6 Ways to Use QR Codes That Are Actually Useful

I actually don’t know why the QR Code debate still continues.  Any half minded marketer can see it’s not a major break through, game changing technology or even remotely worth the amount of attention we’ve put towards these ugly boxes.  Having said that…

I will admit that they are actually quite useful if you’re creative enough.  There I said it, happy?  QR codes are useful but that’s relying on a very important caveat.  You have to creatively solve a problem.  You can’t just be putting QR Codes all over the place willy nilly and definitely not on all your printed material.  They should be saved for special occasions.

Here are some examples of smart ways to use to use QR Codes:

New York City putting a QR Code on all building permits by 2013.  By 2013 in New York, to find information on any city buildings or projects all you’ll have to do is scan a QR Code on the permit.  Simple, creative and solves a problem.

Instead of a physical airline ticket, an e-mailed QR Code is a lovely convenience.  I find it a hassle now when I forget to check-in with my phone and have to carry around physical boarding passes.  Solves a problem.

Charity’s are realizing how partnerships and QR Codes can work hand-in-hand.  Notice how I didn’t just say “Charity’s are finding good use of QR Codes” That’s because it takes more that just putting a QR Code on a sign and expecting the world to scan it.  No, you must give us a reason to scan.

The Cure Starts Now Foundation partnered with Graeter’s Ice-Cream to come up with “Cones for The Cure”.  An innovative way to use QR Codes, create awareness for a deadly disease, and give away a ton of Elena Blueberry Pie ice cream.  Named after the Foundation’s founders’ late daughter (Elena) who died from brain cancer at the age of six.

When scanned it leads to a ConesfortheCure landing page where it talks about the foundation and in exchange for your contact information, you receive a coupon to try Graeter’s Ice-cream.  Simply brilliant.


These billboards have been found in airports:



1st Bank is using QR Codes to help you waste time on your phone by offering free Sudoku, Books or Crosswords.  One may ask, “why in the hell is a bank offering free Sudoku, Books or Crosswords?  How does that help the bank?”.  Well that’s probably because every advertisement for a bank we see is so generic and predictable, 1st Bank wanted to standout and do something different.  The problem they solve?  They just gave you something to do on your phone while you wait for your flight to leave.  They also get to understand what people would rather download for free.  Books, Sudoku or Crosswords.

Zoo Records in Hong Kong thought the city could use some new, alternative music.  So they tried spreading the word about new artists in Hong Kong by a completely unconventional, almost flirting with weird, method of using QR Codes.  Watch this video:

Now I love this example because it actually blew my mind when I first heard about it.  Tim Hortons does nationwide surveys every year and they now offer a QR Code to scan and fill out the survey.  They incentivize you to scan by offering a chance to win free coffee for a year.  Not a small incentive at all.  The result?  From early to mid 2011, just shy of 100,000 people completed the survey across Canada, 53% of those people who completed it, did so by scanning a QR Code to do so. (Source: Mike Distasi, Tim Hortons Operator)

That’s right, over half the people who filled out the survey, scanned a QR Code to do so.

My conclusion is this:

QR Codes are useless for “advertising” and most marketing initiatives.  But…

QR Codes are very useful in solving problems that involve retrieving information digitally.

It comes back to the core of all marketing.  It’s never the medium, it’s always the message.  Get creative with how you use QR Codes, solve a problem for your customer, but please, please, please don’t put one on a billboard or your e-mail signature.

Have a neat example of how to use a QR Code?  Do let me know in the comments below.


How QR Codes Can Grow Your Business

Separating Trend from Fad with QR Codes in Social Media

Research Highlights QR Code Awareness Issue

QR Codes 101

All About QR Codes

Photo Credit: TomFishBurne.com

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