QR Codes: One Hot Mobile Marketing Application

What are those strange-looking boxes of black-and-white patterns popping up everywhere?




Maybe you've seen them around – in local stores or magazine ads, on billboards or high-end direct-mail pieces – and not given them a second thought. Well, maybe you should. They're quickly becoming one hot way to connect direct marketing and mobile marketing in the real world.

Those boxes and patterns are called "Quick Response Codes," QR Codes for short, and they are one of the hottest mobile applications in the marketing world today. They're not the same as UPC labels that you see on products with lines and numbers. Instead, those little black-and-white boxes are two-dimensional, matrix bar codes that can hold unique data for websites, personal URLs (PURLS), virtual contact cards, phone numbers or instructions for mobile devices to follow. Check out the QR Code on our own site.  

The use of smartphones has exploded for both business and personal use, leaving marketers with a keen interest in how to best use this technology to reach their customers. While more and more mobile users say they're willing to accept mobile marketing messages on their phones, marketers remain cautious ... and with good reason. Privacy issues and pushing information to mobile users without permission can create more issues than sending unwanted email. Add to that the fact that some consumers still pay for incoming text messages in their mobile plans, and you might get more complaints than business in the first wave of your mobile marketing efforts.

So why use them? QR Codes take advantage of smartphone technology to bridge direct marketing (paper and email) to mobile devices. They let consumers decide when to make the connection on a mobile device to easily review the information you've put in front of them. That bridge is helping to make direct marketing more powerful than ever.

How do QR Codes Work?
Using a QR Code is simple with a smartphone and any number of free QR Code reader apps. For example, my iPhone uses one called the AT&T Code Scanner. A quick scan of the QR Code on a direct-mail piece or email with a smartphone can take the consumer right to online content without typing a web address. By using advanced QR Code systems, all sorts of variable information can be stored. QR Codes' online interactions can be tracked, and their ROI can be calculated easily. More importantly, they provide an immediate-response mechanism that catches consumers at the very moment of interest--once consumers are intrigued.

Just as there are free QR Code readers, there are also free QR Code generators. Google has a decent basic QR Code generator if you'd like to try creating some yourself. Using a more advanced QR Code system lets you store all sorts of variable information to enhance the online experience even further. For example, DigitalMailer has developed a QR Code generator that creates QR Codes to automatically complete part of a secure online form using information off the initial scan. That saves the consumer time in the enrollment/purchase process. Embedded household or unique ID numbers also can be used to track back to real accounts off the tracking reports.

The "Too Cool" Factor
Be careful, though. QR Codes are addictive, and the mystery of what is hidden in that black-and-white square is overwhelming. I guarantee that once you start looking for QR Codes, you'll find them and automatically scan them just to see what they're being used for. Recently, I ran into a QR Code for a new shopping center in Charlotte, N.C. When scanned, it took you to a microsite that gave out mobile coupons for every store in that shopping center. No more dragging around coupons from the Sunday paper!

And what's the one thing almost every adult and teenager in America carries? It's a mobile phone. And QR Codes let consumers take advantage of their new smartphone technology to do things other devices can't. What better way to get your value proposition to a young audience than through a cool, new app? It's a great opportunity to gain their attention, so you can tell them about your financial institution.

The Sky's the Limit on QR Code Uses
Scan a QR code with your smartphone and any number of things can happen on your mobile phone. It can take you to directly to a website, store a contact card in your phone, fill out a secure online form, display text, or even open another application. Imagine a preapproved direct-mail piece with a personalized QR Code on it that, when scanned, automatically dials the phone number of your personal banker for that loan you were preapproved for! It's happening as we speak.

If one of your long-term e-strategies is to find ways to engage and communicate with younger or tech-savvy consumers, QR Codes might be your answer. Why bore them with static print marketing when you can turn the encounter into an interactive experience? Or consider providing your financial education for Gen Y through the unique QR Code delivery channel and those mobile devices they have in their hands 24/7.

Watch Out: The Same Rules Apply
The use of QR Codes in the United States is in its infancy but rapidly growing as marketers find ways to work them into their campaigns and test the waters. Everyone's first thought is to send the same QR Code message to everyone you are targeting ... but don't. The unique features of a QR Code and a mobile device allow for personalization and for microsites that help move your marketing toward that elusive one-to-one marketing goal we're all chasing. Plan ways to use the combination on a personal interactive level, and keep these points in mind when using QR Codes for your financial institution:

  1. Explain it. Not everyone is going to know what a QR Code is or how to use it ("Scan this" always seems to work for me).
  2. Give a good reason to scan the QR Code, and get your customers looking for them. Use methods such as treasure hunts, coupons, special offers, etc.
  3. Use your existing web tools and microsites to capitalize on the contact and the experience for the customer.
  4. Don't use QR Codes to send everyone to your home page. Bad move.
  5. Remember, QR Codes tap into the instant, impulsive responses. Use them for products and services that can be delivered right now.

To sum up, QR Codes are a fantastic, inexpensive way to connect the direct-mail world to the fast-paced mobile world with a click of a button. After you see all the examples out there, you'll start imagining how fast QR Codes can connect your customers to information and delivery channels and drive growth for your organization. Along with other interactive technologies, such as PURLs, SMS texting and email, QR Codes are helping make the new generation of direct mail more powerful than ever. They're definitely worth a look, and your customers will be using them whether you do or not.

QR Code Call to Action
Join the QR Code Treasure Hunt and start looking for QR Codes in the wild. Then, visit our blog to report your where you found QR Codes and what they did (or didn't) do. You'll also be able to see reports from others across the country. Here's the QR Code Hunting site.

Find a QR Code? Go tell us about it.

Reg E Brown Bag Sessions

DigitalMailer can integrate dynamically generated QR Codes in our Automatic Relationship Builder Email System to drive customers to personalized web pages and help grow your business. DigitalMailer is offering FREE "Brown Bag Session" webinars to educate people about QR codes and mobile marketing. To register, or for more information, visit digitalmailer.com/qrcodes.html or call (866) 994-4900 ext. 115. 




Oct. 18, 2010


  • There is also a significant danger associated with QR Codes: the bad guys can take a completely legitimate marketing piece and replace the legitimate QR Code with one they created, taking the unsuspecting early adopter to a completely different website or application. How is this mediated?
    James Conroy
  • Oops - here is a link to my post to see a photo of my use of 2D barcodes:

    Fran Jeanes
  • This is a great article. I am a mobile marketer in Charlotte, NC so your article piqued my interest on two fronts.

    Yesterday I actually wrote a blog post about the mystery behind those intriguing little squares - then I found your article to boot.

    Here is a photo of how I use 2D barcodes on my business cards. I recently did a presentation on mobile marketing and the barcode takes the scanner to a page on my site with resource notes from that event.

    The barcode can be reassigned to something else in a couple of weeks, so it's a very versatile thing to put on something like business cards.

    Ron - thanks for the post!
    Fran Jeanes