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Sabine Lenz

Making the Grade

By Sabine Lenz

About Sabine

Sabine Lenz is the founder of, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 


QR Codes: The Silent Killer of Your Brand

Thirty-three and counting…and so far, none of them are working. While the printer’s promotion I received definitely could have benefitted from the help of a seasoned designer, the overuse of QR codes ultimately caused its swift demise.

But worse than 33 QR codes, the first five I tried didn’t even work (under any lighting condition) and caused the promo and thus the printer’s reputation to take its mighty fall.

This couldn’t happen to you, you say. You test your QR codes thoroughly. Admirable as this may be, you still may not be out of the woods.

“About 80 percent of the time, I’m disappointed that I scanned [the QR code],” Michael Hellesen says in a BusinessWeek article. And Michael is not alone.

QR code fatigue

We’ve reached a point where even fruit in the grocery store is sporting a QR least my strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are. The QR code on the package says, “check us out.”

I’m nothing if not curious (and ever one to follow the beckoning trail of a mysterious QR code) so I decided to see where this one would lead me. Happily, the code actually worked. Sadly, I ended up in the land of disenchantment. Here’s why.

1. Bad pick-up lines make my eyes roll.
As cute as my berries were, they should have said something a little more alluring, more original than “Check us out.” Pretty lame—right up there with naked QR codes (those that have no call to action at all.)

But I still had hope and scanned anyway. I arrived at the mobile page, and my strawberries invited me to like them on Facebook. Really...maybe I’m behind the times a bit here, but why would I like my groceries? Wouldn’t it be better to show me a delicious recipe I could make?

Unfortunately, my berries are not alone. The naked code from a skin care manufacturer I tried—for the fun of it—lead me to a detailed description of the benefits of the product. That’s it. Nothing more. Boring. Basta!

2. There’s a hook in there somewhere.
Further down on the berry screen, I finally saw it—the real incentive: “Enter for a chance to win $100 each month!” In plain English, the strawberry company wants to build its mailing list and is willing to spend $100 a month for this. Gasp!

I don’t know what the strawberry company’s overall response rate for this campaign is, but I bet it would quadruple if that $100 I could potentially win was displayed prominently on the packaging.

Seriously, which one is more enticing to you? “Check us out.” or “Enter to win $100 a month!”

The point I’m trying to make is that more often than not—and feel free to argue with me—marketers seem to think that the mere use of a QR code is enough.

Think twice when someone says, “We must have a QR Code.”

QR codes open a world of wonderful opportunities, but I haven’t seen many of them reach full potential yet. The majority I see are used simply for the sake of using them...“Look at us. We’re hip. We have a QR code.”

Utilizing a QR code without a major incentive will leave a bad taste in your client’s mouth and might end up doing more damage to the brand than good.
  • So the next time your clients or you consider incorporating a QR code, think about the incredible, breathtaking offer you can include in the campaign. Then make the offer in-your-face obvious.
  • If there’s a doubt or the right incentive is out of the budget, do everyone’s brand and reputation a favor and skip the QR code completely.
P.S. What is the worst use of a QR code you’ve seen? (Or let me be more optimistic, what is the best use you’ve seen?)

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