BY MATTHEW BIRCHARD

What is a QR Code?

QR Code stands for “Quick Response” and it’s a two dimensional barcode that can contain a variety of information, readable by either dedicated QR Code readers or most smart phones that include a camera. Developed in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota for the purpose of tracking vehicle parts during manufacturing, QR Codes can store alphanumeric characters such as a URL, plain text, phone numbers or SMS.

They are also very useful for marketing and promotions and can be displayed on a variety of media, from print ads, trade show displays, billboards, apparel and more. Marketers simply display their QR Codes in a manner where they are easily scannable by their target audience. Here are some example uses:

Launching Web Pages via QR Code encoded with URLs

QR Codes containing URLs can be used to automatically open a web page on a user’s smart phone and display any web content appropriate for mobile devices. The webpages can be used to direct users to contest sign-up pages, new product information, “bonus” features, video links, interactive ads and more. A primary benefit of using QR Codes with URLs is that they allow you to extend the user’s experience beyond the physical media of the piece the QR Code is displayed on. So, your print ad can now link directly to a PDF of the brochure for the product you’re advertising, or a shopping cart page to buy the product.

QR Codes with URLs are also highly trackable. By installing a script on the web page, such as Google Analytics, marketers can count how many people visited the page as a result of the QR Code scan.

By “hiding” the web page from the rest of your website, or even registering a unique URL for use with the QR Code, the data capture and lead generation funnel can be more clearly defined.

Calling Phone Numbers via QR Codes

This QR code contains the phone number: 503-297-1791This QR code contains the phone number: 503-297-1791

QR Codes containing phone numbers are often much smaller than those containing URLs or other text because the number of alphanumeric characters encoded is typically less. When a user scans a QR Code containing a phone number, their smart phone will dial the number or ask for confirmation to call the number, depending upon their individual smart phone and the QR Code scanning app they are using. These are best used for immediate response where live interaction on the phone is the best method of interaction with a user. An example would be registering for an event where upselling is needed, open-ended surveys where asking leading questions is helpful, or for instances when you’d like to record the voice of respondents – such as a contest where entrants sing a jingle, song or provide a testimonial.

Displaying Text via QR Codes

This QR code contains the text: Enter coupon code "QR Code" to save 50% on your next order! Thanks for scanning!"This QR code contains the text: Enter coupon code “QR Code” to save 50% on your next order! Thanks for scanning!”

QR Codes containing text provide a lot of flexibility for marketers. Often they are used as a way to distribute coupon codes for discounts on products or “pass code” messages used for entry into events. They also can be used to display contact information such as a mailing address, provide a product description or caption for a photo when shown in an ad, at a trade show or elsewhere.

For marketers, text-based QR Codes are best used when the text is actionable and therefore trackable. Coupon codes are an obvious example of this. When used to provide “bonus” material content for users, they can serve to reward customers who have a QR Code scanner and enhance customer loyalty. They help to foster a sense of “being in the know” or part of the “in crowd”. There is a maximum of 250 characters, but smart marketers can deliver well-crafted messages within this limit. Text based QR Codes have the advantage of not requiring a phone or internet connection to be usable, and therefore have a higher likelihood of being usable by all users.

SMS messages via QR Codes

This QR code has an SMS that reads: Text from Rains MarketingThis QR code has an SMS that reads: Text from Rains Marketing

QR Codes can also contain data to send SMS messages. Sample uses for these types of QR Codes include contest entries and other methods to count responses. Oftentimes simple text QR Codes are more practical than those embedded with SMS data because of the variability in support and the fact that many users still may be subject to surcharges from their mobile provider for SMS fees. Marketers can still make good use of the SMS ability with QR Codes if a creative promotion is built around this response method.

Websites for Reference on QR Codes:

http://www.denso-wave.com/qrcode/aboutqr-e.html
Denso Wave is the Toyota Subsidiary that developed the QR Code and they provide a detailed description of the technical aspects of QR Codes, comparing them to other types of rich 2D codes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code
Wikipedia article on QR Codes detailing history and usage as well as providing some examples of use of QR Codes in marketing.

http://qrcode.kaywa.com/
A free online QR Code generator, used to make the QR Codes shown.