Social Media Strategy

3 Tips to Use QR Codes For Information, Not Destination

QR codes ask a lot of prospective users.

  1. Possess a smart phone
  2. Download a QR reader app (or other format like Microsoft TAG)
  3. Have the phone nearby and usable when you encounter a QR code (easy in a magazine ad, perhaps less so for QR codes now appearing on highway billboards)
  4. Be motivated enough to actually perform behaviors 1-3

While nifty, QR codes are often not the easiest and most convenient method of information retrieval, and when utilized to convey data that could be more seamlessly delivered in another format, they become downright head-scratching. This is the case with the increasingly popular use of QR codes in place of Web URLs.

It hasn’t been all that long since URLs began to appear on advertisements and other communication components. I vividly remember debating whether we should use or on a series of ads my first online company ran in PC Magazine, Net Guide, and Internet World in 1994. Now, however, all but the most brand-driven and obtuse ads include a URL, in the way that the prior generation of marketers included a phone number, and before them, a street address. So to replace a perfectly good URL with a QR code requires changing behavior that’s pretty well established at this juncture.

I’m not so sure people are ready to abandon written URLs. After all, with URLs you don’t need a smart phone (or a phone at all), or an app, or a data plan or anything whatsoever other than a modicum of short-term memory. Thus, unless you are in the pharmaceutical marijuana trade, I believe replacing a URL with a QR code falls into the category of ordering pizza online – doable, but more trouble than it’s worth.

When QR Stands For “Quite Realistic”

QR Code for InformationSo where then does the QR code fit? When should it be used? In short, QR codes should unlock information, not a destination. I recently stumbled upon a terrific use of QR codes, at Scotty’s Brewhouse in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. Scotty’s is a 5-store chain of sports pubs rightfully lauded for their social media prowess, burgers, special hot sauce, and for generally having their act together in every respect. In fact, owner Scott Wise recently won the MIRA Award in Indiana for new media excellence.

I love this use of QR because it unlocked information that was contextually important to me at the time I encountered the code. I cannot overstate that characteristic enough. People need to stop what they are doing and in the absence of any other activity, grab their phone, turn it on, open the app, point the camera, wait for the code to register, visit wherever it takes them, and then decide what to do next. For all that, there better be some immediate payoff, and an extensive beer list qualifies.

Scotty’s of course still has printed lists for patrons who are not on the QR express, but they are printing far fewer than before (green! sustainability!) and because their beer offerings change frequently, it’s easier to keep the electronic list current (just-in-time data!). Perhaps even more impressive is the 32-page takeout menu which is also available via QR code at the front counter, and once snapped is stored on your phone.

Of course, as I wrote about in “Does QR Stand for Quasi-Ridiculous” and “Using QR Codes for Instant Sampling,”, it’s a requirement for what lies behind your QR codes to be perfectly formatted for mobile devices, as both the beer list and takeout menu are in this instance.

3 QR Code Must-Dos

  1. Unlock information, not a destination
  2. Lead the user to information that’s relevant immediately
  3. Perfect mobile formatting of the information delivered

Bravo Scotty’s.

Facebook Comments


  1. hipscan says

    Thank you for featuring Scott Wise. He is inspirational for many business owners, especially those who do not have a technical background, to not be afraid to adopt technologies early in the game. More than hiring creatives/marketers/developers—what is important is the campaign be led by people with good business sense. “See how the tech fits your marketing & operations.” How can it help achieve your business goals: reduce expense, improve customer and employee experience and etc.(quoted from Scotty’s speech)

    In QR Marketing Campaigns or any marketing campaigns employing new technologies—good business managers are important in making sure the campaign goes beyond just being an expensive or entertaining gimmick.

  2. Steve Mezak says

    Over the weekend I got the idea of using QR codes in the next edition of my book to enable the reader to access additional information published on the book website. But must-do #3 is a very helpful reminder that it must make sense on a mobile phone. That’s not likely for a spreadsheet or a checklist document in PDF. Of course all three are excellent guidelines. Back to the drawing board to see if there is timely, relevant and useful information about global software development for my readers to display on their phones. Thanks!

    • says

      @Steve Mezak Hi Steve. We actually had 22 Microsoft TAGS in our book, The NOW Revolution. But, we didn’t put URLs underneath the tags, and got some criticism for it (warranted). Live and learn!

      • tombrownjr says

        @JayBaer @Steve Mezak Jay, Thanks for bring this up, that was/is my biggest criticism to an otherwise great book. When I bought your book, I really wanted to view the resources on the TAGS, but BlackBerry did not (still not sure if they can even now) have a TAGS reader, so I had NO way to access the resources. And if I did not switch to a Droid, I still would not have access. I think you need to put some sort of page on your book website with the Hot Links available to those that don’t have access to a TAGS reader.

  3. w3consulting says

    I most absolutely agree with jaybaer on not replacing good URL placement on your marketing collateral with QR codes. Additionally, high-value content is great but please (rather, pretty please!) include your URL below your QR code placement just in case your QR code doesn’t scan properly (which happened the other night at a symphony performance I attended and frustrated the heck out of me!). As well, tell people where they’re going and make sure that you’re using a QR code generator that is giving you statistics (read, high-value information) for the effort. I also really think that QR codes are better on fixed-location analytics, but if you do put them on marketing collateral that people can scan anywhere (your location, their home/office, or street-side), make sure to make those QR codes unique from your fixed-location QR codes so you can tell who is scanning on-the-spot versus those that are scanning elsewhere.

    • says

      @w3consulting Very good point about unique codes so that you have better analytics. I need to run a post about that. Do you want to take a crack at writing it as a guest post?

      • w3consulting says

        @JayBaer We’d be happy to take a stab at it for you. Let me know what specifics you need and I can get that drafted for you. ray [at]

  4. says

    Great post @JayBaer – couldn’t agree more. It’s also good to highlight a situation where QR codes actually work — in certain circumstances under very specific criteria. It’s easy for folks to run them down (though I agree that they ask an awful lot of the consumer) but occasionally the fit is right.

    Last night someone on Twitter mentioned that ‘late adopters’ get excited about QR codes. My favorite story about using one involves just that. We had a late adopter client producing a fairly button-downed research report. When looking for ways to spice it up they wanted us to add a QR code. Just coz :)

    Again – great post. BTW – I think that the Microsoft Tags in NOW Revolution meet most of your criteria above. Though I had to download a new app (read: Lazy Nick) I grabbed most as I was reading because they unlocked information and were immediately relevant.

  5. Neicolec says

    Totally with you, Jay. If a URL will serve the same function, then use a short (memorable) URL and use the QR code space to tell people why they should go to the URL.

    The more interesting applications that I’ve seen are similar to the way the Brewery stores the 32 page menu. Applications where the URL that the QR code links to actually kicks off or directly leads to a more sophisticated web app. In the brewery’s case, the interesting part is that it save the menu to your phone. In other cases, the QR code might lead to an app that instantly or easily registers you, kicks off a video right away, sends an SMS on your behalf or signs you up to do so, makes automatic use of data from your phone, things like that. In that case, the time it takes to use the QR code may actually save you some time.

  6. donkincaid says

    Scott also has great success using QR codes on receipts to gather customer service feedback. A great use because of the immediacy. I find it frustrating to see url and phone numbers on receipts. I don’t want to wait to get home or wait on hold to go through the process. He says it’s really paid off for him.

  7. MyDisruption says

    Completely agree, Jay. My go-to saying regarding QR codes: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” I’m with you – I get downright pissed when I click a QR code and it takes me to a generic website. I use QR codes on my biz cards and I’ve seen some pretty good reactions and hits so far. One code automatically downloads my contact info to the user’s phone and the other brings up a case study video. End of the day, the juice has to be worth the squeeze…




  8. says

    Hi, Jay —

    Thanks for framing the whole QR code issue. QR codes will probably be replaced by NFC and Google Googles in about 2 to 3 years, but for now, they’re fun and useful.

    I just co-authored a book called “Go Mobile” with Jeanne Hopkins from HubSpot that covers QR codes (and other mobile topics) in depth. You can find the book all over the place.

    It’s worth noting that we used QR codes on the “Go Mobile” website to reveal clues for an iPad Scavenger Hunt to promote the book launch. Those clues would fall into your “Must Do #1” outlined above. You can scan them here:

    You’re an excellent writer with some great stuff going on here. I visit frequently. Thanks for keeping us posted on all things social (and mobile).


    Jamie Turner, Founder, the 60 Second Marketer

    Co-author, Go Mobile

  9. JoeCascio says

    Hi Jay, maybe you can clarify something for me. One of the issues I hear about QR codes is that you have to download an app to read them. Since when is downloading an app an impediment? People love apps. Love to download them, play with them. They download apps for all kinds of things. Millions of apps get downloaded every day to do much more narrower things than QR codes. For instance, brands build apps that only work with their brand. Who wants a grocery app that only works with one grocery store? But people do it, and do it a lot. QR codes are a basic capability, like a browser, that are applicable across a wide variety of tasks and once you have one, you have it!

    What’s the difference?

    • w3consulting says

      @JoeCascio I’m not @JayBaer but perhaps I can shed some light on your question from my perspective. The difference I see with people loving to download apps on smartphones and the hurdle for QR code saturation among marketers is that businesses/marketers are really the only people touting their value to the consumer. But, consumers are having poor experiences with QR codes applied poorly which systemically kills the marketing opportunity for the rest of us. You download that grocery store app (even if it is for one grocer) because you see the intrinsic value as a consumer (one-step determination); however, if the app doesn’t work, you delete it and never use it again. With a QR code, if one goes and slaps a QR code on everything and broadly markets its use (even though it offers little-to-no-intrinsic value), then the QR code doesn’t even work (because, say, you haven’t tested it) it ruins the QR code saturation for *everyone.* I’m not even taking into account for the limitations of smartphone hardware, the QR codes put up on billboards four stories high in Times Square, and poorly designed/written apps in the marketplace. I scan almost every QR code I come across; 50% work consistently (because of shadowing, poor printing quality, coloring, pixelation of the QR code for expanding the image improperly, shrinking the QR code below its acceptable limits, and on and on) and that’s just not good enough for the consumer.

      • JoeCascio says

        @w3consulting@JayBaer I’d agree that it’s all about value. And to me, QR codes are NOT just about marketing. I’ve developed QR *applications* that do useful things like make payments that don’t expose your credit card info. There are many ways to leverage QR codes to access real network functionality. Think of the TESCO subway app. Think of security ID access, or ordering food, applying for tickets, validating delivered packages against orders. And these things are not marketing, they’re the actual product or service.

        I use the QR codes on mobile app web pages that are a link to the Android market and let me download the app by scanning the code displayed on my laptop. That’s doing something valuable.

        So yes, I think I’d agree with both you and Jay that the emphasis should be on DO something, not SHOW something.

        • says

          @JoeCascio@w3consulting The nice thing about QR (in theory) is that if you download it once, you can access the vast majority of codes. This differs of course from branded apps, which allow you access to only the content from that brand. I’m not overly concerned about the app download. Much more concerned about people bothering with it, even if they have the app – which is where relevancy comes into play.

  10. drgeoffsherman says

    I complimented Scotty not long ago when he put a QR code on his receipt to fill out a customer comment card online. Very good discussion and he is definitely a front-runner in the use of QR codes.

  11. Kaleb Francis says

    Nice article and I couldn’t agree more.

    Living in NZ I’ve seen a bunch of QR codes pop up lately and a number of them have been poorly thought through. We are bombarded with hundreds of messages every day, so why when you’ve just captured my attention haven’t you given me an experience?

    I don’t want to be redirected to your website, I don’t want to have to register for updates. And I’m certainly not going to sign-up to a loyalty scheme.

    Jay I wish I had thought of your line “QR codes should unlock a information, not a destination.”

    A couple of posts I’ve written here about QR codes if any one would like to have a read:

  12. aschottmuller says

    Good example! I fully treat QR codes as a conversion tool. What value-added action would the user be interested in taking now if they were provided the means to do so? (List of QR conversion ideas:

    @JayBaer, you identify a key piece about the URL versus the the QR code though. It is very important to point out where mobile barcodes are superior to a URL, and the marketer should justify it as such. (The URL should still always be provided as a back-up, and the code would likely store a URL anyhow.) The unique perk that most folks don’t understand is that smartphones really are smart; they can detect the type of data being decoded in a barcode and load the appropriate mobile app accordingly. For example, a barcode with a meCard (formatted text) will autoload as a new mobile contact. A link to a map will autoload Google Maps (or the default map app), default to the user’s current location, and route directions. These are quantifiable value-adds (saved timing/steps, better accuracy) that users will generally appreciate from a QR experience. Leveraging the features of a smartphone is always something to consider if you’re going to use mobile barcodes.

  13. rob_whitley says

    Nice post, Jay. I created QRganize, a QR code app for the iPhone for the exact reasons you mentioned above: allow users to unlock and easily organize information that’s contextually important to them for immediate payoff or in the future. For example, storing a beer list or take-out menu. Check it out, it may be useful to you the next time you visit Scotty’s!

  14. says

    I have used the QR code on a business card that I laminated. When I am talking to a prospective client and they want contact info, I tell them to scan my code. If they have a smartphone and don’t have the app, I help them find it and then we scan it together. That way my info is filed, i’m not handing out another card they can’t find when they need it, they think it’s really “cool” and I look tech savvy right in front of them with out trying to “sell” them. It’s been fun and I got two clients to hire me for marketing that way. Plus, I have done this for a client who thinks this is amazing and makes her look impressive to her clients.

  15. ferswriteshoe says

    Thanks @ThomasMarzano I found this information quite timely and great to keep in mind for content strategy

  16. LeslieMcLellan says

    @AskAaronLee Thanks Aaron, I’ve had some success with them for our destination and enjoy using them. I think they get a bum rap at times.

  17. KieraPedley says

    Ah, that was brilliant. And, my smart phone wanted to see their beer list too…. :DThe Australian Government are QR Coding everything they print, and duplicating the information they have already given you, with the exception that they offer a few contact details etc – a classic example of QR codes being used as a gimmick, with no substance.

    Incidentally, WP7 users don’t need to download an app anymore, QR reader is built into the search function on the phone :) It’s awesome!

  18. GregF says

    I too have a QR code on the back of my business card but it is not the URL to my website. It is a vCard containing all of my contact data. I figure that it’s much more useful to put my info into their contact list than to send them to my website. It saves actual work (entering my contact info manually) and adds value to what might otherwise be seen as a gimmick. It’s also a good conversation starter.

  19. BadRhinoINC says

    @SimonSchneid We agree – QR codes should absolutely be valuable and unlock information and other items

  20. tombrownjr says

    We have just started using QR codes for some of our clients. Taking them straight to the video presented at a trade show, signing up for a loyalty program, in a book, and recently to be released as part of a logo report showing Social Media metrics. As mentioned earlier, I think it is vital to also list the URL under the qr code, UNLESS you are specifically targeting Smart Phone users or going after the curiosity factor. (We actually screen printed the qr code on the sleeve of a local radio talk show host and gained a bit of traction).

  21. rogerhamilton30 says

    Roger Hamilton

    Learning the depths of Social Entrepreneurship has made me realize many things in my own life. I have been taking the wrong approach towards life which took me towards the path I never wanted to take in the first place. Beginning with the crystal clear clarity about my goals and taking every one I know into consideration is the next step I intend to take very seriously.

  22. rogerhamilton30 says

    Learning the depths of Social Entrepreneurship has made me realize many things in my own life. I have been taking the wrong approach towards life which took me towards the path I never wanted to take in the first place. Beginning with the crystal clear clarity about my goals and taking every one I know into consideration is the next step I intend to take very seriously.

  23. AskYTM says

    @fmisle Thanks for the RT, hope things are well by you. I had responded to your S invitation yesterday so let me know if you didn’t get it

  24. Isfan says

    I have started using short codes in places where most people use QR codes. With, you can now customize the short code making it more awesome + it gives you click stats. I would be surprised if apps don’t come out that detect a URL … It’s just Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so if linking to a page is your goal, that will do it. Thoughts?

  25. says

    Excellent point – “People need to stop what they are doing and in the absence of any other
    activity, grab their phone, turn it on, open the app, point the camera,
    wait for the code to register, visit wherever it takes them, and then
    decide what to do next.”

    I’ve been contemplating using QR codes on flyers and business cards. Your statement pretty much says it all.

  26. VQRLabs says

    “QR codes are often not the easiest and most convenient method of information retrieval,” yes! They should only be used where time or effort can be saved instead of typing a long web address or parsing through a search AND the scanner knows that’s what they are getting. (i.e., scan here to link on Linkedin, download vCard, and view company or see a sale)

  27. says

    Wow this is great and informative post,I agree with you QR Maker is really beneficial for our business.QR Maker as name suggests provides Quick Response Codes which employ four standardized encoding modes (numeric, alphanumeric, byte / binary, and kanji) to proficiently store data. It supports URL, Email, Dynamic Codes, Tracking, Analytics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *