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Let’s talk about QR codes.

Let’s forget that they’re trendy. Let’s forget that they’ve been the subject of much buzz. Let’s forget that the instructor in the last class you took at your local Board or most recent conference told you that without QR codes you will be left behind in the virtual dust as your competitors race ahead of you, snatching up all of your customers, simply because you haven’t been using QR codes.

As with any tool in your arsenal, it’s not the tool that’s amazing (or, conversely, flawed) – it’s the way you use it. If you aren’t using it in a smart way, you may as well not have it in your toolbox.

Before we go any further, I have not used QR codes widely in my own real estate business, so this post is not going to give you detailed statistical data on whether or not they are successful, necessary or at all useful. I am writing as a consumer who is at the same time fascinated and annoyed by the number of marketers and products that want me to whip out my phone every time I see these little devils. I approach QR codes with a healthy dose of cynicism, believing that 9 times out of 10 I will be disappointed with the result of the scan.

Having said that, if you feel the need to jump on the QR code bandwagon or have been wondering if there are ways to incorporate them into your marketing plan, I urge you to approach QR codes logically, practically, and above all, creatively. We’ll get to some ideas in a moment, but first, let me give you a few of my own personal observations of QR code failure:

A few months ago I was in Boston, strolling down the famed Newbury Street after dinner with friends, and lo and behold! a QR code…in a second story window. Try as we might, we could not scan it.

We even returned in daylight the next day and no luck. Lesson: test your QR code placement.

Last week I was driving down the interstate near Atlanta, and as I flew past going 65 MPH (okay, maybe more like 80), I glimpsed a QR code…on a billboard. It was huge and probably scanable, had I been standing stationary on the side of the road. However, I don’t plan to ever be stationary on the side of the interstate – and if I am, I will be looking for a tow truck, not a divorce attorney so said billboard QR code would be useless to me. Perhaps if you’re in Times Square and the majority of the traffic is on foot, but not in a rural area with the majority of your traffic flying by at nearly 100 MPH. (Similarly, I am continually frustrated by QR codes on vehicles, most of which I will never see parked, and scanning while driving is, in my opinion, even more dangerous than texting…] Lesson: consider your audience and where/how they will be encountering your QR code.

Probably the funniest QR code usage I’ve seen (and by “funny” I mean “really?!”) is a local REALTOR® who has a QR code on their website’s home page that leads to…their website’s home page.  If it led somewhere cool, I may forgive them for posting a QR code on their site, but really, why do you need a link on your homepage that leads back to the same place? And if you need to link to something on your homepage, why not just use an image as a hyperlink? There’s no reason for me to pull out my iPhone, launch the QR reader app, and scan my computer screen. Lesson: don’t annoy your potential customers with, well, ridiculousness.

Switching gears, here are a few ways I’ve actually seen QR codes used well – they are not all real estate-related, but they show that there actually are some interesting, fun, and imaginative uses for these little buggers:

The Atlanta History Museum has started using QR codes in selected exhibits, specifically their recent celebration of Atlanta Magazine’s 50th anniversary. As you can imagine, 50 years of a monthly magazine yielded an incredible body of work to choose from for this exhibit – their use of QR codes allowed them to be extremely selective about what they included in the physical exhibit, but also allowed visitors to continue their exploration of the exhibit online via their smartphones. Additionally, check out how this art gallery in Pennsylvania used QR codes for a recent exhibit – proof that surprising your audience with the unexpected is good thing.

Many wineries have begun including a QR code on their bottles or on special hanging tags – some just lead to the website (which may or may not be particularly useful), but other (more clever) ones lead to wine pairing suggestions, vineyard and grape-specific information, reviews and more! With the huge selection of wines available in every liquor store, grocery market, and specialty shop, I am often overwhelmed by the choices, and there’s not always a helpful wine expert around to assist me. It’s a handy and often informative guide, like having my own personal sommelier or pocket copy of Wine Spectator.

A few other novel and outside-the-box ways QR codes are being used:

  • Macy’s is using QR codes to bring backstage videos from designers to their customers – the Fall Backstage campaign brings exclusive videos from fall fashion week straight to your smartphone!
  • JCPenney launched Voicemail Gift Tags this holiday season, using QR codes to scan to a custom audio recording to accompany holiday gifts – what a way to personalize a gift, especially one you’re mailing to a far-off destination!

Give a little Magic with Santa Tags Video

  • The Japanese have begun to use QR codes on tombstones – morbid, maybe; creative, yup.


Some REALTORS® are using QR codes in practical, if expected, ways – on fliers, yard signs, fliers, lockboxes.

If your market is an area heavily trafficked by pedestrians, why not include a QR code on your sign in front of your listing or on the flyer in the flyer box? Just be sure the QR code takes the consumer to the information they really want: the homes price, features and other important information. (i.e., not to your personal website or information all about you). Also, be sure the site the QR code leads to is mobile-friendly – you don’t want them to scan your code only to get an error message that the site cannot be accessed from a mobile device. If your market is tech-savvy and using QR codes makes sense, why not give it a whirl? You may get a lot of positive attention for being ahead of the curve if you’re one of the first to introduce them in your area. But I urge you to come up with unexpected ways to use them. Even if you’re the innovator in your market, what happens when everyone else catches on?

Let me start your brainstorming session with a few ideas for how YOU can use QR codes, starting today (you can thank me later!):

  • Have a listing with historical significance or with a really interesting renovation story? Use QR codes throughout the home, museum-style, to tell the home’s story, which may be too long to tell on a flier. Just be sure that each code leads to a page on a website you’ve created to also tell this story – so that consumers can find the information on the web, too. OR better yet, create an audio tour of a unique or high-end listing that tells the story of the home, its architect, renovation story, or other interesting tidbits.
  • Create a virtual scavenger hunt marketing campaign for your clients and use QR codes to lead them to the clues. Send bi-weekly or monthly postcards, each one containing a clue in the form of a QR code that leads to the grand prize or to a drawing for the grand prize.
  • Go green! Replace traditional flyers (if you’re in an area where you feel this won’t harm your marketing) with a QR code – save the environment by being high-tech. (Of course, if your market has not caught on to the QR code trend yet, keep in mind you may annoy or anger potential customers who do not know about or understand QR codes yet.)
  • Where can you go from here?

Oh – and here’s one more little tip: unless you’re looking to do something super-fancy with them, QR codes are FREE to create. In other words, any vendor who tries to charge you to create your QR code is ripping you off. Simply visit this handy little site and create your own – you can choose whether you want it to lead to a URL, a phone number, 250 characters of text, or a 160-character SMS message. Then you can use them in whatever inventive, original, genius ways you come up with.

Thanks to my good friends in real estate who chimed in with some examples of unique uses of QR codes for this post: Brian Copeland, Nobu Hata, Rob Janson, Evan Sage, Troy Stavros.