The Great QR Code Comeback

Do you remember the moment when you realized QR codes were making their triumphant comeback? I certainly do.

It was at a brewery sometime in the early fall of 2020, when my husband and I met up with some friends for a brisk afternoon of drinks to celebrate a recent birthday. When we arrived, we found our friends posted up at one of the several picnic tables the brewery had recently parked outside the doors of its sizable indoor space. Scattered among the sea of pint glasses were a few laminated cards with a QR code in the center and accompanying instructions explaining how to order.

“It’s SO easy,” one of my friends said. “They bring out your order in like no time.”  

Then it hit me. No waiting. No potentially Covid-infected interaction. No tiny font to squint at as afternoon faded into dusk. No fuss. This piece of technology that had been around since the 90s had finally found its cultural foothold. And now we can’t get enough.  

In the last two years, QR codes have been popping up everywhere again—from restaurants to doctors’ offices, magazines, museums, and more. And at Chronogram Media, we’re putting QR codes to good use and helping you, our clients, make your marketing more effective with them, too. 

In this post, I’m breaking down how QR codes became so easy to create and use, why you should be using them, and how you can start adding them to your marketing and communications today.  

What Is a QR Code?

QR (short for “quick response”) was invented in the early 1990s by Hara Masahiro, a Japanese engineer who wanted to address the limited ability of barcodes to store data. 

Masahiro developed a two-dimensional barcode in the shape of a square that contained three smaller squares with a specific ratio of black-to-white area. Unlike a barcode, which can only store data horizontally, this new square code could store data both horizontally and vertically and hold over a hundred times more information.

The QR Code Comeback

Despite their usefulness, there are several reasons QR codes never really caught on. 

It took until the late 2000s for most people to even gain access to a smartphone with a built-in camera that could serve as a QR code scanner. With their introduction, the technology appeared to be ready for the mainstream consumer and many companies began incorporating QR codes into their advertising and even onto their product packaging as a way to easily send people to landing pages and related web content. (Remember seeing QR codes pop up on the back of Heinz ketchup bottles?) 

However, the process for scanning QR codes was filled with friction. Smartphone technology was still new, so many people didn’t know how to use their phones to scan them, phones still required users to download a special QR code app to scan them, and landing page site load times were often slow, which made the process more frustrating and less rewarding. 

It was only after Apple integrated the QR reader into the iPhone’s camera in 2017 (with other phone manufacturers quickly following suit) that scanning QR codes with your phone became truly seamless. However, as simple as it became to use a QR code, interest in the technology, driven by its many pain points, had already begun to wane.

Then, with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, QR codes came roaring back into use. They became a no-brainer solution for businesses scrambling for a way to communicate in a society that had gone touchless overnight. Restaurants used them in lieu of paper menus, venues and event creators used them to expedite check-in, and states even started using them to create vaccine passports. With so many people needing to use them over the last two years, QR codes have truly become a user-friendly technology whose potential is just now being unlocked.  

How to Use QR Codes in Your Marketing and Communications

For small businesses, today’s QR code speed and ease of use provides many benefits for your marketing and communications.

1. Provide education and brand awareness

Since QR codes don’t need to take up much space on a printed page, they’re a great way to drive traffic to your full website, where people can learn all about your business or marketing campaign. You can even make custom QR codes that incorporate your logo or brand colors, adding another memorable brand touchpoint to your marketing materials.  


2. Increase website traffic

QR codes streamline the jump between a potential customer viewing your marketing materials and visiting your website. Since the scanning process takes mere seconds now, people are much more likely to visit your website with a QR code than you are to get them to remember a url printed on your materials and then type that url into their phone or desktop.

3. Drive revenue

With speed comes action. Since people can quickly visit the site you’re driving them to with a QR code, converting them to a sale becomes that much easier. People are now quite comfortable using their phones to make purchases. In helping a customer visit your site so instantaneously, it becomes that much more likely they will remain on your site and convert to a sale sooner.   

4. Collect data and track performance

There’s a type of QR code known as a dynamic QR code that comes with built-in tracking and analytics abilities that allow you to track a person’s scanning activity history. That means you can gather valuable information like number of unique scans, repeat users, and location of scan, which can all help you determine how successful your QR code campaign was, gain a deeper understanding of your customers, and further target and tailor your marketing in the future.

How We’re Using QR Codes at Chronogram Media

1. Add them to your print display advertising

Thanks to their easy tracking capability and the opportunity to support quicker conversions to websites, we’re encouraging many of our advertising partners to add QR codes to their display ads in Chronogram, Upstate House, and Chronogram Explore, and our inaugural print issue of Rural Intelligence magazine

You can use them to quickly send readers directly to your site to learn more about event details, explore your offerings in depth, provide a limited-time offer, or otherwise enhance their experience of your brand.

You can create your own QR codes online or our production team can make them for you for use on your display ads. There are many free QR code generators available online like QRCode Monkey, the QR Code Generator, and QR Creator. You’ll just want to make sure you create a dynamic QR code instead of a static one so you can get that oh-so-valuable tracking and analytic data. 

One way we’re using QR codes in-house is for our third annual readers’ choice awards, Chronogrammies. We’re using QR codes in all of our print promo materials to drive traffic to the ballot during the voting round (which kicks off this Friday, April 1!) and to help readers find the app we’re using for our first ever Chronogrammies Scavenger Hunt, where people can visit the top nominated businesses during the voting round, complete the photo challenges, and win prizes.

2. Provide a one-of-a-kind video experience

By using QR codes to send your customers to video content, you can truly make two-dimensional marketing communications come to life. We’re creating this special opportunity for our inaugural print issue of Rural Intelligence magazine by using QR codes to drive traffic to video content from our advertising partners. 

As part of our sponsorship opportunities for Rural Intelligence’s first issue, you can provide us with a video of your choosing that features your business and we’ll generate a QR code for your display ad and promote your video on the Rural Intelligence Instagram page. This is just one of the many ways we’re excited to help our partners use QR codes so readers can get to know the look and feel of your business in an entirely new way.  

If you’d like to partner with Chronogram Media on any of the above opportunities, get in touch with our Sales Manager Andi Aldin at [email protected] to learn more.

If you want more marketing tips geared toward small businesses in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and Berkshires, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, The Art of Business!

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