QR codes got off to a shaky start when first introduced as marketing tools. Marketers did a poor job at using them and consumers either didn't know what to do with them or they found them inconvenient. At first, consumers were required to download special apps to their phones to scan the codes. Poor customer experiences led to disappointing results and lots of companies gave up on QR codes.

Since 2017, modern smart phones have had QR code functions built into the cameras, making scanning a QR code as easy as snapping a photo. Once the roadblock of mandatory app installation was removed, QR codes started making a slight comeback.

Thanks to COVID, a QR Resurgence

But it was the pandemic that really re-introduced QR codes to the public with applications such as no-touch restaurant menus and curbside check-in signs. During this time, marketers also increased their use of QR codes in direct mail. The sudden onslaught of electronic messaging that occurred during the early days of the pandemic weakened the effectiveness of digital marketing efforts. Marketers turned to direct mail to get the consumers’ attention. QR codes instantly turned those mail pieces into multi-channel communications.

Once people started traveling and attending events again, QR codes began appearing in uses like ticketing, checking in at the airport, or ordering room service in hotels. You can also use QR codes for accessing navigation or location-based information, augmented reality (AR), sharing contact information, accessing coupons, and more. QR codes can add an event to a consumer’s calendar, place an order, dial a phone number, or send a text message.

Lots of Direct Mail Opportunities

In direct mail, QR codes can effectively increase the area available to communicate a message, without raising production or mailing costs. A postcard, for example, provides limited space to promote products and services. Include a QR code linked to a landing page though, and a restaurant can display their entire menu, or a landscape contractor can share customer testimonials and a gallery of before-and-after pictures. The space is practically unlimited.

QR codes give recipients of direct mail ads from political candidates or non-profit organizations access to their position papers, recorded speeches, or video demonstrations of their work. The mail pieces can connect supporters with the mailer’s social networks, opening more channels of communication that encourage message distribution through sharing. And of course, causes and candidates always welcome a scannable direct connection to their online donation forms.

Changing Times

Internationally, QR codes are being used extensively for contactless payments, instead of near field communications (NFC). Unlike NFC, collecting payments via QR codes requires no special terminals or other hardware. This is a trend that will likely gain popularity in the United States for certain types of businesses and transactions.

In fast-moving industries or in times of rapid change, dynamic QR codes lead users to web pages that marketers and business owners can easily update. Scanning a QR code printed on a postcard months ago can display up-to-date information about operating hours, location information, product and service availability, or health safety protocols that may have changed since customers received the mail pieces. We know consumers hold on to printed direct mail for long periods of time. A QR code ensures the information is never out of date.

Useful and Easily Implemented

Marketers can track QR code scanning activity, furnishing them with valuable information about where and when codes were scanned. QR codes are the bridge between physical printed material and the digital world. They can be the conduit for the data that marketers value as they evaluate and refine their campaigns and analyze engagement and conversion rates.

Creating QR codes need not require programmer support or expensive hardware and software. Several online QR code generators exist, and you can customize the codes to feature different colors, shapes, or incorporate other branding elements such as logos.

If your organization plans to try QR codes again, be sure to follow best practices:

1. Let people know what to expect when they scan the code. Use text or illustrations to inform them and ease privacy concerns.

2. Make sure you optimize the landing pages associated with QR codes for mobile devices and always test to make sure the links still work before sending the campaign.

Companies and in-house departments that use the mail should not dismiss QR codes as obsolete technology. Consumer use is growing, and the codes offer a tremendous opportunity to add extra dimensions to mailed communications at low cost.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at www.printmailconsultants.com and www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.