Consumer-facing QR codes are hitting mainstream America hard this summer. Despite the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats, many well-intentioned marketers are crippling their campaigns with simple mistakes.
This is a big reason why QR codes still get a bad rap from some folks. QR codes by themselves are fundamentally neither good nor bad, they’re just a means to an end: an offline-to-online delivery mechanism. It’s what’s beyond the code that usually determines whether the experience will delight or disappoint.
Unfortunately, many early adopter marketers aren’t yet fully versed in the best practices or optimal use cases. It’s the adventurous consumer that suffers from the growing pains.
Since I’ve spent the past 18 months waist-deep in this fast-developing market, I’m compelled to offer up my short list of basic mistakes to avoid at all costs. While heeding all these rules won’t make your QR code marketing great by itself, they will likely save you from some embarrassment.
Mistake 1: Not Testing the Code
Common sense right? Until you’re able to read a QR code just by looking at it, you should always test the proofs with a variety of smartphones and scanning apps before you release a campaign.
This is the simplest way to spot scanning problems. For instance, a small placement (less than an inch) will often be too dense to scan if you’ve encoded a longer URL, but using bit.ly or goo.gl to automatically generate a short URL QR code is an easy fix.
Since QR codes feature up to a 30% error correction rate, there’s flexibility for creative branding and tweaks. But if the designer accidentally overdid it, test-scanning is an easy path to being the office hero that day.
For example, the above image is taken from “15 Beautiful and Creative QR codes.” While visually interesting, I’m fairly confident this isn’t scanable.
Mistake 2: Getting Too Fancy With Text
If your goal is to get people to a mobile web experience, you should only ever encode a short URL. Don’t include any plain text, since many barcode scanners (even gold standards like ShopSavvy) won’t tease out the link. If you’re hoping a user will copy/paste on a mobile device, don’t bet on it.
Think of the QR code as a physical hyperlink that every barcode scanner should be able to immediately “click.” If your QR code requires the user to do much more than point and scan to arrive at the intended content, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Take the image above. I love the Olsen twins as much as the next guy, but these QR codes result in the oft-problematic text string + link combo. Fail bonus: The site consistently turns up invalid security certificate errors.
Mistake 3: Serving up Non-Mobile Pages
Your QR code scans successfully but you’ve pointed the user to a standard desktop website, when 99.9% of QR codes are scanned by a mobile device. Fail.
Get acquainted with HTML5 to give your mobile web app that native app feel. You can either hire a developer to build your mobile site or use a non-technical modular CMS (content management system) like Paperlinks if it suits your campaign objectives.
This Coca-Cola QR code’s heart is in the right place (the MyCokeRewards program) but the resulting non-mobile website is all but impossible to navigate.
Mistake 4: Putting QR Codes Where There’s No Data Signal
Where your ad will run is just as important as how you implement it.
Tesco’s recent QR code “grocery store” in a Korean subway worked great because those platforms have Wi-Fi. This is not the case in the U.S. Placing QR codes in locations without Internet access is a sure way to make your audience upset. Make sure you know where the ads will be, and if possible, run tests to make sure they are visible and will still work.
For example, the Red Bull campaign QR code above was in a New York City subway, so I have no idea what it does.
Mistake 5: Not Offering Enough Value
This point is highly subjective but also probably the most important. The proper mindset is to reward the user for scanning your QR code. This “reward,” however, will change depending on what you’re trying to promote.
Try to avoid redundancy (a digital copy of your flyer), irrelevance or dullness (your company’s street address). Take the above image. The U.S. Marine Corps. QR code promises a cool experience but instead leads to a wallpaper download and a commercial.
When coupled with a clearly articulated call-to-action near the QR code, we’ve found the most compelling campaigns tend to offer one or more of the following:
- Exclusive rich media, videos and photos
- Exclusive or time-sensitive access
- Free downloads or swag
- “Instant Win” contests
- Special offers, coupons or gifts
- “Secret” information
- Deep integration with social media to activate viral loops
The best advice is to put yourself in the shoes of your target fan. Would you bother pulling out the phone for your campaign? Would you be happy with the pay off? A little bit of time and thought can create a truly successful QR campaign.