Modern marketers might face this question when designing a new campaign: Should I use a QR code?

If you ask Scott Stratten, the president of UnMarketing and author of QR Codes Kill Kittens, the title of his book might be some indication of his answer. Presenting at Toronto’s Art of Marketing conference this morning, Stratten went into more detail about his feelings towards quick response codes – those square bar codes we’re often asked to scan with our smartphones.

“I love QR codes, I do. The thought of them is fascinating to me,” he said. “QR codes have what I had as a teenager – potential.”

QR codes seem to be a fad in recent marketing efforts. As marketers feel the pressure to incorporate mobile devices into their campaigns, it might seem like an easy way to engage your audience and motivate them to take action. After all it’s simple – have them scan a QR code with a smartphone and send them to a customized landing page relevant to that moment. The problem is, there’s too many examples of marketers that have failed to execute on that simple transaction.

Stratten is asking marketers to think before they use QR codes. Here’s some of his pointers that will help you do so.

There’s some places QR codes just don’t belong

Scott Stratten is disappointed when he sees a QR code on a billboard.
Scott Stratten is disappointed when he sees a QR code on a billboard.

What’s required to make a QR code useful? The ability to use your smartphone while it’s connected to the Internet. So advertisements appearing in subway tunnels aren’t going to work – are you expecting your audience to save a photograph of that QR code to scan later? Similarly, Stratten says airline magazines filled with QR codes are silly because until very recently it was forbidden to use your smartphone before takeoff and during landing – exactly when people are browsing through those magazines.

Sometimes QR code placement can even be dangerous, Stratten points out.

“I’ve seen QR codes on billboards on the side of the highway!,” he said. “Motion plus distance does not equal quality scanning opportunities.”

But perhaps the worst offender of a misplaced QR code? In an e-mail.

“The person is receiving an e-mail on their computer. What could I possibly put in an e-mail that would take that person to my website?” Stratten asks rhetorically. “Maybe a link? Most people know what to do with that.”

Why should someone scan a QR code?

Scanning this QR code will bring you straight to the article you're reading right now.
Scanning this QR code will bring you straight to the article you’re reading right now.

Stratten can’t believe that some advertisements contain only a QR code and nothing else. He’s even seen a plane flying a banner behind it, displaying just a QR code alone.

Marketing and sales 101 classes cover the notion that you have to give your audience a reason to do something. A QR code staring them in the face doesn’t do that. What could be even worse is when they scan that code and are taken to a website that’s not mobile-friendly – you’re teaching that person to not scan QR codes in the future in order to avoid a disappointing experience.

Just look at the numbers

Once you’ve covered those bases and you’re still wondering if it’s worth it to include a QR code in your marketing materials, consider the numbers.

Stratten shares some off the cuff statistics: consider that 85 per cent of the North American market has a cell phone, half of those are smartphones capable of scanning a QR code, 17 per cent of those people have actually done so, and only have of those people would do so again. That leaves just 3.6 per cent of the North American market you’re targeting with that QR code.

This flow chart may well illustrate Scott Stratten’s feelings on the use of QR codes. (Image: shouldiuseaqrcode.com)
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