Guide to QR Codes for Direct Marketers

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September 23, 2010

What’s black, white and read all over? It’s not the newspaper anymore; it’s the square 2D barcodes called “QR Codes” that have already taken over Asia and Europe and are making strong inroads in the U.S.

Unless you’re looking for them, there’s a chance that you may have overlooked these small squares filled with seemingly-random black and white pixels. However, QR codes represent a lifeline for direct marketers looking to connect with an increasingly mobile, online audience.

What Are QR Codes?

In short, a QR code is a two-dimensional (2D) or “matrix” barcode containing data that can be read by scanners and mobile “smart” phones with cameras.

Some quick facts about QR Code technology:

  • QR Codes have a higher data capacity than other barcodes.
  • QR Codes are often used to convey tracking information, URLs, text, and other data.
  • QR Code technology is public-domain, leading to many innovative uses.
  • QR Codes are one of more than forty 2D barcode types. However, today they are the most common for consumer uses.
  • QR Codes are showing up on everything from billboards to business cards, and a lot of unexpected things in-between (like cupcakes, scarvesand temporary tattoos).

The standard structure of a QR Code. Attribution: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) on Wikipedia.

How are QR Codes Used in Direct Marketing?

While initially developed by a Toyota subsidiary to track car parts, direct marketers overseas, and then in the U.S., have quickly learned to use QR codes to add depth to their marketing communications.

QR Codes can be easily generated, and then printed or embedded on direct mail, email, landing pages, catalogs, postcards and more. Here are some of the many ways you can use QR Codes in your direct marketing:

1) Share Data

QR Codes can contain more than 4,000 characters or 2,900 bytes, giving you plenty of room to embed information for use on your target’s mobile device, such as:

  • A sales rep’s contact information
  • Calendar items and event information
  • Product information
  • Directions to your brick and mortar locations

2) Enrich Offline Experience

One of the most common data contained in a QR Code are web URLs, which serve as conduit between a static piece and an online, interactive asset, such as:

  • A landing page with additional information
  • A personalized response page, such as a PURL
  • A product demo or video

3) Generate Sales

QR Codes can be used to provide immediate shopping and purchasing. For example, when someone is viewing your catalog, postcard, print ad, including a QR Code can link them directly to:

  • An online purchase page or shopping cart
  • An estimate request form
  • An on-screen coupon that can be scanned when purchasing at a store

4) Collect responses and track behavior

Generating and tracking responses is crucial for direct marketers and is often done by using unique response pages and phone numbers for each marketing campaign. Similarly, actions such as a web page visit and online purchase can be easily traced back to an individual QR code, allowing marketers to compare the effectiveness of different ads and channels.

Got your mobile phone handy? Scan the image above with your QR Code reader to be directed to

Try QR Codes For Yourself

Since QR Code technology is in the Public Domain, there are many different QR Code readers and generators. While some smart phones now come equipped with QR code readers, users can also easily install QR Code apps on their phone.

Popular QR Code Scanners/Readers

Popular QR Code Generators

How are you using QR Codes? What tools do you recommend?

Please join in the conversation by adding a comment to this post.

9/24 UPDATE: The Challenges of Using QR Codes

There are some great insights in the “Comments” section of this post about the issues involved with QR Codes. I highly recommend checking them out and adding your thoughts!

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