Jet Mail 5/26/22 8:30 AM

How to Use QR Codes in Print and Direct Mail Campaigns

How to Use QR Codes in Print and Direct Mail Campaigns

QR codes aren’t just back–they’re booming!

Fading to near obscurity in 2011, QR codes came back to life during the pandemic as they provided an easy, touchless form of communication.

Today, QR codes can be found nearly everywhere, from business cards to billboards to Super Bowl ads.

During Super Bowl LVI, Coinbase featured only a QR code floating over a black background.If you haven’t already, now is the time to add QR codes to your marketing arsenal.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using QR codes in your print marketing and direct mail campaigns, but first, a little trip down memory lane.

The History, Decline and Comeback of QR Codes

In 1994, Masahiro Hara, a software engineer at Japanese automotive manufacturer Denso Wave, created the first QR code to simplify and expedite the tracking of vehicles. QR codes were soon adopted by other manufacturers, then marketers from all industries, due to their fast readability (a.k.a. their Quick Response).

In 2011, the popularity of QR codes peaked due to technological limitations and poor functionality.

  • Only 35% of adults had smartphones in 2011 compared to 85% in 2021.
  • Users were frustrated by glitchy scanner apps and websites that weren’t optimized for mobile.
  • Smartphones didn’t have a built-in app to scan QR codes.
  • In order to scan a QR code, you had to download a QR code scanner app.

The technology challenges were exacerbated by frustrating user experiences. A 2011 Forbes article illustrates why consumers were quick to abandon QR codes:

“The popularity of QR codes is going to be severely diminished by the user’s annoyance. I recently scanned a QR code on a bus station ad and was taken to a non-mobile-friendly site. I couldn’t see anything on my phone. I was driving and got stuck in traffic. Up on a billboard was a QR code from a local bank - impossible to scan while driving 55 miles per hour and still impossible to scan even just a few feet from the billboard stopped in traffic. All of these experiences would make me want to give up on QR codes forever.”

The iPhone iOS 11 update in 2017 included the ability to scan QR codes using the phone’s camera. While this new iPhone feature simplified the scanning process, it didn’t create enough momentum to boost QR code usage back to its 2011 peak.

The pandemic, however, created more than enough momentum.

As a touchless system, QR codes were the perfect solution to display information, such as restaurant menus, in a socially-distanced world. QR codes also provided a contactless and cashless way to process payments, making them a must-have for nearly every brick-and-mortar business during the pandemic.

The comeback skyrocketed as marketers saw the potential of QR codes beyond the realm of contactless menus and payment processing. And just like that, QR codes became a must-have for nearly every type of marketing communication, including:

  • Product labels.
  • Trade show displays.
  • Print and digital ads.
  • Job postings.
  • Packaging (mail or product).
  • Clothing.
  • Stickers.
  • Temporary tattoos.
  • Retail window displays.
  • Augmented reality experiences.

Benefits of Using QR Codes

The QR comeback is expected to continue on its skyward trajectory, thanks to the business-boosting benefits that only QR codes can provide.

QR codes can be tracked and monitored. 

Tracking the ROI of print and direct mail campaigns has always been a challenge for marketers. QR codes solved for that challenge by providing marketers with real-time performance insights, including the number of times a code was scanned, as well as the scanner’s location, time and device.

Content can be updated at any time.*

Need to change where a QR code links after you’ve already printed 100,000 direct mail pieces to send? No problem. Want to A/B test two types of content and switch to the winning variant? Easy.

The content that a QR code links to can be changed at any time. Simply update the linking URL in the platform in which you generated the QR code.

*Note: There are two types of QR codes: static and dynamic. Static QR codes can’t be edited or updated, so they should only be used for one-time use. Dynamic QR codes allow you to change the destination URL or content link as often and as many times as you like. We highly recommend that businesses use dynamic QR codes for this reason.

You can link QR codes to anything. 

Speaking of content, one of the biggest benefits of QR codes is that they can literally link to anything. This is a non-exhaustive list of content you can link to from a QR code:

  • Your website (landing page, product page, etc.).
  • Videos.
  • Social channels or specific social posts.
  • Special offers or coupons.
  • An online brochure or presentation.
  • Sites to review your products and / or services.
  • Sign up and registration forms.

QR codes can be scaled up or down in size, and used on every communication channel.

The agility of QR codes is tough to beat. In addition to working well on both very small and very large placements, they can be used on almost every communication channel. (Sorry, radio. No QR codes for you).

Tips for Using QR Codes in Print and Direct Mail 

Excited about using QR codes on your next print or direct mail campaign? Awesome–we are too! You’ll want to be sure to…

Test the QR code. 

Remember the old saying, measure twice and cut once? Marketers need to test before releasing a QR code. Ask colleagues and friends with different smartphone models to test the QR code before deploying your campaign.

Make sure the QR code is easy to see.

For a QR code to work, it must measure at least 2 x 2 centimeters. That’s pretty tiny, so keep in mind that not everyone has 20/20 vision. This may sound like Captain Obvious advice, but you’d be surprised how many QR codes are poorly placed. The easier it is to see, the easier it is to scan. For instance, if you’re using a QR code on a trade show booth, be sure the code is placed at a height that is easy for those walking by to see and scan.

Make sure the QR code is easy to scan.

Printing a QR code on super shiny material may reflect too much light, making it difficult to scan. Textured paper can also cause scanning issues.

QR codes need a contrasting background. Though most QR codes are black with a white background, you can use just about any color for the code and background. Note, devices can’t read codes that are the same color as the background.

Likewise, leave plenty of white space around your QR code, and avoid printing multiple codes near each other (or near barcodes).

Offer valuable info people can’t get anywhere else.

If someone’s going to take the time to scan your code, make it worthwhile. Tell them what they’ll get by scanning the code. Offer exclusive content they can only access through the code, like free product samples or invite-only events.

Use unique QR codes to personalize the buyer’s journey.

A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy doesn’t work unless you have a one-size-fits-all audience. When used with advanced digital printing technology, such as variable data printing, QR codes allow businesses to personalize content to the individual recipient. In other words, a unique QR code (with unique content) can be used from one printed piece to the next.

Add QR Codes to Your Marketing Arsenal with Jet Mail

Since 1993, Jet Mail has created custom print, mail and fulfillment solutions that boost ROI and keep businesses ahead of the curve. Contact us today to learn how QR codes can boost your next campaign.


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To learn more about our services and how we can help expedite your marketing fulfillment, start by speaking with a Jet Mail team member.