Marketing has witnessed its share of trends over the years. In the 1980s, desktop publishing and the personal computer blossomed. In the ‘90s, we discovered the internet. Then the 2000s ushered in an era of social media sovereignty, led by MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The past decade, however, has featured an abundance of marketing mainstays, from big data and customer empowerment to content and mobile marketing.


At the center of it all (sometimes literally) is an unusual-looking resource known as the QR code. These squiggly boxes have been attempting to simplify consumer engagement and enhance marketing results off and on for the past 10 years. QR codes are changing the way we do business today. They failed at first, mostly because nobody (marketers included) knew what to do with them. But now they’re back, and they’re one of marketing’s hottest assets.


Let’s examine how QR code usage has evolved since its early days. We’ll discover some of the cutting-edge techniques and unique-use cases being used today.


A Brief History of QR Codes


Quick Response codes (commonly known as QR codes) were invented in 1994. Masahiro Hara designed them for Japan’s automotive industry. His original model was influenced by the black and white pieces on the Go board (a traditional Chinese game). Their purpose was to allow for vehicle tracking during the manufacturing process, via high-speed component scanning. The codes worked so well that they eventually found their way into the production, shipping, and transaction stages of each automobile’s manufacture. Word got out and other industries (specifically food and pharmaceutical businesses) found that they could use QR codes for tracking purposes, too. 


QR codes continued to evolve and they’re now used on a much larger scale. Today they serve as mobile marketing assets, appearing on everything from print ads and in-store retail displays to product packaging, restaurant menus, gyms, and hiking trails, just to name a few of the many possibilities.


How Do QR Codes Work?


qr code scanYou might be wondering what enables these unusual-looking, two-dimensional scannable images to work. You know you scan them, but then what? Well, they’re a lot like barcodes, only more abstract. Your smartphone scans the pixelated image and translates the information into something you can understand. Let’s break it down.


The human eye sees a squiggly image, but the modern-day QR code has seven different parts. Each part has a specific purpose that transmits information through the code. 


  1. Positioning detection markers. These imprints help to quickly identify that this is a scannable code and shows the direction it’s printed.
  2. Alignment markings. These help to straighten out codes on a curved surface.
  3. Timing patterns. Black and white modules help to configure the data grid.
  4. Version information. There are a whopping 40 different versions, but seven of them are more common than the rest. They’re primarily based on the amount of data within the code, which determines the size.
  5. Format information. This includes error tolerance information, which makes it easier to scan the code.
  6. Data and error correction keys. This is where all the important data resides, sharing space with the error correction blocks. 
  7. Quiet zone. This is essentially white space for structure and comprehension.


Also, there are two types of QR codes. 


  1. Static: Fixed information that can’t be edited once it’s been created.
  2. Dynamic: You can update, edit, and change the original code, which is great for marketers. 


Thus, when consumers scan your QR codes, they can:


  • Get product or service information
  • Send an email or text message to you
  • Visit your website link
  • Visit a social media account
  • Download your app


These are just a few of the many ways your QR codes are useful to consumers. Let’s look at a few industries to see how each could use QR codes to help with the mobile marketing of their products/services.


qr code real estate

QR Code Marketing in the Real Estate Industry


As a real estate marketer, QR codes have enhanced the way you interact and work with your customers—both prospective and existing. Here are a few of the methods you can try.


  • Place your QR codes everywhere—on all your mobile marketing materials and at every property. RE/MAX launched dynamic QR codes on their agent’s business cards, property signs, billboard advertisements, and in print ads. When someone scans the code, it redirects them to a mobile-optimized landing page, which includes the agent’s contact information, agent listings, events, and more. In turn, the codes provide data on the person’s location, date, and time of the scan.
  • Boost your social media presence. Zillow allowed homeowners who were using their service to create custom QR codes to share with prospective buyers. Then they converted the real estate QR codes into social media codes that redirected users to follow or like a specific social account.
  • Combine a QR code with your CRM software to alert customers to houses that are on sale in their vicinity. Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate did this and built customized pages for their various target audiences.


quick response codes for financial servicesQR Code Marketing in the Financial Services Industry


As a financial services marketer, you want to make things as easy as possible for your customers. Here are a few examples of how you can use QR codes on your mobile marketing.


  • Include a QR code with your direct mailers when you want the recipient to perform an action, like downloading your bank’s app or visiting a page on your website. Chase Bank places QR codes on the back of their direct mail envelopes which prompts recipients to download their app. They also provide some instruction by printing “Manage your account with the Chase mobile app” next to the code.
  • QR code-based payments are fast, reliable, and less risky. This leads to increased trust and brand loyalty. According to American Express: “With merchant-presented QR codes, a bank or payment service provides a business with a unique QR code. Customers scan the QR code using their smartphone camera device, then enter the payment amount and PIN. This initiates a payment to the seller. Key advantages of this method are low cost and simplicity. Sellers don’t need an additional point-of-sale technology; they simply print out their QR code for customers to scan.”
  • Place a QR code on your large-format printing ads like billboards, bus stops, and subways. TD Bank uses QR codes on its bus shelter advertising to promote the locations of their branches that offer extended hours. When someone scans the QR code, they’re redirected to the bank’s branch locator.


qr code hospitalityQR Code Marketing in the Hospitality Industry


Implementing QR codes into your hospitality marketing strategy is a smart decision, especially when it comes to enhancing your guest’s experiences. You’ll ease your day-to-day operations, increase ROI and customer retention, and deliver a forward-thinking client service experience. Here are some ideas for hotels and resorts to consider with their mobile marketing strategy.


  • Speed up your check-in process by allowing guests to scan a QR code that’s provided to them when they receive their reservation confirmation. This is a “contactless check-in.” Just make sure the code’s redirect arrives at a straightforward, user-friendly web page. This eliminates long waiting lines and paves the way for an easy check-in experience. 
  • Create a whole new method of room service by providing your guests with an elegant card featuring a QR Code. In doing this, you don’t need to print a new room service menu and distribute it to all your rooms each time the menu changes. That saves you time and money—and it reduces marketing waste. Boston Hilton Downtown tried it and increased their room-service business by more than 30% in three months. 
  • Before your guests leave, give them a printed card (or place it in their room) with a QR Code that redirects them to a survey. It’s convenient for the customer and you get instant feedback so you can improve your service.


Place a QR Code in Your Direct Mail Campaigns


By adding a QR code to a direct mail marketing campaign, smart marketers can direct consumers to a landing page or customized PURL (Personalized Uniform Resource Locator). With a PURL, you can create a more personalized experience for each customer. Plus it allows for greater customer engagement and advanced offer-redemption tracking.


Are you interested in including a QR code in your next direct mail campaign? Does direct mail marketing work? Let’s talk about the possibilities based on your brand’s mobile marketing needs. Contact us for more information.

Use QR codes in your direct mail.

Find out how MSP can help you add QR codes to all your direct mail marketing campaigns.

The Resurgence of QR Code Marketing


qr code history comicIn 2011, over 14-million Americans scanned a QR code. In general, businesses weren’t sure what to do with them. They were more of a mobile marketing fad, although they did actually serve a purpose—albeit a mismanaged one. It’s just that most of the brands that were using them didn’t have a method to their QR code madness. They had become rather clunky. So the excitement eventually wore off and QR codes were pretty much a thing of the past by 2013. 


That was until smartphones offered the ability to scan these images with their native cameras. Marketers and consumers took notice and QR codes made a resurgence. Consumers no longer had to download and learn how to use a QR code-scanning third-party app (although there are still plenty of free ones available). In fact, QR code usage grew by almost 30% between 2018-2019 and the numbers are still steadily growing today.


QR Code Actions: More Ways to Make Them Work


When QR codes first made their way into mobile marketing campaigns, there weren’t specific goals nor were there calls to action. There wasn’t a marketing plan behind them. Now there are a variety of actions for QR codes, outside of the standard uses. Here are some of the possibilities:


Device-Dependent Redirects


qr code smartphoneWhen a customer scans your QR code, you can redirect them to a specific web page depending on the device they’re using. Why would this matter? Let’s say your QR code goal is to prompt a consumer to download your app. One of the biggest obstacles to date has been whether people are using an Android or iOS device. Brands had to create separate QR codes for each one. It’s no longer an issue if you design your QR code with a redirect based on the type of device a customer’s using.




With geo-targeting, you can generate multiple URLs. This creates a location-based redirection for your audience when they scan your QR codes with their smartphones. For example, a customer in Italy will see an Italian web page that’s exclusive for their language and country. A U.S. customer, on the other hand, will see an English website.




geo fencingLike geo-targeting, geo-fencing involves identifying a location to determine the outcome of scanning a QR code. Depending upon the GPS positions you specify, customers will arrive at the URL of your choosing. Let’s say someone is near one of your hotels and they scan a QR code. You can direct them to special offers that only they can access because they’re near one of your brand’s properties. For a brand with several locations, geo-fencing makes it simple to introduce location-specific offers.


Mobile Coupons


Juniper Research predicts that there will be more than 5.3-billion QR coupon and discount codes scanned via mobile devices by 2022. Target announced a QR code-based payment system where shoppers can scan offers directly to payment cards on their smartphones. Additionally, it’s predicted that the use of mobile-enabled loyalty cards will double to almost four billion by 2022.


More Modern-Day QR Code Capabilities


Another reason QR codes are becoming so popular is not only their ease of use but also their functionality. Smart marketers can use them to better manage their mobile marketing strategies. 


Analytics. Find out, in real-time, what’s happening with your QR code campaigns. The more you know about your customers, the better you can serve their needs. That means more happy customers that stick with your brand over the long haul.


Retargeting. You can add retargeting and tracking codes to your redirects. This will allow you to run retargeting campaigns for the consumers who are scanning your QR codes. Just be sure you’re always GDPR and CCPA compliant.


Webhooks. Every time someone scans one of your QR codes, you can automatically trigger an action, such as sending an email or updating a database record. It’s similar to when someone fills out a lead form which, in turn, sets off an automated marketing campaign.


Innovative QR Code Marketing Campaigns from Leading Brands


It’s not enough to simply create a QR code. Your brand’s goal should always be to focus on improving the customer experience. Therefore your QR codes should be easily accessible, plus relevant to, and optimized for the consumer. In saying that, however, it’s important to get creative and put your brand’s personal touch on your QR code-enhanced campaigns. Here’s how some brands have taken their mobile marketing and QR code presentations to “the next level.”


Amazon SmileCodes: QR Codes with a Twist


amazon qr codeAmazon SmileCodes are similar to traditional QR codes. Only Amazon customers can use them, though, to get discounts and other offers via the Amazon app. The codes have been around for a few years. They were tested in pop-up stores and Amazon Lockers throughout Europe before arriving in the U.S. where they were originally found in magazine ads. When a customer spots an Amazon SmileCode, all they have to do is tap the camera icon inside the Amazon app and capture the code. Let’s say a customer has a package delivered to an Amazon Hub Locker. The SmileCode at the location can give them the ability to securely open the locker.


NBCUniversal: QR Codes Fuel ‘On-Air Shoppable Moments’


NBCUniversal is using a feature called ShoppableTV that combines the engagement of television with the immediacy of mobile commerce. The seamless shopping experience gives viewers the opportunity to purchase products within the environment of their favorite TV show. This new capability redefines the purchase funnel for NBCUniversal partners and allows viewers to shop in new, innovative ways.


Let’s say you’re watching the TODAY show. NBCUniversal has partnered with Walmart to allow viewers to scan the QR code that’s in the lower third of the screen during Walmart commercials. Consumers see an “On-Air Shoppable Moment” that allows them to scan the code and buy the product(s).


ELLE Boutique’s Large-Format Printing Plan Includes QR Codes


The worldwide lifestyle magazine’s retail store printed a QR code on a vinyl banner and placed it in front of their locations. Passersby could scan the code to download a PDF of the brand’s latest lookbook. Once opened/saved, they could explore ELLE’s new line of clothing and implement it into their own wardrobe. ELLE also provided a link to their online store so potential customers could begin shopping immediately or wait until they got home.


Pepsi Uses QR Codes on Their Cans


pepsi qr codePepsi has been sponsoring the NFL’s Super Bowl Halftime Show since 2011. Ten years later, in 2021, however, they decided to put a new twist on the proceedings by placing a QR code on cans of their product. Consumers that scan the code with their smartphones will immediately reach where they can access exclusive artist and show assets and AR filters. Todd Kaplan, Pepsi’s VP of Marketing, said:


“Coming off of a year that was mostly void of live music, we are reimagining the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show to ensure fans can experience the performance in new ways that have never been done before, with tons of exclusive access and content leading up to the show.”


QR Codes in Direct Mail: REI and U.S. Bank Team Up for Mutual Benefit


Like many large retailers, REI teamed with a financial services provider to promote a rewards-based credit card option. In a partnership with U.S. Bank, REI created a direct mail campaign offering its members the REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard. Upon approval, customers get a $100 REI gift card if they make a purchase within 60 days of opening the account. Customers also receive an additional $50 gift card if they spend $1,500 within the first 90 days. U.S. Bank also offers rewards like 5% back on REI purchases, plus other strategic incentives to get REI customers on board. Some of them include:


  • Extra savings on REI adventure travel.
  • Donations to the REI Cooperative Action Fund.
  • Travel benefits with other partners, like ShopRunner, Lyft, and Boxed.


In this case, providing a QR code on the mailer allowed recipients to bypass entering a URL ( and the corresponding confirmation code. Include QR codes in your print catalogs or any other type of advertising to direct consumers to your website for more information, reviews, or other types of in-depth content, like video. When you make it easy for people to do business with you, they’ll reward you with more business.


How South Korea Used QR Codes to Combat COVID-19


COVID-19 has affected all of us and it’s infected millions worldwide. But it did create an opportunity for technology to help combat it. Take QR codes for example. South Korea set up a nationwide QR-code entry login system to combat the virus at roughly 80,000 gathering spots throughout the East Asian country. Under this structure, visitors to any of these facilities received instructions to download a smartphone app. It’s scanned upon entry and records their information (privacy concerns be damned). Then, if it’s discovered that an infected person was at one of these facilities, everyone else who was there at the same time can be tested to see if they contracted the virus.


This QR code plan, along with easy access to virus testing and relentless mask-wearing, has helped South Korea achieve one of the lowest infection and death rates in the world.


MSP Combines Your Digital and Direct Mail Marketing Ventures


direct mail qr code redemptionWith MSP’s Direct Mail Panorama and USPS Informed Delivery, features like QR code integration and PURLs make it easier than ever to integrate your digital marketing with your direct mail campaigns. Your brand can make a positive impression at every consumer touchpoint. Plus you’ll boost your brand image and broaden your reach with mobile marketing campaigns. 


We can add your brand’s QR code to any direct mail piece and change the code based on each recipient’s preferences using variable data printing (VDP). When you use multi-URL QR codes, you’ll learn more about who’s scanning your codes. Then you can use that data to hyper-personalize your future campaigns. Those are the advantages you get from Direct Mail Panorama, our innovative new software solution that streamlines and manages high-volume direct mail campaigns.


We can also help you personalize your QR code to add your logo and preferred colors, create unique edges and patterns, and alter the layout to make it more visually appealing. You want to make your brand’s QR code stand out without compromising the effectiveness of the code itself. Remember, you want it to be eye-catching and unique, but the top priority should always be about efficacy.


Finally, don’t use QR code technology just for the sake of doing it. QR codes used to be a fad, but their resurgence is anything but that. A QR code can help you enhance the customer experience of any mobile marketing campaign, while also providing another way to gather data and learn more about your customer’s needs.


To talk about working QR codes into your mobile marketing strategy, contact an MSP representative today.

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