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Movies seem to always overestimate how far technology will advance in the future. For example, Disney’s hit Spy Kids turned 20 years old just this past year, and in the film, a mind-blowing device would pop out any meal you wanted out of thin air. While real-life technology is unfortunately not at that level (yet), we have come a long way.

qr code marketing - new age microwave scene from spy kids

For example, we’re now able to use our phones to scan a piece of paper and open up a website using QR codes. What are QR codes? I’m so glad you asked. I’ll be decoding QR code marketing for you today with answers to all your key questions like:

  • How do QR codes work technically?
  • Do QR codes work for marketing?
  • How can your business use QR code marketing?

After this post, you’ll feel even cooler than any Spy Kid because you’ll have a new tool to attract new customers and grow your business.


What are QR codes?

The QR in QR code stands for quick response. It’s a two-dimensional barcode that can be read by mobile phones equipped with a camera and the appropriate software. QR codes provide a unique opportunity to link a real-world object, such as a billboard, to a digital one, such as a website (known as hard-linking).

However, they can also show on digital screens and still be readable. For example, you could feature a QR code in a social media post.

The code can be set up to point the phone’s browser to a website, add an event to its calendar, provide contact information, give access credentials for a WiFi network, provide geo-location coordinates, and more.

QR code marketing - menu QR code basic example

An example of a QR code that links a user to a menu.


How do QR codes work?

In order to incorporate a new local marketing tactic into your strategy, you need to understand the in’s and out’s first. So, how do QR codes work technically? Think of their function similar to how a barcoded item would get scanned into the register at a grocery store.

You’ll first have to use a QR code generator. There are plenty of free, online tools for this. That generator will create a custom, square-shaped bar code that’s programmed to lead anyone that scans it to a destination of your choice, like a website. You can save that code to print off onto stickers, menus, receipts, and more.

While QR codes are best used offline, you could also add them to online items like your website, social media photos, local listings, and more. This could help pre-qualify as anyone who pulls out their phone to scan something online as opposed to clicking on a link will be very interested in what’s behind the code. That being said, it’s a good idea to use QR codes offline the majority of the time.

Whenever someone sees the QR code, they’ll know to pull up their QR code scanner app (in most cases their phone’s camera app) and put their phone in front of the code. A phone’s scanner view will pick up the code. The phone will respond with a link to the QR code’s destination.

QR code marketing - flowchart of how a QR code works



Benefits of QR code marketing

QR codes are a must-have mobile marketing strategy for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Not only is QR code marketing free and easy to set up, but they help your business stand out as you’ll connect with your audience in a unique way. Here are a few stats that back the importance of this marketing tool:

  • 1 billion smartphone users will have accessed a QR code by the end of 2022.
  • The most popular QR code marketing customer use-cases are for product information (52%), followed by event information (20%), special offers (13%), and app downloads (8%).
  • 87% of smartphone users have scanned a QR code at least once, and nearly 40% scan a QR code weekly.
  • 47% of consumers think QR codes make life easier in a touchless world, and almost half say they want to see QR code marketing used by brands more frequently in the future.
  • About 45% of all U.S. shoppers take advantage of QR code marketing.

This low-cost marketing strategy connects your real-life business to the virtual world and makes your online assets more accessible to your customers when they’re on the go.

QR code marketing - usage of QR codes by shopper segment bar chart



How to use QR code marketing

Aside from those staggering numbers above, the other perk of implementing QR code marketing is that there are plenty of use cases fit for any business out there. Here are some ways you can work QR codes into your marketing plan.

Related: Looking for other ways to build out your marketing plan? Look no further than our complete marketing calendar jam-packed with ideas, tips, and tricks to grow your business.

1. Set up QR code tracking

Before you blast beautiful, new QR codes across your multichannel marketing assets, you’ll want to get tracking down first. Although it’s not required, finding a way that works for you to measure your QR code marketing impact will help you find success in the long run.

For example, you could apply a custom UTM (urchin tracking module) to any URL you choose. A UTM customizes a link so you can identify traffic coming from specific sources. There are free, online custom URL builders for this that can add on a UTM for you.

When you look at traffic sources in your reporting dashboards, like Google Analytics, you’ll be able to tell which ones have your QR code’s URL because it includes that UTM. That way, you know any traffic to that UTM variation of your link has come from your QR code marketing.

QR code marketing - infographic of UTM parameters

2. Try QR codes in print to drive website traffic

The possible applications of QR codes are surprisingly broad. However, one popular way to use them is in print advertising or even your direct marketing strategy. (Check out the best print ad examples here.)

With QR marketing, you’ll be able to drive more traffic to your website from your non-virtual assets by printing off your customized code on flyers, banners, stickers, pamphlets, and more. This will help you cover more of your target audience since you’ll be showcasing your business to customers both offline and online.

Related: Is your website ready for increased traffic from your QR code marketing? Find out with our free, instant website grader.

QR code marketing - example of a small business QR code on a store front door


3. Use QR codes for specific offers

The nice thing about QR codes is that they can be separated from your other marketing materials. For example, if you want to test how a new offer performs against offers you’re running via other channels, like local PPC, you could easily do that.

You might want to offer a special discount to those who visit you in-store, versus online. You could print out your QR code and showcase it on your storefront. That way, only people who physically visit could have access to scanning the code. It could lead to a page that gives them a secret coupon code, access to a contest or giveaway, and more.

QR code marketing - example of a small business QR code with a special offer


4. Add QR codes to receipts to grow your online reviews

As mentioned above, you can add your QR code to anything you like, from merchandise to menus. In fact, a common QR code marketing win used by businesses is to apply them to local listings.

You could have a QR code automatically print out on customer receipts that links them to your Google Business Profile or your Yelp page. Add a blurb next to the QR code asking for referrals and reviews, to boost your web presence in the local market.

This is especially handy since the more online reviews your business gets the better.

QR code marketing - example of a QR code at a store asking for reviews


5. Use QR codes to boost your social media following

Another way you could grow your online presence with QR code marketing is to link to your social media pages. This an easy way to gain more followers, as well as increase engagement,on any pages you feel may be lacking.

You could have a QR code that links to your LinkedIn Company Page, Instagram or Facebook pages, Twitter account, Snapchat profile, and any social media platform in between.

You could also elevate your video marketing strategy by having a QR code lead to your YouTube Channel or a specific video post.

Try sharing out your social media QR code on your website, at your office, on your work vehicle, or in-store with a little note. You’ll want to include a clear, call to action to hit home on this social media strategy, like “Follow us on social media!” or “Like our post on Instagram!” You may even decide to get creative and incorporate hashtags in the note or linked post to catch your audience’s eye.

QR code marketing - example of QR codes that lead to social media profiles


6. Increase sales with QR code payments

QR codes are a no-brainer when it comes to increasing sales for your business since you can have a QR code set to link to specific product pages or payment methods. This can be a goal-crushing e-commerce strategy for online businesses, but also a fit for brick-and-mortar stores too.

You don’t have to just lead folks in the buyer’s journey to an inventory page. You could also send them to a product information page, or even better, a payment page. If you offer any sort of online payment system, like PayPal or Shopify’s Shop Pay, this can also be an easy win to increase purchases.

QR code marketing - example of QR code for payment


7. Fold QR codes into your email campaigns

Email marketing also offers special opportunities for QR codes. In fact, adding a QR code to your business emails is a popular email marketing trend.

For example, you could fold QR code marketing right into your email content. Just be sure to encourage your audience to try out the QR code when you’re working on your email copywriting. Plus, you could tease your audience with a hint that there’s a QR code inside through your email subject lines.

Remember, QR codes are scannable both in the real world and on digital screens. So, emails are a great way to boost your QR code marketing ROI digitally.

QR code marketing - example of a QR code added to a small business email


8. Test customized landing pages

You could have the best digital marketing strategy in the world, but if you’re not optimizing your landing pages your efforts will be fruitless. That’s why using QR codes to constantly test landing page updates to find out what works best is the ultimate small business secret weapon.

You can direct people who only scan certain QR codes to go to specific landing pages. That way, you’re testing customized landing pages without sacrificing the standard traffic your website you may already be getting.

Before you try this last QR code marketing strategy, be sure your website is in tip-top condition to compete against your QR code landing pages. Try free, online website grader tools to find areas for optimization that you can test on your separate QR code landing pages.

QR code marketing - example of two small business landing pages tested through a QR code



QR code marketing success decoded

While we don’t have meals of our choice appearing at the click of a button, using QR code marketing will have you feeling like the ultimate “spy kid.” Rightfully so, as you’re leveraging advanced technology to appeal to your audience.

QR code marketing is a unique experience for your customers that will help you get ahead of your competition. With QR code marketing, you can solve customer pain points and make your business more accessible than ever before.

To recap, here are the top ways to use QR code marketing for your business:

  1. Use QR code UTM tracking to help measure success
  2. Add QR codes to print materials for increased website traffic
  3. Use QR codes for special offers
  4. Add QR codes to receipts and get reviews
  5. Use QR codes to boost your social media following
  6. Increase sales with QR code payments
  7. Fold QR codes into your email campaigns
  8. Test customized QR code landing pages

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