Offline Affiliate Tracking with QR Codes

QR codes seem to be popping up everywhere. You see them on the posters in the local coffee shop. You see them in magazine ads. There’s even a QR code stamped inside the refill tank on the toilet I installed at home in December.

For all the print media real estate these codes consume, is anyone actually using them? According to comScore data from December 2011, the answer is yes. 20.1 million mobile phone owners scanned at least one QR code during Q3 2011, which was almost 50% more than the previous quarter. Assuming that trend continues, we’re likely well over 30 million QR code users in the U.S. alone.

Performance Marketing Goes Offline

Econsultancy reported in February that QR codes are the second biggest priority behind mobile applications for both companies and agencies in their 2012 Marketing Budgets report. At HasOffers, we recognized the significance of this marketing priority and recently integrated QR code generation into our affiliate tracking platform. You can now generate a QR code for any offer URL.

Tracking offline campaigns, like print media and outdoor, has always been a bit of a challenge. QR codes present an opportunity to change that. By embedding a trackable link in the QR code, you can effectively track conversions for virtually any printed material.

Think Through Your QR Code Implementation

Just because you can generate QR codes for your affiliate offers doesn’t mean you should. For QR codes to work, you need to think about where and how affiliates implement the codes. I’ve see a couple of studies that suggested QR codes were a failure, when in fact the implementation was where things went wrong.

On the advertiser side of the equation, the landing pages need to be optimized for mobile. If you plan to allow affiliates to generate QR codes, make sure you’ve got landing pages that either automatically detect mobile devices or are specifically optimized for mobile.

For publishers, knowing how to properly implement a QR code campaign is going to influence your conversion rate. For example, if you’re doing an outdoor campaign, like purchasing ads at bus stops and subway stations, think about whether or not people who scan your code will actually have cell phone service to connect to the site. Bus stops on a city street may work just fine, but underground subway stations probably won’t have amazing reception.

Both advertisers and publishers need to remember the URL behind a QR code is permanent. Of course, you can change what shows up on the landing page. Let’s say you are promoting daily deal campaigns. Your advertisement should probably be generic enough that it’s enticing to find out what the deal is, while the landing page might change to a new (but related) daily deal each time the current deal expires.

Affiliate Marketing via Postal Mail

The United States Post Office tested a discount on direct mail buys with QR codes on the outside of envelopes in 2011. The campaign was successful enough they repeated the offer again this year, though they’ve tightened up the rules on what qualifies as a landing page. Registration for this year’s mobile program started May 1.

What Kind of Campaigns Perform Best with QR codes?

Since we just launched our QR code integration, I don’t have any hard numbers yet, but it’s safe to assume that mobile users will gravitate toward offers with a mobile focus. App installs are an obvious opportunity, just remember to designate which operating systems your offer supports in the print material. Daily deals, particularly those for nearby services, also seem like a good opportunity. I can imagine event ticketing also working well. And in the right offline situations, travel is worth considering, with people increasingly shopping for travel from their phones.

If you’ve had experience running a performance campaign using QR codes, I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

Jake Ludington

Jake Ludington has over a decade of experience building content publishing teams, coupled with more years as an affiliate marketer than he cares to admit. Follow Jake on Twitter.