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What is a QR Code + How Does It Work? Everything Marketers Should Know

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What is a QR Code + How Does It Work? Everything Marketers Should Know


I’ll never forget the first time dining at a restaurant after my pandemic-induced hibernation. Before I could ask for a menu, the waitress nodded towards a piece of paper with a barcode on it. “Open your phone camera and scan it. The menu should pop up.”

QR codes have become a common sight almost overnight — from cereal boxes and billboards to even employee uniforms. With a 94% increase in interactions from 2018 to 2020, there’s no denying QR codes are seeing an epic revival in a new touch-free world.

Let’s explore the origins of the QR code, learn how it works, and discuss ways it can refresh your marketing strategy.

Table of Contents

What is a QR code?

Static vs. Dynamic QR Codes

How do QR codes work?

The Origins of the QR Code [+ Its 2020 Revival]

QR Codes for Marketing

What is a QR code?

Short for quick response, QR codes are scannable barcodes that store data. In the marketing sphere, they’re commonly used to redirect users to landing pages, websites, social media profiles, or store coupons.

For instance, someone can place a QR code on the back of their business card to direct you to their LinkedIn profile. A QR code on a billboard may send you to a landing page.

QR codes vary in design and function, and primarily fall into one of the following categories — static or dynamic.

Static vs. Dynamic QR Codes

A static QR code contains information that cannot be modified once it’s live. This means any typo or misstep will require you to create a brand new one. The good news is that static codes don’t expire — so once the content is set, your work is done.

Static QR codes are ideal for storing fixed or sensitive info — think Wi-Fi passwords, employee ID numbers, or access codes. But they’re not so helpful if you need to update your data regularly.

Dynamic QR codes allow you to change your info as many times as you want. This is because the information isn’t ingrained into the code itself. Instead, it redirects users to a specific URL that can be changed at any time. For example, a restaurant can redirect users to a menu on their website.

A major benefit of dynamic QR codes is the ability to gather scanning metrics. While you can’t access personal information from users, you can see the time, location, and device used for each scan. And as marketers, we know these metrics are crucial to gauging campaign effectiveness.

How do QR codes work?

A QR code works similarly to barcodes at the supermarket. Each QR code consists black squares and dots which represent different pieces of information. When scanned, the unique pattern on the barcode translates into human-readable data. This transaction happens in seconds.

Users must scan the code with a QR reader or scanner, although nowadays most people scan QR codes with smartphones. On the off chance your phone doesn’t have the capability, there are plenty of free apps for QR scanning like NeoReader and QuickMark Barcode Scanner.

The Origins of the QR Code [+ Its 2020 Revival]

Invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara, chief engineer of Denso Wave, the original purpose of the QR code was to track vehicles and parts moving through the assembly line.

Despite being a mid-90s invention, the QR code didn’t gain any substantial momentum until the era of smartphones. But even then, users had to download a third-party app to scan the codes. A real breakthrough came in 2017 when Apple integrated a QR reader into its phones, and other manufacturers quickly followed suit.

Thanks to accessibility, a new wave of hype followed, then quickly dissipated as marketers’ interest fell to the wayside. That is, until 2020. You can probably guess where I’m going with this.

In the US alone, 11 million households scanned a QR code in 2020 — a significant jump from 9 million in 2018.

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, the QR code gave businesses a new way to communicate with customers in a suddenly touchless society. From hospitality and food to retail and manufacturing, a variety of companies used them for the first time.

And for marketers, QR codes can strategically bridge the gap between offline and online media. They’ve quickly turned into dynamic, two-dimensional call-to-action buttons — operating as vehicles to engage customers, inspire action, drive traffic, and share info without having to invest a lot of money.

So, are QR codes here to stay? Whether or not they’ve earned a permanent spot in a post-pandemic world is still up for debate, but there’s no denying its incredible journey since its debut on the assembly line.

Here are a few ways to use QR codes to refresh your marketing strategies.

QR Codes for Marketing

1. QR codes can help you stand out from the crowd.

Differentiating your business from your competitors is definitely a marketing 101 lesson. If used correctly, QR codes can spike the curiosity of your customers and prospects alike. Use this opportunity to link QR codes to exclusive offers or valuable content to carry that curiosity through to a sale.

For example, check out SparkPlug Coffee who ran a giveaway where users could enter by scanning a QR code.

2. QR codes let you target consumers on the go.

Retailers, don’t you wish there were a way to interact with customers on the go? Integrate QR codes into your store signage and other print advertising. Whether you’re providing coupons for shopping in-store or an easy way to sign up for your newsletter, QR codes make it super easy for customers and prospects to access your information fast on their phones.

REI, an outdoor sports apparel retailer, had this signage on the front door of one of their stores to pique interest about their frequent shopper program. Instead of calling out the program, they focused on the benefit (dividends) and provided a QR code linked to a list of products people could purchase with their dividends.

3. QR codes make real life interactive like the web.

Many businesses are shifting their time and budgets to digital advertising, which is more interactive and easier to track than traditional advertising.

QR codes add an interactive component by turning static content into dynamic call-to-action buttons. From asking customers to leave a Google review to redirecting them to a branded Facebook page, you have many options to engage customers.

Even museums, libraries, and parks are leveraging QR codes to breathe life into displays and park benches. Check out this example from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City:

4.QR codes are free and easy to set up.

There are multiple resources businesses can access that will allow them to insert a landing page URL and create a QR code that will direct users to that URL with the click of a button.

Sites like QRCode Monkey and Flowcode allow you to set up QR codes in a matter of minutes and provide you with proper image formats to use in your designs.

QR codes are certainly having a moment in the marketing sphere. If you’re thinking about adding them to your strategy, remember that the best practice is to create value. Make sure each code leads to a source of value — such as a coupon or promotion — and requires as few clicks as possible.

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ActionIQ rebrands and launches CX Hub

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ActionIQ rebrands and launches CX Hub


Enterprise customer data platform ActionIQ has announced the launch of a new product, CX Hub. The company has also rebranded as AIQ. The CX Hub is designed as a set of modules offering self-service access to customer data, allowing users to build audiences and orchestrate experiences at scale.

After eight years of growth as a CDP serving B2C, media and other sectors, the changes represent a “new approach to our product and brand,” said CEO and co-founder Tasso Argyros in a release. The modular framework will ingest data from any source, integrate with any activation channel, and also allow components to be used with a third-party CDP.

The modules. CX Hub is comprised of four solutions:

  • Customer data platform.
  • Audience center.
  • Journey management.
  • Real-time CX.

The Hub is also designed to be accessible to business users with a friendly UI and extensive automation capabilities.


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Why we care. This is a significant development in the CDP space — a space that has been transforming rapidly, with many of the early established CDPs being acquired and ingested by more extensive suites such as digital experience platforms.

ActionIQ, one of the leading B2C CDPs, is now describing itself as “the leading CX solution.” It seems to be future-proofing itself by extending its capabilities across orchestration and execution channels, not by acquiring or building those solutions, but by seeking to provide modular integration between its (or a third-party’s) customer data management tool and orchestration and execution channels.

Sometimes we wonder how many independent, traditional CDPs will be left standing a year from now.

Read next: Deep changes in the CDP space


About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.

He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.

Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.



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Old Navy to drop NFTs in July 4th promo update

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Old Navy to drop NFTs in July 4th promo update


Old Navy will update its yearly Fourth of July promotions by saluting the metaverse with an NFT drop, going live June 29.

In honor of the year they were founded, the retailer will release 1,994 common NFTs, each selling for $0.94. The NFTs will feature the iconic Magic the Dog and t include a promo code for customers to claim an Old Navy t-shirt at Old Navy locations or online.

“This launch is Old Navy’s first activation in web3 or with NFTs,” an Old Navy spokesperson told MarTech. “As a brand rooted in democratization and inclusivity, it was essential that we provide access and education for all with the launch of our first NFT collection. We want all our customers, whether they have experience with web3, to be able to learn and participate in this activation.”

Accessible and user-friendly. Any customer can participate by visiting a page off of Old Navy’s home site, where they’ll find step-by-step instructions.

There will also be an auction for a unique one-of-one NFT. All proceeds for the NFT and shirt sales go to Old Navy’s longtime charitable partner, Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Additionally, 10% of NFT resales on the secondary market will also go to Boys & Girls Clubs.

Support. This activation is supported by Sweet, who’s played a major role in campaigns for other early NFT adopters like Burger King.

The Old Navy NFTs will be minted on the Tezos blockchain, known for its low carbon footprint.

“This is Old Navy’s first time playing in the web3 space, and we are using the launch of our first NFT collection to test and learn,” said Old Navy’s spokesperson. “We’re excited to enable our customers with a new way to engage with our iconic brand and hero offerings and look forward to exploring additional consumer activations in web3 in the future.”

Read next: 4 key strategies for NFT brand launches

Why we care. Macy’s also announced an NFT promotion timed to their fireworks show. This one will award one of 10,000 NFTs to those who join their Discord server.

Old Navy, in contrast, is keeping customers closer to their owned channels, and not funneling customers to Discord. Old Navy consumers who don’t have an NFT wallet can sign up through Sweet to purchase and bid on NFTs.

While Macy’s has done previous web3 promotions, this is Old Navy’s first. They’ve aligned a charity partner, brand tradition and concern for the environment with a solid first crack at crypto.


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About The Author

Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country’s first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on “innovation theater” at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.



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Are you still using spreadsheets to manage your work? Take our poll

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Are you still using spreadsheets to manage your work? Take our poll


Earlier this year, revenue orchestration platform LeanData released a report suggesting that lead management remains a “heavily manual” process. Based on a survey of more than 1,700 sales, marketing and operations professionals, the results showed that, despite all the talk of digital transformation, the number two challenge for revenue teams was too many manual processes and not enough automation (the number one challenge was insufficient pipeline).

LeanData, which partnered with Sales Hacker, Outreach and Heinz Marketing in conducting the survey, is interested in that result, of course, because lead management is precisely the process they offer to automate. We were struck by the contrast with Scott Brinker’s recent statement that we are arriving at a post-digital-transformation era: “(C)ompanies are no longer planning to become ‘digital.’ They are digital.”

And then we got the results of our 2022 MarTech Career and Salary Survey. Among the surprising nuggets to be mined from our findings was that 77% of respondents identify spreadsheets as the tool they spend most time (10 or more hours a week) working with. That doesn’t mean that spreadsheets are a marketer’s most important tool, but it does suggest that manual processes remain a key part of daily life for marketing managers and staff.

We wanted to extend the opportunity to all our readers — B2B, B2C, agencies — to give us a reality check on spreadsheet use. MarTech is marketing, we like to say, and certainly today’s marketing is fundamentally data-driven and digital. But is it too soon to say that marketers are working in a digital and largely automated environment?

Download the 2022 MarTech Career and Salary Survey here


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About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.

He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.

Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.



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