Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

QR Codes

Are You STILL Using QR Codes?

Are QR codes even worth using anymore?

I admit it. I carry a cell phone around with me that can read QR codes in an instant. Yeah, it’s the new iPhone 5. Works a whole a better than my last phone, the iPhone 3, which was my last phone.

QR Codes not optimized for smartphone
Why is it so hard to optimize a QR Code link landing page for smartphones?

Nonetheless, I scan QR codes all the time. Why? Because I want to see if they work. And, it appears that many of them fail miserably.

Most QR codes miss at least one of the three main items that are required for a successful QR code. One, they have to be easy to scan. Two, there has to be an explicit stated reason to scan the QR code. And three, the link that you are taken to must be easy to read and optimized for a smart phone, since most QR codes are scanned on a smart phone.

When I was at Expo West in Anaheim in March of this year, I scanned about 15 QR codes. Not one of them had all three of those items in place. Most had the first two, but failed on the third – which is the optimization of the landing page for the QR code.

I’ve seen a number of articles in the past few months that lament QR codes, and some even go so far to say that QR codes are dead. I don’t think QR codes are dead, but I do think that they are not used quite as much as they used to be. Just a couple of short years ago they seem to be ‘the new thing’ but it never quite materialized in that way. Instead, QR codes are more effective when used for a very specific purpose such as downloading a sell sheet at a tradeshow, or linking to a specific landing page for more information then you can easily show.

However, it still comes down to this small but apparently difficult challenge: getting all of the elements of your QR code right before launching it. First, make sure people know exactly what they get when they scan the code. Describe what it is they’re going to get when they scan it. Is it more information? Is it a contest they can enter? Is it some downloadable PDF file that gives them more information? Is it a white paper?

Next, make sure the QR code is easy to scan. Black ink on a white background on a fat surface is best. It should be at least an inch to an inch and a half in size. If you really want to make a big deal every cougar out of your QR code make it a foot in size and invite people to scan it. Put it in their face.

Third, create a landing page that looks great on a smart phone. A typical webpage comes up on a typical smart phone with such small font and graphics that it is useless and people will just go away.

Finally, test it! Print out your QR code in real size, scan it with several smart phones in your company, examine the results and make sure it all works.

No, I don’t think QR codes are dead. But it appears that most companies attempting to use them are slowly killing them by misuse.


Re-thinking QR Codes

If you listen to some marketers, QR Codes are the coming thing. The best marketing tool of all time. Others say they’re hard to use and difficult to set up.

Neither may be completely true, but both have a little truth to them.

I’ve been scanning QR codes for a couple of years to see how they work, since I first picked up a smartphone app. And they’ve been, uh, mostly less than successful. In fact, I’d estimate that only about 1 in 4 or 5 QR codes scanned properly, and only 1 in 4 or 5 of those actually took me to a smartphone-optimized landing page.

Which begs the question: why should you use QR codes for your marketing?

Street fashion Rotterdam

I can think of only a few reasons. First, if you want to support your marketing efforts with a secondary channel, a QR code may be a good way to support that. Let’s say you’re offering a handout at your tradeshow booth, but you want to steer those people with smartphone QR code apps to download them as a PDF. You’re making the brochure or document available as a limited paper edition, but unlimited electronic downloads. A QR code should work just fine for this purpose – just make sure you state the purpose of the QR Code in easy-to-understand directions.

Secondly, if you want to share specific information that a smart phone user can put to immediate use, offering a QR code with a URL is a good way to steer people to that landing page. This might be a situation where you offer additional information for those that are looking for it.

As always, the caveats still exist: make sure the QR Code is easily scannable (high contrast black on white and large enough to scan), optimize the landing page so it looks good on a smartphone, and TEST the link right before it goes into action to make sure it works properly.

Yup, QR Codes CAN work. Just make sure that you have a damn good reason to use them.

Creative Commons License

 photo credit: van Van Es

13 Ways to Use QR Codes for Events and Tradeshows

  1. Download a White paper or other digital bonus
  2. Signage for presentations to access related additional information
  3. Live chat: QR Code places a call to someone in your company that can answer a question (how does this work?)
  4. Promote your email newsletter with a quick signup on a smart phone.
  5. Grab the QR Code Tradeshow Marketing Guide Kindle book here!

    Facebook page “like” us!

  6. Use QR Code in your follow up with prospects and leads
  7. Invite people to watch a short video demo or testimonial on YouTube on their smartphone.
  8. Set up a Scavenger Hunt starting with a QR Code. Make sure you have a good prize at the end to get people engaged.
  9. Give a discount or giveaway by scanning a QR Code.
  10. While QR Codes on t-shirts are not always easy to scan, if everyone in your booth wore a t-shirt with a QR Code, it would certainly attract attention! And think of how much fun it would be to have guests scan the codes. Make sure to have a flat version of the code in the booth in case someone’s phone doesn’t scan well.
  11. Link to your Twitter account and ask them to follow you.
  12. Set up a phone number in your QR Code. By scanning, a person’s smart phone will automatically make a call.
  13. You can also set up a QR Code to send a text (SMS) message. This might be a request to get on a text message marketing list to receive discount alerts via SMS, for instance.


What to keep in mind:

Give value and tell people what they’ll get when they scan the code. People won’t scan if they don’t sense something valuable at the other end. Scanning a QR code is not always quick and easy.

Speaking of quick and easy, be sure to make the QR Code large enough and with enough contrast (black on white is best), so that it’s easy to scan.

Optimize your landing page for the smartphone. Duh.

Test it before you launch it.

QR Codes Improve at Expo West

A year ago at Expo West I scanned about 20 QR Codes to see how they worked and to see how companies were using the technology.

Ciao Bella's smartphone-optimized WR Code landing page

The results were disappointing. Not a single QR Code hit on all aspects of user-friendly usability. They fell into one of the follow categories: didn’t work at all (1); didn’t scan at all because they were too small, too far away (too high) or looked weird because they were on an uneven surface (temporary tattoos) (about 15 of them); or the URL landing page wasn’t optimized for a smart phone (the remainder).

This year at Expo West I wasn’t as scan-happy, but I did find that many more QR Codes did work, and did exactly what they intended. Not all, but many. Out of about a dozen

Burt's Bee's 'Gud' smartphone-optimized WR Code landing page

codes I scanned, all of them worked (they took me to a landing page), and about half of the landing pages were optimized for viewing in a smart phone.

Some notable examples: Gud, from Burt’s Bees and Ciao Bello (see screen shots). Both had nice looking landing pages, which were easy to navigate, and very inviting. Both accomplished their purposes of providing a good answer to the question: why should I scan this QR Code.

Check out the Kindle version of my QR Code Tradeshow Marketing Guide here (cheap!) if you want to know how to make these puppies work right.

Tradeshow QR Code Usage – A Few Brief Tips

At the Natural Products Expo West show earlier this month in Anaheim, I had the opportunity to scan several QR Codes that were displayed in booths, posters and banners. Some were prominently displayed in large form – maybe a foot square – and others as small as less than one inch on business cards. All in all, I saw perhaps twenty QR Codes. Since I became aware of QR Codes a year ago ago, and have blogged about them a couple of times, I was curious to see how business incorporated the goofy-looking symbol into their marketing efforts.

Here are a few thoughts on what worked and what didn’t:

First, it’s easy to generate a code and stick it on a banner or poster and invite people to scan it. However, the very act of scanning a QR Code should be extremely easy. I found a few codes that were not easy to scan because they were placed in odd locations. One was placed close to the floor, making it difficult to get the camera phone at a good enough angle to capture the QR Code.

Another code was so displayed so small that it was difficult to capture it on the phone. Yet another one was put up high – it was large, but behind a counter which was a barrier to getting a good shot of the code. Finally, one code looked incomplete, as if it was missing a part of it. I scanned it twice and my iPhone app said ‘no code scanned’ even though the guy in the booth insisted it was a good working QR Code. Um, sorry, no.

  • Best practice: put the QR Code in an easily accessible location, about 12″ x 12″ in size, with an invitation to “Scan Me!” right above the code. Put it at about head height with no barriers; print it in black ink on a white background. Smartphones need to be able to recognize the code so they can interpret it and take you to whatever information is contained within the QR Code. Include a Call To Action, such as “Scan me to Win!” (I just attended a webinar where the presenter suggested putting QR Codes in odd locations to make it more interesting to scan, such as temporary tattoos…not sure I agree with how practical or effective that would work in the real world!)
Make sure your QR Code URL landing page is optimized for the smartphone!

Once the code is scanned, the information is processed. Most often the code is a URL (although I’ve seen simple contact information), which spawns the phone’s web browser. Here’s where the marketing thought process tends to break down. Question: what device is used to scan the QR Code? Answer: a smartphone. Since that’s the case, wouldn’t you think it wise to have the web URL optimized for viewing on a smartphone? Of course.

But that’s not the case. Not a single QR Code that I scanned was optimized for a smartphone. Instead, the links all led to a typical HTML page that looks crappy and hard to read on a smartphone.

  • Best practice: make sure your web landing page is optimized for viewing on a smartphone. If you have a WordPress blog (like this), it’s easy to install a plug-in that displays the page optimized for a smartphone.

Finally, I scanned one QR Code that was prominently displayed at the entrance to the tradeshow hall. The link was BROKEN! Hard to say why: server could have been down; link not confirmed; entered wrong when the QR Code was set up. I did scan the link the next day and it was working correctly.

  • Best practice: TEST everything BEFORE the show. Double and triple-check that everything works as it should and looks right as it will be most likely be seen by your end user – the person who’s scanning the QR Code.


Ways You Can Use QR Codes

Even though QR Codes have been in existence since the mid-90s, they’re only now become hip. Fashionable. Tres chic. (whatever that means)…

And if you put your mind to it, you can come up with all sorts of ways you can use QR Codes.

First, review the blog post where you can find out all about QR Codes and how they work and how to create them.

Then listen to the podcast interview with Marie-Claire Andrews of where she discusses ways to use QR Codes.

Then brainstorm a bit on how you might use a QR Code to assist your other marketing efforts. Here are some brain-starters…

  • Tradeshow rugs or flooring: easy to put a graphic on a custom piece of flooring. Putting it on a rug will inspire people to pull out their smartphones and capture the QR Code to see where it leads.
  • “The Mechanic” movie poster
  • Business cards: have too much information to put on your business card, like Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/YouTube links, and more…? Create a web page on your blog or website that has all of that, along with a bio, photo, or whatever else you deem appropriate.
  • Cupcakes!
  • Storefronts: mention a freebie if you scan the QR Code.
  • Best Buy label
  • T-shirts: I saw a QR Code t-shirt for sale online (just search any t-shirt site); upload your QR Code, include an invitation such as “Scan me to win!” and wear it proudly while people stop to scan you!
  • Like” us on Facebook
  • Marketing materials: Of course you can insert a QR Code in virtually any piece of marketing. The trick is to offer an incentive to scan: free download, limited-time product discount, exclusive offer, etc.
  • At a tradeshow: link the QR code to a ‘secret’ site where visitors can find such things as streaming video of the show, a virtual tradeshow website, special offers, photos, and more.
  • A few more ideas: business advertising, clues for a treasure hunt, an artist manifesto, link to a non-profit’s donation page, and a bunch more on this cool collection of QR Code ideas.

If you search for QR Codes on Google, there are just a million+ results. I would bet that in another year there will be five times as many. QR codes are exploding. The more companies that get involved will spur even more companies to get involved. It’s like a snowball rolling down hill. Or like global warming. Except for the snowball thing.

Using QR Codes at a Tradeshow

One of the most effective methods to get involved in mobile marketing is to create a QR Code and display it openly at a tradeshow. It’s a somewhat familiar-looking graphic widget but not everyone knows exactly what it is or how it works.

Invented in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave, the QR (Quick Response) code has graduated from a simple two-dimensional code used to track parts in vehicle manufacturing to much larger use. More and more companies are finding ways to use them in tradeshow marketing by including codes on booth graphics and handouts. One main use of the QR code seems to be to direct the viewer to a website where they are introduced to company-related information.

It’s easy to include a QR Code and it makes sense for at least a couple of reasons: first, it’s a great way to reduce the amount of printed material that you have to carry around and pass out. It reduces printed products that may end up on landfills or recycling bins. Secondly, the QR Code is still new enough that the use of it positions your company as a leader – or at least very sensitive to the spirit of reducing printed materials. By steering your visitor to a website to download PDFs, view videos or other material, you’re seen as much ‘greener’ than competitors that may still be handing out pamphlets (so last century!).

Scan this QR Code!
QR Code for Tradeshow Marketing Newsletter

Third, it’s cool looking!

In the Wikipedia entry on the QR Code, you can see that marketers are making use of the symbol in many ways: “Media where QR codes have been deployed include: billboard ads, in-store displays, event ticketing and tracking, trade-show management, business cards, print ads, contests, direct mail campaigns, websites, email marketing, and couponing just to name a few. QR codes are of particular interest to marketers, giving them the “ability to measure response rates with a high degree of precision”[20] allowing for easier ROI (return on investment) calculation, thus helping justify spending on marketing budgets.”

If you want to create a QR Code, there’s no cost. Even though Denso-Wave owns the patent, they are choosing not to enforce the patent rights. Search online for ‘create QR code generator’ and you’ll find several applications that allow you to create your own code in a few seconds.

Once the code is created, you can insert it in any marketing materials you may have.

To read the phone, the most common way is with a camera phone with an app or the software that can decode it.

To create a code, there are limits to the amount of text you’re able to insert:

QR Code data capacity:

  • Numeric only Max. 7,089 characters
  • Alphanumeric Max. 4,296 characters
  • Binary (8 bits) Max. 2,953 bytes

There are more creative uses of the QR code being developed. Businesses are linking to discount coupons, games, treasure hunt clues, mail-in rebates and more. Check here, here and here.

And if you want to see what a social media crowd thinks of the QR code and grab some more ideas, check this Facebook page.

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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