Six Simple Rules for QR Codes

I’ve written and lectured on this quite a bit lately, so I thought I’d post a summary of best practices for QR Codes and other forms of 2D barcodes. With all the hoopla about integrated media (adding mobile engagement to print or video), it seems that a lot of marketers and advertisers are taking the “ready-fire-aim” approach. QR Codes are not new; they’re just getting a late start in North America. They have enormous positive potential, if used correctly. When used incorrectly, they’ll make you and your campaign look foolish.

For the long version of this list, email me: john@bytemedianews.com.

RULE 1: Keep the “Data Density” Low

The more data you encode the denser the resulting tag will be. A “matrix” of more than 33×33 data pixels increases the risk that it will not be scanned or processed correctly. This holds true for URLs. The shorter the URL, the less dense your QR Code image or tag will be. Use a third party URL shortener like bit.ly or TinyURL, if possible, or create short subdomains.

RULE 2: Print Conditions Matter

QR Code images or “tags” should be at least one inch (2.54 cm) square if the consumer is holding the printed piece. For posters and display media, it needs to be large enough for easy scanning. It must also have sufficient margins around the image. QR Code tags should always be printed for use in optimal viewing conditions and on media suitable for mobile users (e.g., on pedestrian mall signs, not on freeway signs).

RULE 3: Make It Easy to Download a Reader

Most smartphones in North America do not come with 2D barcode reader software preloaded. Until that changes, every QR Code campaign must include a simple means of locating and downloading the software. One great approach is 2DGO (http://2dgo.org), a free 2D barcode assistant.

RULE 4: Make the Landing Page Mobile-Friendly

Nothing will kill your 2D barcode campaign faster than directing users to an ordinary Web page. What works on a regular browser will often frustrate and anger the very people you’re trying to reach. Make sure your landing page is optimized for mobile use.

RULE 5: Offer the User Something Valuable

You’re asking a mobile user to spend his or her time with your brand on their personal, handheld device. Make the experience worth the effort. Offer something the user actually wants — something that meets a real need.

RULE 6: Give the User Something Meaningful To Do

Every QR Code scan and its mobile experience represent potential value: a sale or lead, a more brand-loyal customer, a long-term business relationship. For that to happen, the mobile landing page must include some meaningful, desirable action that the user can take — one that makes sense on a mobile phone. (The list of possible mobile responses is long, but a campaign should only use those that really fit.)

Always give the mobile user a real reason to interact with your brand. Just printing a QR Code without creating an engaging mobile experience is like building the door but forgetting to build the house.

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