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What’s all the hype about QR codes?

Picture this: You are enjoying a delicious cupcake from your favorite boutique cupcake bakery when you notice a square code on the side of the box. It looks sort of like a barcode, but not quite. Under the code, it says, “Like us on Facebook for 30% off your next purchase.”

You love this cupcake bakery, so you get your smartphone out, open your QR reader app and scan the code. You are directed to a link, which takes you to the bakery’s Facebook page. You hit the “Like” button, and a coupon code comes up on Facebook — simple as that.

If, instead, you had seen a sign on the bakery’s door that said, “Like us on Facebook for 30% off your next purchase,” would you have remembered to do it? Would you have gone home, logged onto Facebook on your computer and liked the page? That is the beauty of QR codes: immediacy, convenience and accessibility.

QR codes, short for “quick response codes,” have recently taken over the world of marketing. Here is how it works: A customized code is created and when people scan the code using a QR code reader app like i-Nigma or Barcode Scanner on their smartphones, they are directed to a link that is pre-programmed by the business. Businesses are then able to track how many people have scanned their QR codes and, if they choose, they can identify the source and location of the hit.

In this time of immediacy and convenience in which people want things right here and now, QR codes are especially effective. There is no waiting involved, no remembering to do it later and no extra effort, such as having to manually type in a link. Consumers do not have to go out of their way to access the information displayed through the QR code.

What are the benefits of using QR codes for small businesses?

• Low cost. With websites like, you can track results for about $20 a month.

• Increase traffic. When used properly, QR codes promote people to take the time to visit your web site or promotion.

• Increase social media activity. QR codes can help increase the number of people that like or follow your business on social networks. It will attract people that otherwise probably would not go out of their way to like or follow your business.

• Entice people with special offers. You can use QR codes to point your audience to a special coupon, online checkout code or offer only those that scan the QR code will know about.

• Find out what is working for you. Your tracking results show that you got 300 QR hits from an ad in one publication but only 25 from another publication? Maybe this will help you decide where to advertise next time. [We should also note that a low number of hits could be indicative of an older readership that might not be using their QR code scanner consistently or at all.]

Where can you put QR codes? Virtually anywhere! Just make sure the codes are accessible and easy for people to scan. For example, putting a QR code on a billboard would not be effective — imagine people leaning out the window trying to scan the code as they drive by in their cars! Common placements for QR codes include:

• Print advertisements and flyers

• Signs and posters in public places

• Restaurant menus

• Programs and other literature from events

• Business cards

• Product packaging

• Airplane, concert, bus and train tickets

• On an app as a method of payment at establishments such as Starbucks and Sweetgreen

Some more creative uses include:

• T-shirts

• Tags on items of clothing

• Voter registration

• Receipts

• Store exterior

QR codes fit the needs of today’s fast-paced and ever-changing society. In our book, they are an absolute “must” for any business looking to promote itself.


  1. This is a good set of suggestions for using QR codes, and there are many more ideas if we think creatively. We have a client who used them at a county fair to get kids to sign up for their super-hero club. Here is a link to the article: . My advice – be creative with QR codes!

  2. Thanks so much for the comment!

  3. Hey Mary Ann!

    At first I was excited at all the possibilities QR codes offered. However, in the few years since I was introduced to them, and used them in marketing, I’ve decided I’ll never use them again.

    My main issue, and non-graphic designers may think this is silly, but they are so darn ugly. They junk up otherwise great marketing, ads, signage, and packaging. There is no way to make them look good. My opinion of a business actually goes down when I spot a QR code (and how can you miss them?) on advertising.

    On top of that, I have never personally witnessed someone scan a QR code. EVER. And the vast majority of people who I’ve spoken to about QR codes have no idea how to “get them on their phone”. They’re super easy to use if you know how. Most people do not.

    Like I said, the concept was cool, but QR codes have fizzled.