Marketing Lessons from Those Overused QR Codes

Someone handed me a business card today with a QR code on the back. QR codes are those small blocks of ink — usually black and white squares — that look like a Rorschach test. If you have the right app on your smart phone, you can scan a QR code to make something happen.

In this case, I asked the person, “What happens if I scan the QR code?”

She replied, “You will jump to my web site.”

I turned the card to the front and saw the usual collection of information — company logo, name, address, phone number, email and… web site address.

If the web site address is on the front of the card — as it should be — what reason would I have to fuss with the QR code? I can type in a short web address in my phone’s browser in far less time than it would take to open the QR app (do I even have one on my phone?), scan the code, and wait for the app to launch my web browser and take me to the page.

I see it all the time: QR codes splattered on the back of business cards, on cars and busses, on billboards. The codes are often difficult, if not impossible to scan, and they usually replace some easier method for accomplishing the same outcome — such as typing a URL.

Why does this matter? Because we small business people should not be making it harder for people to get to our web site. We should be making it easier. And we should not be using valuable marketing real estate — and our prospects’ valuable time — for unhelpful QR codes.

A QR code might be a good idea if the URL to which you’re linking is too long to type quickly. But here’s a better way to solve the long URL problem: shorten it. If your business domain is too long to type quickly, your business needs a new domain. If you want to link to an inside page on your web site that has a long URL, you can use a URL shortening program, such as, to shrink the address to a manageable, printable size.

So is all hope lost for QR codes? No. You can program a QR code to do much more than link to a web address. For example, your QR code can link to a file with your contact information. Put that code on the back of your card, with a call to action below the code: “Scan this to save my contact information.” Now people have a reason to launch that code scanner.

Those who scan the code are grateful that you have given them a time-saving way to enter your contact information. You information now resides in their contact lists, rather than in the piles of forgotten business cards on the corner of their desks.

Hear’s the QR code that you can scan to access an online version of my contact information that you can save with one click to your contact list.

Scan this code to access an online business card that you can save to your contact list.

Scan this code to access my online business card that you can save to your contact list.

Speaking of business cards, here’s another suggestion for that precious real estate on the back side: Offer a free report, coupon, or some other valuable content — rather than just a QR link to your web site. The front of your card will have the basics, including the web site address. Use the back of the card for something valuable and special — something that may drive people to a landing page where they will opt-in to your email list.

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