They're popping up everywhere-large squares that seem to contain nothing more than a jumble of little squares. QR codes, or quick response codes, are those pixilated bar codes appearing on everything from business cards to magazines and billboards to restaurant windows.
Once scanned with a camera or smart phone with QR code decoding software, they reveal Web sites, ad campaigns and information on upcoming events, literally placing ads in your pocket or purse. While they were first created in Japan in the late '90s, they didn't gain traction in the United States until recently, as smart phones became more sophisticated and commonplace, according to Mobile-Barcodes.com
Decoding the Potential
QR codes are the more advanced cousin of bar codes, like those found on grocery store items, and offer businesses another avenue to reach customers. Unlike grocery store bar codes that can hold up to 20 digits and must be scanned from a certain angle, QR codes can display more than 7,000 characters and be scanned from any angle, Mobile-Barcodes.com reports.
Cameras or smart phones decode the QR codes with software such as Google Goggles, Red Laser, ShopSavvy and a host of others, most of which can be downloaded for free. When someone sees a QR code, they can take a photo of it, which decodes it. The embedded content then appears, be it a Web site, an app or image, or contact and/or mapping information. The encoded data does not require an Internet connection in order to be decoded, but most data will direct the user online.
While the technology sounds complicated, it's actually easy-and usually free-for a business to generate a QR coder. Some examples are: delivr (delivr.com/qr-code-generator) and myQR (myqr.co). With delivr you can generate your codes in a variety of formats such as: URL, Google map, contact information, e-mail and text. Simply go to the URL to get your QR code by selecting the code type and following the easy form, which asks what information you want displayed. It will then generate the code in image formats such as .png and .eps for your marketing materials (business cards, Web sites, posters, stickers, etc).
While myQR is similar to delivr, it also has the ability to password protect the code. Password protecting the final destination of the QR code URL could be useful for a business that has sensitive information or for an invitation to a private event.
Businesses Cash In
From the Manchester Monarchs to Calvin Klein and JetBlue, local businesses and national brands are using QR codes to drive coupon campaigns, handle restaurant bookings, reserve tickets, deliver contact information and hours of operation, and deliver advertising-generally to increase sales. Calvin Klein ran a large billboard with nothing more than a QR code and the phrase Get It Uncensored that brought viewers to a 40-second online commercial.
Having the ability to put a commercial in your customers' pocket for little to no money coupled with the ability to track viewers is invaluable to any sized brand. Locally, the Manchester Monarchs created a QR code campaign that was placed on its Facebook fan page. When scanned, this promotion downloaded a Manchester Monarchs wallpaper image.
Businesses throughout the state are also using Google map window decals that have QR codes printed on them. These codes take the viewers to the business' Google Places page.
Local events such as PodCamp NH used QR codes to deliver its schedules and the NH Film Festival used QR codes on its badges to promote local restaurant specials and wine pairings for the festival attendees.
Businesses do, however, need to be careful. JetBlue's subway poster campaign failed at first due to the fact that users couldn't decode the giant QR code on the poster because it was partially covered by other artwork or characters. The real QR code was a tiny square in the lower left of the giant obstructed QR code. This required users to walk up to the poster to decode it. They also overlooked that most subway stations are underground and do not get cell reception, so users couldn't actually go to the final URL provided.
Using a QR Code for Business
The beauty of QR codes is the content they contain is as diverse as the businesses that want to use them. Whether you want to increase sales, drive foot traffic, sell tickets or just get the message out there, QR codes are a free, easy and fun way to do so.
One example would be to use window decals and/or business cards to share store hours, contact information and a link to the business Web site. You can also use posters, postcards and print ads with the QR code to promote the Web site, link to a video, or provide coupons, discounts and giveaways.
If you are a restaurant, you can link your QR code to your OpenTable Web page to provide an easy way for customers to make a reservation from their smart phone. It can also link your Yelp business page where visitors can write reviews.
Any business that works with location based check-in services, such as foursquare and Gowalla, can use QR codes to link directly to the check-in page, saving the user time and ensuring they check in at the correct venue.
Key to potential success of QR codes is the ability to track users. While the data embedded in a QR code can be decoded without an Internet connection, once the user launches the Web site, you know something about how many people visited your site and who they are. Businesses should have a Web site analytics application in place before starting a new campaign so they can track where visitors are coming from and know if the campaign is successful.
Quite a few of the QR code generator Web sites now allow for analytic data by way of URL shorteners. A URL shortener converts your Web site URL into a shorter code, thus saving space, and requires that service to remap it to the appropriate site. This conversion can be tracked, allowing you to see who has come through that QR code link.
As you can see, QR codes are a great way for a business to reach out to customers using new media while saving time and money.
For a more detailed list of QR code generators and decoders, go to bit.ly/aboutqrcodes.
Kirk Membry owns Moss Creek Media, a Web-savvy panoramic photography and virtual tour company. He can be reached on Twitter @MossCreekMedia or at www.MossCreekMedia.com.