The QR Code Comeback: How to Create and Use QR Codes in Marketing

The QR Code Comeback: How to Create and Use QR Codes in Marketing

Read Time: 6 Minutes


12 Oct 2021

With the COVID-19 pandemic changing everything from the way we work to how we order from a bar or restaurant, the unsung hero for many businesses was the humble QR code, which cropped up across the UK as part of the NHS’s test and trace scheme and to support table service across the hospitality industry. 

While bar service has returned across the UK, many establishments have found that customers prefer (and spend more) ordering via their smartphones, meaning QR codes might well be set to stay. Here’s how QR codes became big business during lockdown and how to add them to your own menus and marketing materials.


What is a QR Code?

A QR – or quick response – code is a two-dimensional version of a barcode that can be easily read by a digital device, like a smartphone, and usually consists of a series of black and white squares in a grid. The code stores information that can be accessed instantly by scanning it with a mobile device.


How Do QR Codes Work?

QR codes work in a very similar way to barcodes at the supermarket. When you scan the combination of black squares and dots using your mobile device, it translates the information into something that’s easy to understand.

More technically, each QR code is encoded with data and converted into a 2D arrangement of squares. When an optical scanner is passed over the squares, it translates the data back into its original form – whether that’s words and numbers or a link to a menu.

How to Scan a QR Code

To scan a QR code app on your phone:

1.    Open the QR code reader app on your phone
2.    Hold your phone over the QR code and make sure the code is in clear view on the screen.
3.    The phone should automatically scan the QR code
4.    If not, click the capture button to take an image


How to scan a QR code on an iPhone:

1.    Open the camera app
2.    Hold your iPhone over the QR code to scan it
3.    Tag the pop-up notification on your screen


How Did QR Codes Make Their Big Comeback During the Pandemic?

Invented in the 1990s, early 2000s marketers were all over this ultra-quick way to send their customers information, with QR codes proving especially popular at trade shows and exhibitions. However, by the 2010s – just as all the possibilities of using QR codes with smartphones arrived – marketers’ interest began to wane. Pre-Covid, the QR code was near extinction.

However, that all changed once the Covid-19 pandemic came into swing, as this useful piece of tech became incredibly useful. On the 28th of May 2020, the NHS Test and Trace programme was launched as a central part of the UK government’s COVID recovery strategy.

Combined with an app, it was designed to allow venues and public health agencies the ability to support the government’s strategy to increase the availability and speed of testing and identify possible close contacts of those who tested positive.

As a vast majority of the general public got accustomed to scanning QR codes using their smartphones, it was only a matter of time before venues such as bars and restaurants realised that these black squares and dots could support them in offering covid-secure table service for customers. Restauranteurs and bar owners were quick to catch on to this trend that offered a contactless menu option at the scan of a code.

Now that marketers have fully grasped the possibilities of QR codes, and UK shoppers have familiarity with using them, the pandemic truly did lead to a big comeback for this 90s data storing tool.


QR Code Generators: How to Make a QR Code

The easiest way to create a QR code is to use a free QR code maker or generator online. 

1. Choose a QR code generator

There are loads of free QR code generators online such as, Kaywa and Free QR Code Generator by Shopify. Try and look for generators that allow you to track and analyse the performance of your QR codes, such as how many people have clicked through after scanning.

2. Select what kind of content you’re promoting

You’ll be able to choose a range of content type options depending on which generator you choose, including URLs, text, PDF and images.

3. Enter your data

Once you’ve chosen what kind of content you’re sharing, you’ll then need to enter the data. This could be pasting your URL into a text field or uploading an image.

4. Choose to download a static or dynamic QR code

Static QR codes are great for information that will always be the same. However, if you want to be able to change what the QR links to or scans, we’d recommend downloading a dynamic QR code instead.

5. Customise it

Some QR code makers allow you to customise what your QR code looks like, such as the colour and pattern – you can even make it resemble your logo! However, please note that altering the design of a QR code can make it more difficult to scan.

6. Test it

Make sure the QR code works and shares the right data with the recipient by using your smartphone to scan it before sending it to anyone else.

7. Distribute it

There are lots of creative ways to share your QR code with its intended audience, from printing it out on a poster or t-shirt to posting it on social media.

Along with sharing your code, it’s a good idea to give instructions on exactly how to do this and a hint at what they’ll get when they scan, e.g., access to your menu, a discount or more information on an exhibition.

Make sure that wherever you display your QR code, it’s convenient for people to get out their phones to scan. For example, it wouldn’t be realist for someone driving past a billboard with a QR code on it to stop, get out and scan it, and short TV ads aren’t likely to give viewers enough time to get their phones out, app loaded up and scan. Pick places where people are stood or sat for a period of time, like in a queue for a club or restaurant, or checking out artifacts in a museum.

8. Analyse the results

Regularly check out how your QR code is getting on and see if you can optimise your campaign further. For example, if more people are scanning the code on a poster, print some more posters to place in high traffic areas. Maybe people are scanning your QR code but not redeeming your voucher code, or they aren’t compelled to scan the code at all – work out what is and what isn’t working to get the most out of your strategy.

How to Use QR Codes for Marketing

Although commonly used as links to menus and table service apps following the pandemic, there are a number of popular uses for QR codes that create the perfect blend of print and digital marketing. Here are some examples!

Promote your podcast

With nearly 6 in 10 of us enjoying listening to podcasts in 2021, it’s imperative to find a clever way to get people listening to yours. Placing ads with QR codes on buses, in the underground and on trains are a great way to gain attention from commuters looking for something to keep them entertained on their way into work. Some savvy marketers are even using QR code temporary tattoos that link to their songs and podcasts on Spotify!

Get more social subscribers

Linking your QR code to your social media accounts makes it easy for people to quickly scan and follow. This is a great strategy for boosting social engagement at trade events and fairs where people are stood around checking out your stall or waiting to talk to your business’s representatives – just pop them on an accessible roller banner ready to scan. You can also hand them out on flyers to encourage people to find you on social media after the event.

Share a discount

You can also use QR codes to redirect customers to a mobile coupon, such as a 30% off one-time redemption code or to get a free drink with a meal. The prospect can then redeem the coupon there and then or save it for when they’re next in your shop. 

Get customer feedback

Customer feedback is essential for businesses as it helps improve their service and figure out their customers’ pain points. An easy way to get feedback is to give out a QR code on a postcard at the end of their experience with you that links to an online survey.

Boost app downloads

It makes sense to direct customers to an app with a QR code – because they’ll need to use their smartphone to access it anyway! There are actually specific QR code generators made exactly for this purpose that can link to your app in Google and Apple app stores, so make sure to check them out when promoting your new mobile phone app.


With QR code popularity at an all-time high, how are you going to use them to supplement your marketing strategy? From business cards to T-shirts, the possibilities are endless – start printing QR codes for marketing now!



About the Author

Hi! I’m James, the Graphic Designer at instantprint. I like helping customers by creating helpful print and designs tips and guides to make sure their artwork looks the best that it can.