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What the Q R You Talking About?

by | Feb 1, 2011

QR codes are becoming a key feature in marketing campaigns from big cities to small towns. If you’re not familiar with these puzzling codes, I’m here to bring you up to speed.

QR code

What is a QR code?

QR stands for Quick Response. A QR code is basically a modern bar code system. The codes contain a link to information, generally stored on the web, which can be accessed by a QR scanning device. In fact, you probably have a QR scanning device in your pocket right now. What?

Smart phones can be used to scan QR codes. There’s an app for everything these days – including QR readers.

A QR code contains data your customers are in interested in. And that data can be accessed by anyone with a smart phone. Interested?

What’s the purpose of QR codes?

It’s simple really. QR codes are designed to connect the visual world to the digital world.  The most common QR codes contain links to web urls. These can be public links, or private pages that aren’t published on the web. You can link to:

  • Website pages
  • Facebook page
  • YouTube video
  • FTP site
  • On-line newsletter
  • Coupons
  • Product information
  • Event schedule
  • Contact info
  • Contests & promotions

Who uses QR codes?

Fortune 500 companies, and mom & pop stores on suburban main streets, that’s who. The Japanese have been using QR codes since 1994 when they were created by Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota. A few years ago you probably noticed similar data matrix codes printed on UPS labels to track their shipments. But you probably paid no attention. It’s only recently that the codes have been recognized as a marketing tool. Now you might see them on a billboard in Times Square, or in the window of your local organic market.

Here are a few practical examples of QR codes in action.

  • A winery uses QR codes on their wine bottles. When scanned they provide tasting tips and winemaker’s notes about that specific vintage.
  • A musician creates a QR code for each track on his CD, then prints them on the inside cover. Links take the listener to YouTube where they can watch the video.
  • House hunters pull up to a hot property and discover the Realtor has placed a QR code on the For Sale sign. After a quick scan the buyers have an overview of square footage, bedroom to bathroom ratio, even the school district.
  • A restaurant adds a code to their print advertising, directing readers to an online version of their menu. While their menu changes daily, the code still works because the URL is the same.
  • The storefront windows for a downtown business showcase QR codes for every item in the window. Links take you to their online store where browsers can purchase anytime. Gives new meaning to the term “window shopping.”
  • An app developer includes a QR code on print ads promoting the app. A direct link to iTunes means readers can download the app without searching for it. Want to give it a try? Scan the code at the top of the article and see for yourself.

So now you know a little about what QR codes do, and how they can be put to use in a variety of industries. But where do you get them?

This is the best news of all. You can make a QR code online, from several websites, for FREE. Just search ‘free QR code generator’ and thousands of websites are at your disposal. Or scroll down to the end of the article for some resources I found.

There’s one big question we’ve yet to answer. Why should you incorporate QR codes into your marketing strategy? Ask yourself the following two questions.

1. Do you want an easy way to connect customers with your products or services?

2. Would you like to track your print marketing to know what works?

As you may have guessed, a Yes answer to any of the above is what I’m going for here. QR codes provide a unique opportunity to connect print media to the digital world. Sure you can list your website on your brochure, but you probably don’t have room to list your entire product line. While the code does take up some room on your advertising, it may be well worth the space. Especially if you sign up for a website that tracks the codes.

Yes, there are companies that offer code generation, database management and tracking services for a fee. Depending on how you intend to use them, this could be a very valuable service. Using an online dashboard you can create, manage and track all your codes for a monthly service fee. For example, if you created an ad campaign, and used a different code for each ad, in every publication, that could mean dozens of codes that can be tracked to determine when your customers scanned the code, from which publication, what model phone they were using, and more.

A few tips to get started

So, you’re ready to give this QR thing a try? It’s pretty simple. But you know I love tips, so here are a few I uncovered during my research.

  • Use a URL shortener to simplify the code. A long URL creates more detail, which makes the code harder to scan.
  • If possible, send people to a mobile landing page. If what you’re linking to isn’t user friendly you’ve missed an opportunity to connect.
  • Give them something valuable. You’re asking readers to take that extra step, pick up their phone and scan the code. Make it worthwhile. Coupons, contests, promotional offers are a nice reward for following the white rabbit through the tiny door.
  • Size matters. Here’s why:
    The size of the code depends on the quality of the camera and its proximity to the code. If you’re posting a code on a billboard or the side of a building, it’s going to have to be pretty large since the scanner isn’t very close to the subject. On the flipside, don’t make it too small or the scanners might not work. To be safe, no smaller than 2.5 cm or 1 inch is universally recommended.


Free QR code generator: I’ve used QR Stuff, and found it easy to design, preview and create my code.

Code readers: AT&T app Code Reader, QR Reader for iPhone, Beetagg

Code tracking & management: Some of the marketing suggestions I listed are real examples of the work Hootster is doing for their clients. Their online management systems make it easy and affordable to develop a marketing plan using QR codes.


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About the Author

Brandy Wheeler

Brandy Wheeler is the Creative Director and right-brained partner at Visitors Media. She’s a pysanky-making figure skater with a knack for finding Petoskey stones at the beach. Armed with an Albion College degree in visual art and 25 years of experience in graphic design and marketing she loves to share her expertise in writing. You can also find her on-camera as the founder and voice of the Traverse Traveler brand.

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