How to Increase Customer Engagement With QR Codes

The two-dimensional bar code technology lets you to connect to customers via smartphones. But make a plan before you ask them to scan.
August 14, 2012

Have you been noticing little black and white, pixelated squares on everything from magazine advertisements to bus shelters? They're called QR codes and they can be an important tool for engaging your clients.

QR, which stands for Quick Response, is a type of two-dimensional bar-coding. These codes have the capability of containing many times the data of a standard bar code because QR codes can be read horizontally or vertically.

QR codes were first developed by a subsidiary of Toyota as a way to identify cars on an assembly line. They have developed into tools for sending information, thanks to the popularity of mobile devices.  Anyone carrying around a smartphone with a camera is also carrying a bar code scanner for QR codes.

Millions of people are scanning QR codes with the cameras on their phones each month. How can your small business harness the power of this technological trend?

Putting QR Codes to Work

QR codes are being adopted by many companies in many different industries as a way to provide something extra for consumers. But you have to be thoughtful about what that something extra is going to be, according to John Varacalli, owner of three QR code entities including, a website that provides news, information and technical solutions in the world of QR codes.

Varacalli says the steps for creating a purposeful QR campaign begin with direction. 

"The direction or purpose you have will dictate everything else that follows, so without a clear aim in mind, you will never get very far with your QR codes," Varacalli says.

Pinpoint your purpose for getting a QR code out there. Is it to gain subscribers to a newsletter, to publicize new products or get customers to try something new on a menu? 

"It is always the direction that would dictate where you take your customers to," Varacalli said.

And that leads to the next step which is figuring out what your content will be. 

Make It Count

"Any communication you send out should always have substantial content," Varacalli says. "You should put yourself in the shoes of your customer and find out what would be interesting to them."

Content can include text, video, photos and more. And that content should have some kind of benefit.

"Always remember that your customers are driven by what they could get from you,"  Varacalli says. Benefits include things like discounts, deals, exclusive items and freebies.

What Next? 

And remember, you want the campaign to include action. "The last thing you want to do is take your customers to Facebook or Twitter and have them connect with you and then have them ask 'So, what's next?' You should never have a dead end in your process," Varacalli says.

Here's an example from Varacalli of the five steps in a customer engagement program using QR codes.

1. D (Direction) You want more subscribers.

2. C (Content) You create a mobile site that describes your newsletter.

3. B (Benefit) You tell readers that subscribing to the newsletter will give them special deals, discounts and insider information.

4. A (Action) Your customers sign up for the newsletter.

5. And be innovative every step of the way. Anyone can drive QR code traffic to a website. But Vacaralli says innovators will do something memorable. A clothing retailer could provide a mobile app for trying on new fashions or a car dealer might consider offering virtual test drives of a new car.

QR coding is a growing marketing tool. Small businesses embracing the technology should strive to do more than just provide a link from the code to a website. Instead, plan in advance the direction you want to head in, the content you want to create, the benefits you will provide to customers, the action you want them to take and the ways you can innovate each step of the process.

Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who likes to break a topic down and keep her copy tight. That's why this bio is so brief! Carla blogs via