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Cracking the (QR) code

Lately, we’ve come across a few articles which are a bit ‘anti-QR code’ in their tone, and we wondered… how do our readers feel about them? But before we ask too many questions of you, we’ll kick off with some examples of QR (Quick Response) code usage, share some highlights from a recent study, and give you a few tips on how to utilise them effectively.

QR code examples

As .eduGuru pointed out, it’s rare to find a college student who doesn’t have a cell phone, and most own a smartphone that is enabled to read QR codes. Colleges are using QR codes to connect with current and prospective students, generating codes to place in print ads, posters, transport shelters, etc. Typically, they drive social media interaction, like Yelp sites, Twitter, Foursquare check ins, and Facebook likes, but some institutions also drive students to applications and admissions information on the spot.

highbury-qr-codeFor example, Highbury College Portsmouth has received praise for using QR codes on posters that drive potential students to find the college on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, encouraging them to enrol.

.eduGuru also announced that they are working with a client to roll out QR codes for locations in an interactive map platform. The site explains: “Essentially I’m visiting a building or location on a campus and see a QR code that I can scan and get information about this specific place right on my mobile phone. It’s kind of like a tour of campus without a tour guide and only to the locations that I want to go or that I’m currently visiting.”

In addition to the code, they also recommend having a link (or some other shortened URL) right below the QR code for those mobile visitors that won’t scan the code.

ICEF Monitor also found some good examples of how teachers can use QR codes both in and out of the classroom.

The travel industry is a natural fit for this technology, and for a bit of inspiration, we’ve noticed that even the fashion industry is starting to integrate QR codes at fashion expos, with particular success in China and in Australia.

And if you want a good giggle, take a look at these dubious uses of the codes – 11 of them highlighted here – or this rather risqué use of them here.

Target audience

So if everyone is using them, what’s going wrong?

One of the first reasons why QR codes might not bring the desired results is an audience mismatch.

According to comScore, 14 million people in the US — a scant 6.2% of mobile users — scanned a QR code in June 2011, and of this bunch, just over 60% were male. The report indicated that of QR code-scanning consumers, about 7% are between 13 and 17 years old, 53% are between the ages of 18 and 34, and around 36% are in households making US$100,000 or more per year.

Further findings include:

  • Around 58% of scans occurred while users were at home, an additional 40% of users said they scanned codes while in retail stores.
  • Nearly 50% of all QR code scans originated with printed magazines and newspapers, around 35% from product packaging, around 27% via a computer screen, and less than a quarter from a poster, flyer or kiosk.
  • Approximately 30% of QR code scans are conducted on Android phones, with 21% of scans coming from iOS devices and 17% from Windows phones.

“QR codes demonstrate just one of the ways in which mobile marketing can effectively be integrated into existing media and marketing campaigns to help reach desired consumer segments,” said comScore senior vice president of mobile Mark Donovan in a release.

“For marketers, understanding which consumer segments scan QR codes, the source and location of these scans and the resulting information delivered is crucial in developing and deploying campaigns that successfully utilise QR codes to further brand engagement.”

What this means for marketers and other decision-makers today is that QR codes, while rapidly evolving and gaining in adoption, are still far from being a mainstream technology. Nevertheless, their popularity is growing rapidly — one report from QR company Jumpscan estimates a 1200% increase in QR code scanning during the last six months of 2010.

While the US is very much a growth market for this technology, QR codes are fairly mainstream in Japan. This is because the Dokomo operator has embeded the QR reader in all mobile phones, so users do not have to download a scanner app. It’s already part of the core technology.


One of the worst mistakes you can make with QR codes is not having a mobile optimised website. Make sure the content is visible without the need to pinch or expand the screen (i.e., responsive design), keep images to a minimum, and avoid using Flash, which doesn’t run on iOS products.


Another key aspect of your campaign is where to place the codes, and .eduGuru highlights a few places to avoid:

  • In emails – rather than a code, a normal link will work just as well, if not better because users may have images disabled and won’t see the QR code in the first place.
  • On billboards – clearly not safe for drivers and if it’s in a location with mainly pedestrians, the audience is distracted in trying to maneuver through the crowd and get to their destination.
  • In locations without Internet access (i.e., airplanes, subway terminals) – although people are probably in waiting mode and have time to read, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can.


Another reason people might not scan a code is that there is no strong incentive to do so, explains Marketing Profs. “By the time you open the app that scans the QR code, wait for it to focus, and reach the desired content, you could have tapped a keyword into a browser and found an even broader base of information without the narrow focus of a marketing campaign.”

Telling a user why they should scan your code is an essential step in the process.


Once you’ve justified why someone should scan, give them further peace of mind by safeguarding the code. Keep an eye on where your codes appear to ensure that cyber criminals have not covered the real QR code with a fake one. Continue to test the code throughout the campaign to make sure the links are working properly.


As with any marketing campaign, make sure you establish clear campaign expectations and goals, and include tracking and reporting capabilities. You can use, for example, a custom URL, and/or a dedicated landing page to track progress and results.

To scan, or not to scan?

Readers, let us know what you think of QR codes. Have you scanned a QR code yourself? Are they currently used in your marketing and communication efforts, and if not, do you plan to start experimenting with them?

Share your thoughts on Twitter @icefmonitor or via the Comments box below.

Sources: .eduGuru, Venture Beat

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