As savvy marketers know, direct mail is an important part of multichannel campaigns. It is the channel that consumers prefer and trust for receiving information about new products and services. One of the hot trends in direct mail today is using a physical mail piece to connect the recipient to a digital experience. Once direct mail has captured the consumer’s interest, making it easy for that consumer to access digital resources directly from the mail piece makes a lot of sense.

When this trend started, one of the first tools to be leveraged by marketers were quick response (QR) codes. After an initial flurry of interest, QR codes seemed to have become “yesterday’s news” as many marketers moved on to augmented reality and other types of scanable codes to bridge the physical/digital divide.

The two primary criticisms of QR codes were 1) smartphone users needed specialized apps to scan the codes and 2) the codes often seemed “clunky” or “uncool” when included on a direct mail piece without appropriate design considerations. However, recent trends are renewing the popularity of QR codes as an easy, effective tool for connecting physical and digital elements of marketing campaigns.

With the release of the iPhone X, Apple now offers built-in QR scanning functionality as part of the camera application on its new phones and in a software update for older models. By removing the need to download a separate QR code scanner app, consumers will be more willing to engage with these codes in their direct mail offers. With Apple making built-in QR code scanning a standard feature of its operating system, other manufacturers are likely to follow.

Social media, specifically Snapchat, is also helping to revive QR code use. Snapchat has made QR codes cool by allowing users to turn their profiles into a QR code and integrating a QR code reader into the hands of its 161 million users. Other social media platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest, as well as brands such as Starbucks and Pepsi, are leveraging QR codes to simplify searches, link to apps, or make purchases. As consumers see QR codes in more and more contexts, they are becoming increasingly receptive to using them as a portal to new information.

I asked my colleague, Executive Creative Director Mike Dietz, for tips on how to make the most effective use of QR codes in direct mail design. His suggestions included:

  • Make it easy for the recipient: Although familiarity with QR codes is one reason direct marketers are giving them a second look, you can’t assume all mail recipients will intuitively know how to respond to a QR code. For this reason, always include directional copy near the code telling the recipient how to scan the code (and what they’ll receive when they do).
  • Make the QR code an integrated part of your direct mail design; don’t just slap a QR code in the middle of otherwise well-thought-out creative. Be sure you are putting as much focus into incorporating the QR code into the flow of the mail piece as you would for a sidebar or the call-to-action (CTA).
  • QR codes don’t need to be blah. Use the same color palette for the QR code as you are using for the rest of the mail piece and build in graphic elements from the rest of the design to show that the QR code is part of the overall messaging.
  • Make sure the digital experience is a seamless extension of the mail piece; don’t just think about the mail piece. Where will the QR code take the recipient when it is scanned? Will it be a specialized landing page designed to pick up the look and feel of the mail piece, so recipients know they’ve come to the right page? Should it be a personalized landing page that includes pre-filled information to remove even more barriers for recipients who want to place an order?

Direct mail is playing an important role in multichannel marketing campaigns, helping marketers link physical communications to digital experiences using tools like QR codes. This synergy of physical and digital ensures we are delivering the right message to the right person at the right time through the right channel.

Kurt Ruppel is Director Postal Policy and Marketing Communications, IWCO Direct.