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Commentary & Analysis

Millennial Marketer: “I Don’t Use QR Codes”

If anyone is using QR codes, it’s Millennials, right? If anyone understands the value of QR codes, it’s marketers. So why doesn’t this Millennial marketer use them? Read on to find out.

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: April 25, 2018

If anyone is using QR codes, it’s Millennials, right? If anyone understands the value of QR codes, it’s marketers. So why doesn’t this Millennial marketer use them?

This discovery came out of a conversation I had last weekend in a Verizon Wireless store. I was sitting there with my daughter, waiting for her first iPhone to be activated, and I noticed a QR code on one of the in-store posters. I asked the salesperson whether he had noticed anyone scanning it. He said maybe a few people, but not too many.

I figured him to be in his mid- to late 20s, so I was curious. “How about you?” I asked. “Do you scan QR codes?”

He smiled and shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

I asked why. He said that he had a degree in marketing, so he was all too aware of the many ways that companies use to market to him. He assumes anything on a package, a poster, or piece of marketing collateral is there to sell him something. He pointed to embedded links in emails and websites. “They are there to take you to a page where they are going to sell you something,” he said. “That’s the whole reason they are there. As far as I'm concerned, QR codes do the same thing. I don’t want to be sold to.”

For him, QR codes are red flags of something to avoid. “Sales push ahead! Stay away!”

Is he the exception? Or is that what most consumers hear when they see a QR code? As just another way marketers are trying to get into their wallets? Or do they see QR codes as a valuable way to gain information? For me, it’s the latter. I use QR codes enough to know that, on occasion, I end up somewhere interesting that is of value to me. I use them as quick links to surveys, ways to access recipes for foods I like, and sometimes for entertainment (Angry Orchard’s talking trees come to mind). But not everyone thinks this way.

Even as consumers become more familiar with how QR codes work, your salespeople need to emphasize to clients the need to add text around QR codes to emphasize why their customers should scan them. “Scan here to download our app” or “Scan to see video on product use.” Make the value clear to them. Otherwise, as my Verizon Wireless sales guy so clearly pointed out, viewers may just see your clients’ “added value” using QR codes as another way to sell to them...and therefore those efforts fall flat. 

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”



By Gina Danner on Apr 25, 2018

Heidi good points on the ever evolving perception of the QR Code. While I appreciate this one "marketing student's perspective" we do need to remember it is anecdotal data. (and I know you get that) Too often clients, especially in smaller businesses, take a single comment and change their whole strategy. Remind them that a comment from an individual like this needs to be treated with a level of "suspect". Is he reflective of your defined target persona? If he is, you may need to take steps to obtain more input. If not, tuck his comments in the back of your mind and watch for them to appear in the future - or choose to investigate further.

My goal is to always understand my client's STRATEGY and when I see their artwork, I look at all the mechanisms it contains to see if the piece delivers on their STRATEGY. I check offers, landing pages, and QR codes. If the pages don't deliver on that strategy, I use that moment to start a conversation. It is a point where i can differentiate myself and NextPage from the rest of the herd.


By Eddy Hagen on Apr 25, 2018

A marketer who's (personally) opposed to everything that smells like sales... interesting...

Sounds a bit like a printer who never takes printed business cards with him, who doesn't want printed promotional material.


By Gina Danner on Apr 25, 2018

Eddy -- excellent points. Perhaps that is why he is working retail at this point. It would be interesting to have a conversation with him about the role of marketing.

And the printer who doesn't have amazing business cards, exceptional promotional material, or doesn't do direct mail to promote his/her business... well that's just blasphemy.


By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on Apr 25, 2018

Yup. I scan QR Codes just to see what's on the other side. I want to see what marketers are doing well . . . or not. I'm not thinking about being marketed to. I'm thinking, "I wonder how well they implemented this?" As Gina said, maybe that's why he's working retail!


By Rick Levy on Apr 25, 2018

We are never going to get 100% engagement in anything we do, unless we are giving away money. For every Millennial that doesn't scan a QR code there are others who will. But, I agree with Heidi that we should be more diligent and include copy that explains why a QR code should be scanned.


By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on Apr 25, 2018

Yes, Gina, to your point about this being anecdotal, I agree. It's not necessarily representative of the entire population of people who could potentially scan QR Codes. It is only instructive on why someone might not scan a code. Because I regularly scan QR Codes, I'm always interested in why someone wouldn't. What's going on inside their heads? That's all that was meant here.


By Jeremy Wright on Apr 25, 2018

My biggest issue with QR codes initially was the need for another program to open them. I had to open a QR code reader which alway felt slow and I had to remember what it actually was since I didn't use it enough. I can type, even on a phone, faster than having to find the program just to scan a code that has all the info around it on how to find it/get to it. I know now that function has been integrated into the native camera but am mostly ingrained in my habits and find myself not even wanting to see what it is.


By Brandon Rome on Apr 25, 2018

With modern mobile OSes adding native QR support to their default camera apps, adoption should increase over time. This removes the friction of having to download a 3rd party app to use the technology.

That said, I think QR codes shine for more complicated or sensitive protocols outside of http, like initiating a cryptocurrency transfer (where a typo can irreversibly misplace your funds), or connecting to very secure wifi networks with complex passwords. They can be so much more than a bridge between a physical piece and a company's homepage.

(FWIW, I'm a 33yo web developer)


By Robert Ross on Apr 25, 2018

Your beating a dead horse. QR Codes are useless to consumers of any age. Always will be.


By Robert Godwin on Apr 26, 2018

I just ordered a buggywhip using QR code...

Why wouldn't anyone just use image recognition? Package designs are as unique as a QR.


By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on Apr 26, 2018

Here's my question about image recognition. Until it becomes the default way to interact with printed pieces, and every consumer understands and can do this, what would cause someone to know to scan the piece? Or even try to see if there is anything to see? At least with a QR Code, there is a physical indicator that says, "Scan me!" Yes, with IR you can put a marker on there, or say, "Scan me," but how is this really any different from a QR Code?


By Robert Ross on Apr 26, 2018

Just talked to two 25 year old college grads (med student and IT major) and asked them if they ever used a QR code and they laughed at me for even asking......


By Robert Godwin on Apr 26, 2018

You answered your own question. Image recognition is in fact no different than a QR code. So, why have a second, unrelated step in between. Scan the object of interest and just go there.


By Robert Godwin on Apr 26, 2018

In response to Robert Ross: I recently guest lectured at Loyola Marymount University here in Los Angeles, a reasonably modern, metropolitan city. Out of 20 students, 4 had read a magazine and 8 saw something on TV in the prior month. None had been to their (snail) mail box. Wrote about a couple months ago. Research indicated an 8 second attention span. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/gen-z-your-eight-seconds-fame-robert-godwin/


By Eddy Hagen on Apr 27, 2018

Image recognition: from a technical point of view, it can be done. But that's not the issue. The issue is human behavior and how you can get people to use it. Three steps are important:
1: they need to know that there is something to scan!
2: give them instructions how they have to do it. Over and over again. Don't assume that everybody has the same knowledge as you...
3: make it worth while... (and deliver on that promise).
All three are important issues. Regarding the first one: does anybody remember DigiMarc, which introduced hidden watermarks in magazine ads, already in 2000? These hidden watermarks could be scanned with a webcam and brought you to a web page. (btw: does anybody remember the CueCat, also launched in 2000, which connected print to the web)

Regarding my first remark about the marketer that's opposed to everything that smells like sales: there is a huge discrepancy between marketers in their role as a marketer versus being a consumer. Look at mobile advertising: most marketers will invest more and more in mobile advertising (because the reports say that's where the money will be going), but as a private person they hate it... Think about that. And when a marketer tells you that he's shifting budget from print to mobile, ask him whether he, as a private person, likes to see ads on his mobile...


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