What Are QR Codes?

January 27, 2011 | Business, Design Trends, Marketing

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QR CodeLast week, I attended the Maine Marketing Association’s lunch & learn presentation on QR codes. The talk was led by Joe Rosenfield of Edison Press.

You maybe asking yourself: What are QR codes?

I will admit I was a bit of a novice in my understanding of QR or Quick Response codes, and found the presentation a great overview of what QR codes do and how they could be integrated into a marketing campaign. I’ve been seeing these funny looking codes crop up more and more, but wasn’t sure what to do with them. Or, how my clients my use them.

Joe gave one definition as:

QR codes area non-invasive pull media

That’s bit of marketing jargon for saying that it’s a way for prospects who are interested in your product or service to actively connect with you.

I actually saw another definition on QRStuff.com which makes it more clear:

A QR codes is a print based hypertext link

From the “real” world to mobile

Right now, the most important role QR codes play is in getting someone with a smartphone to be able to easily access information in the real world.

For example, imagine yourself walking through downtown and seeing a poster for an event you’d like to attend. The poster designer may have added a web site address so you can get more information, order tickets online, etc. And if you want to access that web site with your phone you’d have to enter the URL using the keyboard. For many of us, that’s a bit of a pain because of the small keyboards on these devices.

With a QR code, a smartphone user can just scan the code and be directed to a URL. It saves them from having to type in the web site address. So the poster designer includes a QR code and gives you a direct link to the event’s web site, ticketing information, etc.

That is why I like the definition of the QR code as essentially a hyperlink that works via a scan rather than typing in the URL.

How to use QR Codes

There are two main components to have a QR work:

  1. The creation of the code
  2. The reading or scanning of the code

How do I create a QR code?

QR codes can be generated for free using one of many online resources. After a very brief search, I found QRstuff.com which generates QR codes that are not only plain URLs but also have the ability to create a calendar event or Paypal button and more.

It’s easy. You go to the web site, fill out the information about where you want the QR to point, and then generate the QR artwork. You then place the QR code in whatever marketing or educational material you have.

There are many other web sites that offer these codes and I welcome feedback from others as to which are the best.

How does my audience read the QR code?

The next step is to get your audience to scan the code. Technically, the viewer needs a smartphone with a QR reader. This means a cell phone with a camera that is connected to the internet. Some phones have QR readers built in, or otherwise there are many free apps to scan QR codes.

Once your prospect sees your QR code and scans it using their smartphone, they are automatically redirected to the URL (or calendar event, etc.) that you assigned to the code in step above.

Is that it?

Yes, but…

Another thing to keep in mind is that people still need to have a sense of where the code is taking them and a reason to scan your code. Like all marketing, there should be a clear call to action.

It’s a good idea to include text that explains what they’ll get from the QR code link. Something like: “Scan here to book online.” or “Save the date”. Otherwise the QR code itself (unlike many web links) do not give a hint as to where the viewer is being directed.

Right now, with QR codes being so new, you may want to include the direction “scan this” or similar. But I imagine that going away very quickly as Americans learn more about the functionality of QR codes.

Also, like any effective web-based marketing, you want to think about where you are sending people. Create an effective landing page, and make sure it’s mobile-ready.

Takeaways

Now that I have a better understanding of how QR codes work, I can understand why they can be so useful. As an iPhone user, I hate having to use my keyboard, so a shortcut to a certain web address is great.

However, there seems to be a bit of trendiness to them which really doesn’t make sense. For example, Joe (who made the presentation) said that HBO tried showing a QR code onscreen during a show. Unless they give viewers a lot of notice and a lot of time to access the code it seems useless. However, I can imagine a TV station showing a QR code as part of a footer graphic where you can get more details on a news story, about a sports stat, a promotion, etc.

I think it will be interesting to watch this phenomenon grow in popularity and then eventually sort itself out. I also wonder if smartphones will soon be able to just read a written URL by using something like Optical Character Recognition (OCR)?

I have a few questions for you, readers:

Are you or your clients using QR codes?
What QR creating tools do you like?
Which iPhone apps do you like for scanning QR codes?


6 comments

  1. Mike Maddaloni - @thehotiron | January 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    QR codes simply tie the offline and online worlds together. Anything printed should have a QR code. The more they are used, the more they will be understood, embraced, and leveraged.

    A great resource for QR codes is one we are developing – http://www.createQRcodes.com/.

    mp/m

  2. Emily Brackett | January 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Hey Mike. I know you’re way ahead of many of us in your interest and understanding the value of QR codes.

  3. Marc A. Pitman, FundraisingCoach.com | January 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I think these have great potential for nonprofits too!

    Can you imagine an event poster with a QR code that brings you to a link that will allow you to buy tickets right from your smartphone? So cool!

  4. Emily Brackett | January 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Marc, thanks for stopping by. Yes, a nonprofit could even go so far as having a donation page to accept payments on a QR code. That may be far too pushy for many siutations, but I could imagine it whenever there are large scale calls such as with the Haiti Earthquake, etc. (Instead of texting the number)

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