Aug 30, 2019 by zkipster Editorial Team

What Event Planners Need to Know About QR Codes and How to Use Them

From soda cans to storefronts, QR codes have become a regular appearance in our everyday lives, creating an easy way to access information and interact with brands. They also represent some great opportunities for events, like streamlining check-in and facilitating smoother networking.

QR (short for quick response) codes fit into multiple aspects of our lives, but for event planners looking for an easier way to conduct events, QR codes can help. They provide quick access to information, are less cumbersome and error-prone than printed URLs that have to be copied into a browser, and offer enhanced interactivity to what might otherwise be a mundane click.

If you haven’t taken a close look at QR codes recently, this guide breaks down the innovative and surprising ways they’re being used by events professionals — and advice on how you can use QR codes to your advantage.

The QR Code Renaissance

How 'Old' Technology Found Its Second Wind

For the uninitiated, QR codes are two dimensional barcodes, and can be read by a QR code reader or the camera on a smartphone. The code often directs scanners to a page with more information about whatever prompted the scan to begin with. But QR codes can also exchange information with the scanning device, which is what happens when you use a QR code based boarding pass or airline app, for instance. Now, rather than having a printed ticket, airline staff can scan a QR code on the traveler’s phone to verify the ticket.

 

 

QR codes have been around since 1994, and were originally used by car makers to track inventory and component assembly. Eventually, they found their way into the modern consumer experience, though mostly as a novelty. There were some initial issues that kept them from being widely adopted, like the lack of common QR code scanning apps and the fact that they were often a bit temperamental, requiring both the code and the scanning device to be placed precisely.

Fortunately for the events industry, QR code usage is experiencing a renaissance as people are rediscovering the uses of the tech in new ways. Let’s take a look at some of the factors influencing this change.

 

Better access to QR code technology

The surge in popularity is due in large part to advancements in QR technology and an increase in reliable QR code readers. In the past, QR code readers were standalone instruments designed just for reading QR codes. People who wanted to use them purchased or rented them for that single reason.

Today, there are more tools, many built innately into newer smart devices. For instance, Apple’s iOS 11 camera app doesn’t require QR code reader software — it’s native in the camera. This places a QR scanning device in the hands of the masses. With no learning curve or special equipment required, people can simply scan and be directed to a range of next steps.

This subtle change in accessibility has given birth to a much more efficient way to attain important information. It’s easier for businesses too, since free online QR code generators allow anybody to create a QR code for a broad range of purposes. What may at first glance appear to be a technology of the past is actually one that is taking us into the future.

With increased buy-in and accessibility across various industries, guests are becoming more familiar with how QR codes work and are happy to partake in the smoother guest experience they offer.

 

Global use and mainstream appeal

Another reason QR codes are seeing a resurgence in popularity is that they’re becoming more mainstream on a global level. Millions of Chinese consumers use QR codes daily, for everything from retail purchases to street vendor food items. Shen Wei, deputy director of a research institute that specializes in QR codes, has said that QR codes accounted for a third of all mobile payments in China last year, for a total of $1.65 trillion. The Bank of Thailand has approved five commercial banks to introduce QR code payment transaction services.

Having passed these litmus tests, companies and industries around the world are starting to embrace QR codes as well. Nike uses QR codes to allow consumers to customize shoes with a few quick clicks. Airlines such as British Airways are adopting them as part of the check-in process to create quicker boarding procedures. Paypal is now using the codes for cashless transactions. And while car manufacturers used them years ago to streamline the parts identification and tracking process, currently, companies like Nissan are repurposing them and using them as part of their marketing materials.

QR codes have proven themselves to be a frictionless transaction method by the likes of Bitcoin, but a perhaps bigger impact on their popularity is their increasing integration into social media and the potential impact in the events space. On Facebook, users have the ability to generate a QR code for an event they’re planning, and the app also contains a built-in QR code-scanning function.

The resurgence of this tech appeals to consumers, but also represents a huge opportunity in the events industry, offering new opportunities to streamline event operations and bolster engagement and participation.

Using QR Codes Before the Event

Where Can You Incorporate QR Codes?

There are many ways to use QR codes, but nearly all of them fall into a ‘pull’ or ‘push’ category. QR codes can be used to push, or direct guests or stakeholders to a specified place online, such as an event landing page. Alternatively, event staff can scan an issued QR code and take info from the source, such as pulling registration info to check guests in. QR codes can be deployed both before and after an event to great effect.

 

Use QR codes to boost pre-event engagement

Leading up to the event, QR codes can be used in printed material or physical spaces where your invitees are likely to be to help pass on key information that will be key to the event. The codes can be used to offer guests early exposure, let them know what to anticipate, and help them better prepare for the event.

One of the best ways to do this is to direct invitees or recent registrants to your event app, if you have one, for increased app adoption. Providing QR codes instead of directing someone to the an app store means a quicker, clearer path to download — especially at the event, where guests will appreciate a fast and convenient way to access the app.

A QR code also eliminates the risk that guests may be confused by your download instructions or simply follow them incorrectly. To make sure your QR code directs people to your app without a hitch, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Pick a QR code generator. Either use a tool like zkipster, that offers direct QR code integration with your event planning workflow, or pick from a free option available online.
  2. Select a data format. Most QR code generators or apps will give you an option to direct the person who scans the code. To boost event app adoption, as in a confirmation email, most of the time, you’ll want to enter the URL to your app. But keep in mind: different devices use different app stores, such as the Apple Store and Google Play store. As such, you will need to generate two codes and make it clear which one people should scan depending on what kind of device they have. Alternatively, you can make the app available from a landing page that includes instructions for multiple types of devices. If you’re using a web app, enter that URL instead.
  3. Enter the data. Keep it under 300 characters, and double check that the URL has been entered correctly. Always test a code once you’ve created it.
  4. Add in any extras. By default, your generated QR code will be black and white, but it can be customized to be any color you’d like in many QR code generators.
  5. Adjust the size. Many free generators will give you a vector version of the QR code image, so you can adjust the size as needed. If not given the option of downloading a vector graphic, choose the highest resolution possible, especially for large printed signage.
  6. Select how you will share it. You can download in PNG format or share it across social directly from many QR code generators.
  7. Test the QR code to make sure it directs the person scanning it correctly to the site you intended.

A quick note on tracking and QR codes: tracking is incredibly important because it allows you to analyze your data more effectively. Some QR code generators allow you track the number of people who scanned them. If yours doesn’t, you can use bit.ly to generate a specific trackable URL (for instance, the one you would use on Facebook to refer people to the app stores). Then, feed that specific bit.ly-generated URL into the QR code generator instead of the standard app store link. Just make sure you keep track of which bit.ly URL refers to which place if you’re using more than one.

Another thing to consider is creating a dynamic QR code if given the option. While a static QR code will always send you to the same site, dynamic QR codes can be edited, allowing you to direct users to different sites as your event timeline proceeds. For instance, you could generate a QR code that directs people to register for your event, and when registration closes, edit the same QR code to direct people to download the app.

Design a branded QR code to enhance visual effects

If you’re emailing your invitations, QR codes can be designed to enhance branding much more effectively than simply delivering a link to your registration page or even tapp.

Dos and Don’ts for QR code customization and use
  • Do remember that the more complicated the QR code, the harder it is to read. Do you really need a QR code with your logo incorporated in it? If the logo is a basic monochromatic shape, it might work. If it’s a complicated, multicolored shape, save your event logo for other branding opportunities. You can always brand the QR code using your colors.
  • Do try testing your QR code using several readers, including smartphone cameras.
  • Do track not only how many people scan the code (or land on the page you direct them to), but also follow through. Is there a secondary action people are meant to take after they scan, like buying tickets or downloading the event app? If they’re not, try to figure out why. Is there a clear call to action guiding them to the next step?
  • Do use a high contrast color combination between the code itself and the background. If you’re using a dark background, and the surface the code is presented on is also dark, consider a white frame around the code. Otherwise, the dark parts of the code will blend with the dark color of the surface, and it may be harder to scan. A white frame makes the code stand out and easier to read.
  • Do include a call to action to prompt people to scan your code in the first place, along with some instructions and basic troubleshooting tips. Some people may ignore or mistake the code for something else if you don’t tell them what it is, how to scan it, and what they’ll get by scanning it.
  • Do consider providing different content for different audience segments through personalized QR codes. Consider using separate QR codes for returning guests and new ones, or VIPs.
  • Do look for opportunities to bridge the digital and physical gap using QR codes, like using them in physical invitations to direct to digital material easily.
  • Don’t use QR codes in a high movement area. Some of the best QR codes conversion scans occur in areas where people are waiting: high traffic, but low movement. This could be on posters at check-in or on signage in an area where you’ll be lining up guests. QR codes don’t work as well in places where the person or place where it’s mounted is moving, such as on the wall next to a moving walkway. The motion might make hard to focus the camera on the code, which is frustrating for the person trying to scan.
  • Don’t use colors that are difficult to scan. For instance, a bright yellow on a sunny surface may disappear from the scanner. You should also avoid monochromatic designs or using a complicated background design when placing a QR code, both of which make it more difficult to scan.
  • Don’t get carried away with changing the shape. While it’s fun to round out the corners and make the QR code less boxy, getting too far away from the square may confuse your audience. Early users of QR codes have been conditioned to recognize the square.
  • Don’t stretch your code. This is one of the most common rookie mistakes for event planners without designers. When they generate the QR code and incorporate it into their page, email, mailer, or other communication, they end up stretching out the design during placement. Be careful to keep the aspect ratios as you lay it out.

Using QR Codes at the Event

A Technology with Many Uses

After all the work that goes into planning an event, the day of finally arrives — and with it, more opportunities to use QR codes. Below are some key considerations to keep in mind and best practices to make sure you deploy them to your full advantage.

 

Enhanced security for private events

QR codes can provide faster and more secure access at invite-only events. QR codes can serve as unique security tokens, ensuring that the person receiving the invite checks in only once. These codes must be personalized to each guest ID and non-transferable, the way airline tickets are. In this way, they can add an additional layer of fast identification to help speed up check-in.

While airlines use photo identification to prevent the misuse of security tokens, event planners can use facial recognition software or ensure the QR code-driven info matches what the guest tells the registration desk.

 

Enhance onsite sales for vendors and exhibitors

People simply don’t carry cash anymore. According to the Pew Research Center, three in ten Americans say they make no cash purchases in a week. With apps like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Venmo, cash is becoming a second thought even for low-cost items.

QR codes are gaining mainstream acceptance in all levels of commerce, and they offer event planners and their guests the opportunity for cashless interactions, allowing them to pay with their smartphones. They are another way to remove any friction around any purchases that may happen at your event, and fewer problems in the buying process means more sales and a higher spend. You can even offer special QR code discounts to be scanned to increase spending, setting them to expire through a specific time or number of uses.

 

Speedier onsite check-in

While check-in apps are a gamechanger compared to physical spreadsheets, implementing QR codes is one of the most efficient ways to facilitate even faster check-in. One almost-instant sca,n and the guest is on their way through the door.

Best Practices for Onsite Check-in with QR Codes
  • Use multiple lines. More check-in lines mean less wait time.
  • Don’t forget to charge your devices. Having your camera open and actively using it can be a huge drain on battery power. Be prepared with phone chargers or power banks for event staff, or consider using dedicated devices.
  • Have a back-up plan for problems like spotty WiFi, broken phones, and other unexpected challenges. Maintaining an offline back-up registration directory that can be cross-referenced is key.

 

Increase survey response rates

Because QR codes are less onerous than other ways of accessing event information, they can produce increased engagement rates for post-event or session reviews.

An easy way to get people to participate is to ask them for their opinions at times when they are naturally waiting or have downtime, so try featuring QR codes on table tents at meals. This helps people who are sitting alone or those engaged in a less than desirable conversation to make valuable use of their time.

 

Swapping badge data

Scanning badges with QR codes can help event planners harvest a lot of important data from guest interactions, connections, and profiles. With a unique QR code on each guest’s badge, event planners can track the activity history and information through scans at key points, like entrances to sessions, networking events, and more. They can also gain insights into engagement and interactions with presenters and other event stakeholders.

Badges can also be scanned by guests to retrieve fellow guests’ profiles or to exchange contact information instead of using business cards.

The Disadvantages of Business Cards and Why QR Codes Are Better

QR codes are one of the most seamless ways to swap guest information in networking situations, especially if paired with an event app or integration with a database that guests can access later.

QR codes allow people to exchange info without a significant break in the conversation as they fish around for business cards in their purse or pocket or realize they’ve run out. With QR codes, that will never happen. Plus, guests won’t run the risk of losing QR code data they scanned as they might with business cards. The data won’t get washed or left in a purse. The information is stored where they need it, in the app or on their phone/device.

Disseminating information

QR codes are an easy way to provide access to materials, such as bonus information from speakers, instructions, scavenger hunts, secret Facebook group invitations, and vendor or sponsor codes.

Guests can scan the info and quickly save it for later, which also provides a greener solution for events than printed alternatives.

Top places to use QR codes at your event

Here is an overview of some of the best places to use QR codes packed with helpful information and activities:

  • Onsite signage, especially in rooms with mingling or lingering traffic. These are great places to provide general event information or promote particular aspects of the event in an interactive way.
  • The last slide in a presentation. You have a captive audience, so take advantage of it. This could be a good way to direct people to the app to provide feedback on the session as well.
  • Badges. Since every guest gets one and carries it around with them, these are a great place to put a QR code that lets guests interact with the event. Use the code to provide access to VIP areas or pack it with information to facilitate networking.
  • Table tents. At dinners, sessions, or even charging stations, seated areas offer people a reprieve from an otherwise busy event. The pause makes people that much more likely to stop and scan a QR code.
  • Clues for scavenger hunts. QR codes are a great way to facilitate scavenger hunt games and present clues in a subtle way. Just make sure the participants have access to charging stations.
  • Exit posters. You’ve put on a great event and people are ready to head home. Posters at the exits of the event venue or affiliated hotels are good for prompting people to rate the event.

In Conclusion

7 Tips to Get More Out of QR Codes

Before implementing QR codes, event planners should be cognizant of the following:

  1. Mobile-friendly second steps. Most QR codes are scanned on phones, so make sure whatever guests are directed to is mobile-friendly. That includes websites and whatever materials that guests will access through the codes.
  2. Simple design. Larger codes are easier to scan. While some designers might be tempted to make intricate, beautiful designs., keep it simple for best results.
  3. Good surface. Test the code and surface. Shiny, busy surfaces don’t work well.
  4. Easy environment. Consider the ability to scan and where the QR code is placed. Some event marketers place QR codes in clever places in order to drive more traffic. And make sure the location is easily scannable.
  5. Data usage. Collected data should be used. Scans provide a lot of data including where the code was scanned, how many times, whether the code is unique or shared and a lot more. Event planners should dedicate some time and strategy to consider how they can use this data to their advantage. How will it improve their event and how can they leverage it for other stakeholders like sponsors and exhibitors?
  6. Expiration. Decide how long the link should be live. Will it be used after the event? Can expiration times and dates be employed to create urgency?
  7. Surprise. Since QR codes are unique, create highly targeted offers/interactions that remain secret until being scanned. The element of surprise can keep guests focused on (and waiting for) more information about your event.

QR codes, once thought to be dying, are making a serious comeback in events and other marketing. They allow quick access to valuable information and can also be used for check-ins and information exchange. With increasing usage in global markets, event planners can assume this handy technology won’t be fading away any time soon.