Don’t Assume Your QR Code is Knocked Up, Give her a Pregnancy Test

With smartphone use soaring, many companies (big and small) are turning to quick-response, or QR Codes to connect with customers on the go. They’re placing the codes in ads, direct mail, in-store displays and product packaging, and using them to link to a host of features—discounts, websites and videos.

QR Codes in Marketing Collaterals

The conference is just around the corner, time is of essence; marketing materials are expected at the printer.  If they include a QR code, be sure to test it out in all intended formats (business card, post card, banner, mobile and web landing sites).

Testing Scannability is a MUST!

This obvious and essential step is often overlooked yet it’s critical to your success.  The potential customer has decided to take an important step in the engagement journey by attempting to scan your code. She wants to see the demo of your product, NOW!  The QR code will get her there.  She might also want to share it with her boss. Make sure it works!

Unscannable QR Code = the road to no where

Recently, a well intentioned company (who shall remain nameless) decided to incorporate a QR code in its marketing materials.  The company has a slick online demo that showcases its product offerings.  The marketing team decided to create post cards for an upcoming trade show.  The asset contained an attention grabbing headline, a clean crisp message, and strong call to action with a companion QR code that drove to the slick demo. The post card was beautiful.  So far so good.

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter

On the surface, even though the post card “looked great”, the QR code didn’t work because the printed image on the post card was a resized (reduced) version of the  original asset. The QR code image had been compromised in the shrinking process rendering it unreadable even with a reader with  an error level tolerance as high as 30%.  The vendor realized the error only after hearing about it from a prospect.


Positive or Negative: Test for QR Code Scannability

Testing the QR code in all intended sizes and formats would have prevented this costly mistake.

Tip : Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes, test the QR code journey you want him to take. Testing is especially important if you’ve resized an asset to a smaller or larger size.  What works in the original size may not in a different one.  When you resize, be sure to preserve the integrity of your QR code image and avoid this costly and embarrassing mistake.  With a scannable QR code you’ll be able to track and monitor the customer journey and relationship between on and offline – making every aspect of your marketing effort quantifiable.

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter

Learn more about QR Codes

Vector Graphics versus “Raster” Graphics :  How to Generate Vector QR Codes  via OmniQR

Countless QR Code Samples on Pinterest: QR Code Pins-Boards-People



Read the Cafelina QR Code Blog Posts

Cafélina QRart Code designed by

What You Should Know About QR Code Hype

Recently, I attended a live Gartner webcast “The Gartner Hype Cycle Special Report: What’s Hot for 2012” hosted by Jackie Fenn, VP & Gartner Fellow Emeritus.  In the hour long webinar, she reviewed the hottest new technologies and trends in this year’s Hype Cycles as well as which technologies will generate the most value and opportunity.

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter

As it turns out, QR/color code (what I refer to as QRart) is one of the hottest opportunities with a high benefit rating. According to Gartner (as of July 2011), QR/color code is positioned in the early “slope of enlightenment” stage with an 2-5 years estimated time frame to full mainstream adoption (i.e. reaching plateau of productivity).

Pete Basiliere,Tomoko Mitani and Sandy Shen provide analysis for the QR/color code portion of the most recent Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2011 report (pages 64-65).  They note that QR code adoption has been steadily increasing in North America since late 2009.  Following are a few excerpts from that section of the report:

Advice for marketing departments: QR/color codes are more than a link to a Web page. Think through the entire campaign and ideally provide unique landing pages for each application of the QR/color code. While public disclosure of campaign successes will be limited, monitor the spread of QR-enabled mobile devices, observe how your competition is using the technology and begin testing customer reactions to the codes.

Business Impact: Relatively advanced in Asia, the use of QR codes is poised to take off in North  America once the tipping point — a sufficient number of enabled mobile phones balanced by marketing campaigns employing QR codes — is reached. QR codes have the potential, when used in an integrated marketing campaign that leverages their unique capabilities, to drive significant revenue by providing the instantaneous response to user queries that enable calls to action that print cannot offer on its own.

  • Benefit Rating: High
  • Market Penetration: 5% to 20% of target audience
  • Maturity: Early mainstream

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter

The analysts note that unlike classic QR codes that simply sit off to the side of a page and take up valuable space in printed advertisements or on product packaging, QRart can be incorporated within the overall design without detracting from the image aesthetics.

This is exemplified in the work of @YiyingLu

Custom Wall Graphics for Austrade at the Computer History Museum by @YiyingLu

You can view @YiyingLu ‘s latest projects, including ‘Custom Wall Graphics for Austrade at the Computer History Museum’ and ‘Custom Wall Graphics + Promotional Badges for Startup Debut @ CES’ at

Patrick Donnelly of QRarts captures the essence of QR/color codes perfectly when he states

“Forget everything you have heard about QR codes up to this point. The promise of QR can only begin to be realized by thinking of how they relate to both user experience and media integration. Everyone knows QR codes can help you get from A to B. However, the journey is part of a much bigger movement where mobile is converting impressions to interactions on a personal and a trackable level – which is rather remarkable.”

Read more of Patrick’s post at How to convert impressions into interactions on mobile.

Gartner’s estimation of a 2-5 year time frame to full mainstream adoption of QR/color code may reflect that, unlike what Patrick states – not “Everyone knows QR codes can help you get from A to B”.  As QR code readers become more pervasive on North American smartphones and bundled in mobile applications (e.g. Starbucks), the link from A to B will realize its full potential. Truly a visionary, Patrick Donnelly sees applications well beyond activation of print media.

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter

Will we soon see them appear on TV screens?

Additional References & Information:

Marketing Artfully: QRart and ‘Not So Pretty’ Implementations of QR Codes

In his 2012 social media predictions, Mark Schaefer of Schaefer Marketing Solutions forecasts that QR codes will become obsolete.  He stipulates that QR codes are “mis-applied, over-used gimmick and people will end up not trusting them”.  I agree with him that mis-applications abound but nevertheless, I think that QR codes are here to stay.  In 2012, I predict that a few shining stars will find a way to market artfully and successfully with QR codes.

Are you new to QR codes?  You can reference two CaféLina blog posts on the subject. The first one is “QR Codes: Quiet Revolution or Quite Redundant?”, it outlines QR code basics and provides 10 application examples complete with reference links. As for the second post “Encore! QR Codes: Here to Stay or Fade Away?”, it incorporates examples from the feedback I received and points to the Quiet Revolution Slide Share presentation companion.  The Slide Share material includes all the references from the original Quiet Revolution post plus 5 bonus examples including IneoScan. QRart QRart. IneoScan recommends the i-nigma reader to experience the full breath of this QRart.

In appreciation for the mention of his startup and work in “Encore! QR Codes: Here to Stay or Fade Away?”, IneoScan sent me an unexpected surprise.  Ineoscan designer extraordinaire Jean-Michel Roblin gifted me a “made in Paris” artful version of a QR code that drives to my cafélina blog. I am very grateful for this act of QRart kindness. I’ll be able to integrate it in my marketing outreach activities.

Unlike the standard black and white version, QRart is artful, colored and creative quick response (QR) code design.  QRart takes QR codes to a whole new level by blending QR code and design to allow for the artful activation of print.  To get a sense for the possibilities of designer QR codes, you can visit the following three QRart galleries:  IneoScan, and Kalvin Kleen.

Whatever your sport, hobby, cause, or business – there’s a way to contextualize a designer QR code that drives to a “call-to-action”.  The key is to “be your customer”: understand your customer and the customer journey that your QR code will take her on. You’ll be successful in your QR code application as long as you take into account the following 3 points:

  1. Mobile marketing is more actionable than other forms of web marketing
  2. QR codes are linked to mobile
  3. Design your QR customer journey with mobile in mind
Actionable Marketing
“Be your customer”: understand your customer and the customer journey that your QR code will take her on.

All too often, mis-applications of QR codes involves a poorly designed or completely overlooked mobile experience.  A mobile screen simply doesn’t have the same type of real-estate as a desktop PC.  Most web material is designed for the traditional PC viewing experience. Programming a QR code to point to a web destination intended for a PC screen is simply not as effective on a mobile screen.

I predict that along with successful QR codes applications, we will see a shift in the design of online content that favors the mobile screen.  In this regard, mobile marketing and Twitter have a lot in common.  There are 5 things to keep in mind when designing your QR codes mobile experience:

  1. Get to the point (what’s the customer offer and the call to action)
  2. Brevity is clarity (Gerry McGovern has a lot to say on that subject)
  3. Don’t strain my eyes (it’s a mobile device)
  4. Don’t make me work (drill down and scroll through = drop-off)
  5. Where’s the beef (engaging customer offer = positive reinforcement of the perceived brand value)
January 8-9 2012 print edition of the Wall Street Journal, page C3

The January 8-9 2012 print edition of the Wall Street Journal featured two book ads: “Cell 8” and “A Walk Across the Sun”.

Both ads appeared on page C3 of the newspaper and each ad had its own QR code.  The QR code for “A Walk Across the Sun” drives to a web destination that provides 4 distinct call to action options:

              1. Purchase the book
              2. What readers are saying
              3. Watch the video
              4. Read an excerpt

As for “Cell 8”, it has a ‘not so pretty’ implementation of its QR code destination.  It leads directly to an excerpt of the book and nothing else.  Is this not a missed opportunity to capitalize on an ‘actionable mobile life’ moment?  Accordingly,  “A Walk Across the Sun” gets top marks.

‘Cell 8’ and ‘Walk Across the Sun’ QR codes web destination

Also in the “not so pretty” category is Palo Alto Networks, the Santa Clara based network security company and their ad from the January 9th 2012 print edition of the Wall Street Journal.  The ad touts the company’s highly desirable position in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Network Firewalls.  The ad concludes with this tag line: “Get an exclusive report at or scan QR code below.”  This is essentially two vague calls to action:

  1. Go to the web site to get an exclusive report (why not say the Gartner report instead of “an exclusive report”?), and
  2. Scan the QR code (presumably to get “an exclusive report”?)

As it turns out, after many steps and screens, and providing registration information; both calls to action eventually lead to the “exclusive report”. You really have to want the exclusive report! The captured registration information results in a call-back and email follow-up.  You can see the full step by step “not so pretty” implementation unfold in the Slide Share companion to this blog post.

Starbucks makes me hopeful that 2012 will provide a few shining stars who will find a way to market artfully and successfully with QR codes.  Building on the growing adoption of its mobile application, Starbucks recently released a new version of the app that extends well beyond the “digital mobile payment” option.  The Starbucks mobile app now comes with an imbedded QR code reader (thereby overcoming one of Mark Schaefer’s main objections of having to download a QR reader). On January 13th 2012, I picked up a QR coupon after sampling the newest Starbucks coffee blend. My only criticism of Starbucks QR implementation is having to scroll down three screens before I got to “vote” for my fovorite blend.

As I see it, four factors give Starbucks steaming hot QR potential:

  1. QR Reader bundled in mobile app
  2. New Starbucks promotions with QRart (multiple ‘actionable mobile life’ moment opportunities)
  3. Tracking and metrics (Starbucks will learn and refine its approach)
  4. Customer engagement and feedback (company and customer have much to learn about each other)

In closing, as William Arruda reports in a MarketingProfs column (Personal Branding Trends for 2012 (Part 1)), according to, it’s now possible to place extremely large QR codes on the tops of buildings.  The large size codes can then be photographed by the satellites that feed Google Maps and Google Earth. Those QR codes will be digested by Google’s mapping systems and will cause companies’ logos to appear when someone looks at their building’s images.

Will 2012 be the year that we see QR codes take off in all kinds of directions?

Additional QR Information and Discussion:

QR Codes: Quiet Revolution or Quite Redundant?

Lina’s business card QR code

The révolution tranquille (Quiet Revolution) was the 1960s period of intense change in the province of Québec.  It was characterized by the rapid secularization of society, the creation of a welfare state (État-providence) and a re-alignment of politics. These changes ultimately shaped a distinct, strong and flourishing National Identity.  In the digital and social world, will QR codes have their own digital “Quiet Revolution” or will they fade into oblivion because they lack purpose, identity and a sense of belonging?Not just another passing fad, QR codes and the results of their ensuing “Quiet Revolution” are paving a new road to a digital and social world.  QR codes are creating a bridge between the physical world we live in and the ever evolving digital social world.

What’s a QR code and why should you care? (video)  Before we look at some of the burgeoning uses of QR codes, let’s quickly review QR code basics.

A QR (Quick Response) code is a two dimensional bar code originally designed for the automotive industry.  QR codes allow its contents to be decoded at high speed providing you have a QR code reader installed on your mobile phone.  Whether it’s in traditional media placements such as magazines or billboards, when you see a QR code, you can simply take a picture of it with your phone’s camera and you’ll be directed to the embedded information of that code.  The programmed destination could be a website, video, text message or telephone number.

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter.

QR codes are easy to create (using a QR generator application) and then embed into the physical world.  With a minimal cost to entry, the possibilities for uses abound. 

Here are 10 QR code applications:

1)     Government agency forms and communications now often come with QR codes.  Scanning them allows the user to quickly be directed to the relevant web location specific to the subject form or letter.

2)     With a QR Code, real estate signs and flyers advertising a market listing provide quick online access to property and agent information.  Change in price, availability or terms, no need to reprint the flyers, simply update the information on the web site.

3)     Before digital books completely overtake hard copy books, there is the case for enabling the transition from print to digital.  Prolific blogger, social media expert and author Michelle Blanc does a wonderful job of that in her French social media books (aptly called social media 101 and 102) by including QR codes and easy to reference shortened URL footnotes throughout the text.  Check out the QR code on the cover of her most recent book.

4)     Recently, I was a guest at Google’s main Mountain View campus.  After enjoying a wonderful lunch in the legendary Googleplex café, my host and I made our way to a meeting room.  Every meeting room door on the Google campus has a QR code that provides all the specifications (size, equipment) and scheduling information specific for that room.  Use your phone and reserve the room on the fly – no need to fire up that bulky pc and search for the logistics pages.

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter.

5)     Stand out from the crowd.  Should your resume have a QR code?  You can read a great blog post on the subject.  As the author suggests, maybe you shouldn’t include a QR code in your resume but I would argue that your business cards should include one.  The code should point to your digital business profile.  You could program it to lead to your public LinkedIn profile.  I recently designed a set of 2 sided custom business cards that include a QR code as well as Lina specific images.  I learned about MOO cards from a trusted social network connection.  Talk about giving a classic calling card a digital make-over!

6)     Need stocking stuffer ideas?  Along the same lines as the MOO QR business card, you can design your own QR code stickers to put on your digital treasures (telephone, laptop, etc.) or get some personalized luggage tags with a QR code image.  Make yourself and your love ones (people and things) easy to find.

7)     Thinking of updating your estate plan?  It can now include provisions for a digital epitaph tribute grave marker.  The inscription on the grave stone includes a QR code leading to a viewable memorial tribute page that tells your life story.  A trip to the cemetery might actually come to life!

In the following tweet, Jeff Bullas references a post by Mark Schaefer who in turn introduces a brilliant SharePoint presentation by Gregory Pouy:  The World’s Best Digital Marketing Campaigns.

@jeffbullas: The World’s Best Digital Marketing Campaigns via @markwschaefer

Want to learn about boundless and creative possibilities, this material is a must read/view.  Specific to QR codes, check out the 2nd and 3rd case studies featured in Gregory’s material.

8)     2nd video case study |The World’s Best Digital Marketing Campaigns – by Gregory Pouy:  Tesco (Home Plus)View the video on slide 15 of 61.  Through the creative use of QR codes in subway stations, Korean supermarket chain Home Plus allows shoppers to do their shopping without ever visiting an actual store.

Follow Lina Arseneault on Twitter.

9)     3rd video case study “The World’s Best Digital Marketing Campaigns – by Gregory Pouy”:  NY Central Park comes to digital life via a museum in the park experience featuring Park codes.  View the video on slide 22 of 61.

Let’s have a riddle to close off this QR list.  What do you get when you cross a QR code with an OREO cookie? 

10)  Answer:  a QREO of course!  Admittedly, it’s not the most practical application of QR technology but it can certainly be characterized as innovative and wittyQR + OREO = QREO comes by way of All TOP and Guy Kawasaki @GuyKawasaki.

Far from being “quite redundant” given ever increasing smartphone numbers, QR codes are far from being another passing fad.  Rather, they represent the humble beginnings of a “Quiet Revolution” journey on the way to a connected and social world.  NFC and location based services, bring it on!

What QR codes have you noticed and quietly tried out?