to promote businesses and products. How about “a trivia game where a user scans in the right answer and gets points while walking around the vendor hall”? Sounds brilliant to me, Mr. Ellis. And also a lot of fun.

So before saying “no” to this marketing strategy and deeming it pointless, utilize the creative side of your brain and consider the ways you can innovate the functionality of this black and white box to advance your own business.