Customized QR Codes - For or Against

Recently, an interesting article by Rachel Lamb was published on Luxury Daily titled, "How Customized QR Codes Can Drive CRM" and there are a few items written in the article, and quoted by others, that I would like to address and comment on. For background purposes, the article focuses on how luxury brands, in particular, have been using customized QR Codes.

Ms. Lamb: "Luxury brands have been using QR codes in out-of-home, print, in-store and online displays, but those that take it a step further by customizing them can increase brand loyalty and build CRM. Since there is usually no doubt knowing whose code it is when they are customized for brands, this technique will help to increase brand awareness and encourage customers to engage. Furthermore, since affluent consumers enjoy being a part of an exclusive experience, they may be more apt to scan a code if they see it attached to a famed luxury brand."

2DBS: First, Ms. Lamb, how can you prove that customizing a QR Code can increase brand loyalty and build CRM, whatever building customer relationship management means? Please don't get me wrong, I am all for proper brand management and the use of customized or designer 2D codes, when and where appropriate, but on what grounds can you base your statement? As far as I know,  no one company has conducted thorough research in this specific area. Second, the vast majority of QR Codes are displayed in an advertisement or on a product label along with the advertiser's logo or imagery so, why would a consumer not make the connection and know who stands behind the code? Third, in many instances, a customized code was created by an advertiser and, because the logo used in the code was so small or so nondescript, your guess is as good as mine as to what company was behind the code.

Mr. McKenna (Matt McKenna, founder and president, Red Fish Media): “Customized codes are creating brand recognition and inspiring user engagement because the whole thing about a luxury brand is the name. It’s a prestigious thing. Black-and-white QR codes are anti-productive. When you see a black-and-white code, you don’t know where it’s going or who it belongs to."

2DBS: Mr. McKenna, as with the above, how can you prove that customized codes are creating brand recognition and inspiring user engagement? Have you done any A/B split tests with your luxury brand clients? Yes, a customized code might serve to reinforce the recognition or awareness of a brand's logo, imagery, colors, etc. but, where's the proof? With respect to black and white codes being anti-productive, I can site a number of campaigns which used generic codes and they were all rather successful in the eyes and minds of the advertiser and/or the agency. Also, it's not the code itself that is anti-productive, it's really the scan resolve content, offer, call-to-action, etc., and how the campaign was executed from end to end, that controls productivity, effectiveness or efficiency. Mr. McKenna, consumers can look at hundreds of customized codes and they won't have a clue as to where each one links to unless the advertiser takes the time and makes the effort to inform them. So, to make that claim regarding generic codes really doesn't hold up.      

Mr. Alexander (James Alexander, founder/CEO, Vizibility): “This [customized QR Codes] can be quite valuable for luxury brands that want to be associated with traits like technical savviness, leadership, usefulness, playfulness or youthfulness. The value to luxury brands is even greater when you consider that QR codes are effectively free to use and don’t present uncontrollable risks to the underlying master brand.”

2DBS: Mr. Alexander, I agree that 2D technology can help associate the traits you mention with a brand, but when it comes to the freedom to use and the risks, controllable or uncontrollable, to an underlying brand, something has to be said. Take a look at my 2D Barcode Litmus Test Scorecard to the right and you'll see that campaigns judged as failures far out pace those that are judged as passes. Why? Because in all too many instances, free does not equate with know how, experience or best practice, and one advertiser after another thought they knew enough to develop and implement a 2D-based campaign, but, in reality, they were not even close. There are a number of technology and marketing related factors involved with implementing a truly effective 2D-based campaign, and if these are not addressed appropriately and accordingly they can be seen or interpreted as risks.
Mr. Alexander: "The biggest mistake that luxury brands make is developing promotions just for the sake of doing so. This is still true with customized QR codes."

2DBS: Mr. Alexander, I agree. Many companies create and use customized codes for no real reason or purpose. In many instances, a generic code could have worked just fine, or better.

Ms. Lamb's article raises a number of good points regarding customized QR Codes, and mentions a couple of 2D best practices to keep in mind, but falls short on proof of concept (i.e., proof that customized codes increase brand recognition and engagement). My two cents, sure a customized code makes for a more complete brand statement and/or image, but if customizing is not implemented correctly, similar to a generic code campaign, it will end up meaning very little and costing even more. Lastly, as mentioned above, know that there are a number of technology and marketing related best practices to put in place when considering customized codes. It's not just a matter of cutting and pasting a logo into a code.

What's your experience with customized QR Codes?


  1. If you were to make a super awesome, branded, HTML button on the web that (post-click) delivers you to a weak, boring or broken website, which do you suppose has the greater lasting impact on a given consumer's memory of that experience?

  2. Customized QR Codes can be a memorable brand extension when those QR Codes resolve to a rewarding experience. However, when the customized QR Code is the best part of the experience, it is a failure for the scanner and the brand and can have a lasting negative effect on both!