QR Codes are Taking Off in Unexpected Ways

Photo by Global X

There are a lot of strong feelings about QR Codes. Some people think they are the best thing since the printing press, while others think they’re not worth the paper most appear on. Regardless of how you feel about QR Codes, a new report from ScanLife, a firm that generates and manages QR codes for brands, confirms that you need to navigate these black and white mazes.

Here’s what nonprofits need to know about QR Codes.

QR Code use is rising.

In the second quarter of 2012, 16 million people scanned ScanLife QR Codes. This is 10 million more scans than for the same period in 2011. The breakdown on QR Code use still tips toward men who account for 69 percent of scans. Still, one of the fastest growing group of scanners are women as QR Codes are showing up more in women’s magazines and beauty products. For both men and women, the top QR Code users are under 40 years of age.

Takeaway for nonprofits: Despite much talk of the demise of QR Codes, competitors such as near-field communication (NFC) and augmented reality have yet to dethrone QR Codes as the king of the offline hyperlink. While QR Codes have a ways to go before advocates can brag that their grandmothers are scanning them, their popularity is growing–especially among younger men and women.

Most QR Codes are scanned at home.

60 percent of QR Codes are scanned at home. This was probably the biggest surprise for me! I thought most people would be scanning QR Codes on the go when they are shopping or sightseeing. But the popularity of scanning QR Codes at home makes sense for two reasons. First, people are seeing a lot of QR Codes in magazines, mailings, and catalogs, which arrive via mail at home. And let’s face it: people have more time at home to scan QR Codes. Second, the findings indicate just how much people are using their mobile devices when they’re hanging out at home and watching television.

Takeaway for Nonprofits: Find ways to incorporate QR Codes into mailings and communications that supporters get at home. If your latest newsletter features an interview with a field team in Africa, include a QR Code that takes the conversation online and into the area where the team works. Also, don’t be afraid to test linking a QR Code to a donation page. 87 percent of people have used their mobile device to make a purchase in the past year. If people are buying products and services more on their mobile devices they can donate to your nonprofit too.

Link QR Codes to discounts, coupons and free items.

This was another finding that surprised me. People aren’t primarily using QR Codes to download apps and watch videos. They use them to access a contest or get a deal. Experts agree that there’s a big disconnect between marketers who want to use QR Codes to share information and consumers who want to skip the details and scan a deal. It all goes back to what consumers want, which are codes that link to discounts, coupons, and free items.

Takeaway for nonprofits: Your supporters’ expectations for your nonprofit QR Codes will differ from what they expect from retailer codes. However, a key lesson for from retailers is to tap consumer preference to do and get when they scan a QR Code. If a retail partner is offering a deal to supporters of your charity (that may include them supporting you in some way with every sale), a QR Code may be a good way to share it. Or, if you want feedback from supporters on new logo designs, you can feature the choices alongside QR Codes in your next print newsletter so supporters can pick their favorite with their smartphones.

The most important takeaway about QR Codes is that while they will someday be replaced by something else, efforts to link the physical and digital worlds with mobile devices will be with us for many years to come. QR Codes are the beginning of a revolution that you don’t want to miss.