QR Codes: What They Are, What They Do, and How to Use Them

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A Sample QR Code

Have you started seeing crazy-looking squares like this popping up everywhere?

This is a QR code. QR stands for Quick Response and it’s a type of barcode. It’s not one-dimensional like the traditional lined barcodes you’re used to seeing on cans of food at the grocery store. Instead, QR codes are two-dimensional, and they can be scanned horizontally or vertically.

QR codes store up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters — an astounding difference from the 20 numbers stored in one-dimensional barcodes. With that much capacity, a QR code may include any combination of information, such as text, a telephone number, an email address, an SMS message, and a contact or calendar entry.

A QR code can also contain a hyperlink which could allow the prospect to look at a dedicated landing page, get a unique discount, send a tweet, Like a Facebook page, receive an IM, check-in on Foursquare, play a video, download an app, and so many other options. QR codes are extremely versatile for businesses.

Just scan the code using a smartphone or QR scanner, and the QR code is converted into a piece of interactive text or link. Basically, it provides almost instant information to mobile devices.

And, the use of QR codes is growing every day …

Amazing ways QR codes are used

Companies around the world have adopted this concept and found interesting ways to get people to interact with their product. For example:

  • When you’re walking around town and spot a poster for an event, scan the QR code, and you’ll instantly get more details and a link to a website where you can purchase tickets. And, you won’t receive a paper ticket. Instead, a QR code is sent to your smartphone in an email. When you get to the event, you pull up the email on your phone, and let the person “taking the tickets” scan the code on your phone.
  • If you are house hunting, you may notice some realtors are using QR codes on their For Sale signs. Scan the code and you’ll receive all the pertinent information about that house, realtor contact info, and sometimes even a link to a virtual house tour.
  • In some countries, you can scan the code on food items. You’ll either receive the product’s nutritional information or be taken to a website showing how the product was made. (They are showing up on wine bottles, too!)
  • If you are a shopper, you may know that Best Buy was the first national retailer to use QR codes on in-store fact tags for quick access to online reviews and in-depth product features.
  • To take this even further (and my favorite use), Royal Mail in the UK has developed interactive postage stamps (called the Intelligent Stamp) for the Great British Railways. This is a stamp you can use on regular mail. Each stamp depicts a different rail line. The code is embedded in the picture of the train on the stamp. When scanned, you’re taken to a video explaining that particular rail line, and the adventures you can take on that train (because it’s a real running passenger train). It also gives you the web address to obtain more information and purchase tickets!
  • QR codes are seen on jewelry, tattoos, clothing, and more!

Once the barcode image is created, it can be printed on nearly any surface and location — driving web traffic, interaction, and conversion from anywhere. As long as the location is easily scannable, the use for QR codes is endless.

Create and use your own code

Generating a QR code is amazingly easy. You can create QR codes for free on many different websites. Here’s a couple I’ve used:

Now, unless you have a special QR code scanner, you’ll need a phone with a camera and a downloaded QR code reader app. Depending on what type of phone you have, here are some you can try:

  • Blackberry App World has a free app called QR Code Scanner Pro.
  • For the iPhone and Android users, try Qrafter or Junaio from the App Store.
  • Even better, some Androids already have QR readers built-in called ZXing. If not, you can download it for free.

8 effective ways you can use them

By creating your own QR codes (called “qurifying”), you can make whatever you want more informative. Bear in mind that the “What’s In It For Me?” maxim is as critical as in other media. If a QR code only leads to a website home page, the reader will be confused and disappointed. QR codes should offer a special incentive or targeted, relevant information when scanned.

You can use these eight ideas for your own marketing, or to help your client’s marketing become more effective and interactive.

  1. Turn the contact information on your business card into a QR code and put it on the front or back of your card. Some people may not want to take your card, for one reason or another, so they simply scan the code. They now have all your contact information in their phone.
  2. Put a QR code that has the URL to your free report sign-up page at the bottom of your promotional piece. Once your prospect scans that code, it immediately takes them to your landing page and, hopefully, they sign up!
  3. Create codes to include on direct-response mailings, brochures, and advertisements. You can easily test different offers.
  4. Put them on promotional give-away items at trade shows, or even on convention nametags! Also use them to promote convention dates and locations, special demonstrations, and more.
  5. Add QR codes to product packaging and link to accessories, installation instructions, a list of replacement parts, or the service directory.
  6. Include on receipts to generate repeat business, offer loyal customers an exclusive discount, or to link to a satisfaction survey.
  7. Insert QR codes into articles as newspapers and magazines are doing to make them more interactive. By scanning the code, readers get to see more about the article or author, or information about a product shown.
  8. Incorporate these codes into your social media marketing strategy. You can use QR codes to link to targeted landing pages, specific blog posts, new videos, and more.

Be creative with them. Just qurify any text or website URL, put the QR code on a product, and make everything more interactive.

Keep in mind, approximately 50 million people in the U.S. alone own a smartphone. And, that number is growing every month. Just think how many more people you can reach with your message when you qurify!

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Kellie Craft

15 Comments

  • Great job, Kellie! I’ll admit, I didn’t know a thing about QR codes until this article. Now I’m hoppin’ to get started with them … exciting stuff — thanks for sharing!

  • I’ve already been asked about QR codes and this information helps me explain them more succinctly. Thanks

  • Great article. I knew about these a yr. ago but the marketing/copy application baffled me then & mant didn’t seem to be embracing them…Not so now! All the kids know just how to use them–like tickets at an event…

    Quality info–Thanks…

  • This is a clear and easy to understand explanation. I finally understand what the QR codes are! Thank you, Kellie! Once again, you’ve made some techie issue easy to understand and I am excited to put this to work. Great article!!

  • I’ve been hearing about QR codes for a long time now, but this is the first time I’ve truly understood how to use them. Thanks for a great article Kellie – I’m going to download the app into my BlackBerry tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get the chance to use QR codes on the weekend when I go out of town. I’ll let you know!

  • WOW…who knew? If you weren’t looking at utilizing QR codes before, you are now. It boggles the mind when you think of all the ways you can QR info for yourself or a client. Thanks for the insight.

  • My son is getting married next April — I’m telling him they should just send a Save the Date postcard with a QR code on it since they’re setting up a wedding website! 🙂

  • Thank you, everyone! I’m happy it was helpful. And Susanna, that’s a great idea!

    Since this article, I’ve seen even more uses for this Code, not to mention you can make it colorful and creative, too!

    Have fun with it!

  • Thanks Kellie. Really useful info!

    American Airlines has been using these for months to replace boarding passes. I’ve enjoyed zipping through airport security and the boarding gate with them on my iPhone!

    Thanks to you, now I have some concrete ideas for my own biz!

  • One more marvelous way that Wealthy Web Writer is enriching the knowledge base of each of us copywriters.

  • Kellie, thanks for your article with links. You may want to know that qurify.com maxes out, not at 4296 characters, but at 255. Keremerkan has a different limit…

  • …there are many anti-smartphone people out in the world. Those that have them don’t always have the app. It’s a small universe of peeps using QR’s today. So… test it anyway. Test, Test, Test! For the the right industry and the right region these QR codes may give you a good bump in response. You’ll never know until you test.

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