QR Codes, more than you want to know.

QR Codes are being talked about in the world of Direct Mail, Direct Marketing, retail sales, insurance sales, real estate, or any other industry where a new way to connect to a consumer is a good idea.

Look! A QR Code. Follow it to go to our home page.

I have seen more posts regarding what they are and how “x” company can integrate this wonderful new technology to leverage your ROI and increase your response rate in your targeted sector of demographic focus… bleh. The short explanation is this: QR Codes are an everyday part of life for Smartphone users who pay attention to new tech.  Soon they will simply be an everyday part of life, so it is in every marketer’s best interest to learn about them, and use them. It is not in every marketer’s best interest to spend three days reading article after article to learn about them so I am going to speed up the learning process.  This post compiles information from a bunch of different sources and present it here in way that you can read the bits you are interested in and ignore the bits that you already know. Plus, I will even site sources that I use so you can get more information on a specific topic. Guess what kids, learning how to write a research paper in college was worth something in the real world.

“What is” with a little “how to”…

Let’s start from the beginning. A QR Code is a bar code . Similar to the UPC Code you will find on any product in your local grocery store with a couple of important differences, data storage and readability. A UPC code is read in one dimension, laterally, and can hold about 30 American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characters.  A QR code is read in 2 dimensions, laterally and horizontally holding much more information, up to 7,089 characters including ASCII, binary, kanji, and kana. It’s the added dimension that lets a QR Code hold so much more information and do some of the very cool things that it can do. I’ll talk about the “can do” a little later now let’s talk about the how to.

Scan it. Seriously to activate a QR Code all you need to do is point a smart phone with the correct reader application installed at the paper, billboard, television screen, or computer monitor where the code is displayed and scan it. Not all QR Code readers work the same, nor will they handle data the same way. The QR Code industry is in need of some standardization but until that happens your best option is to search for “QR Code Reader” in your favorite application market and pick a reader that looks good to you. Most new smart phones come with a QR Reader installed.  I use a smart phone with an Android operating system and the preinstalled reader was called Goggles. I don’t believe iphone has a reader preinstalled but you can get a reader application free. I installed I-nigma on an iphone 4 and Neoreader on an iphone 3 over the last few weeks.  The above mentioned readers are not the only readers just the ones that I have used personally, and are not endorsed by this blog or the QR reader association of America… blah blah blah…

Once you have the reader installed, launch the application, use the smart phone’s camera to display the QR code on the screen and either snap a picture or, depending on the application, the QR Code may be recognized automatically. Goggles needs you to snap a picture I-nigma will react when you get the code positioned inside the frame displayed on the screen.  After your smart phone reads the code then it will react based on the information contained in the code, and do what it can do.

Now about that “Can Do”…

Right now there are two major uses for QR codes. The most common use is directing the phone’s browser to a web page of some kind, just like the one at the beginning of this post.  Encode a URL as a QR Code then scan it with your smart phone. Your phone will open its browser and point you to the website. This is nice for a couple of reasons. First it saves the consumer the hassle for typing in a URL by hand. I know it’s a small thing but simple is usually better in all things. Second it lets them visit the website immediately while your marketing actions are fresh in their mind.

The second big use right now, and one of my favorites, is the QR Code business card.

demo QR vCard
Fake business card

This is usually done by creating a V-Card, or meCard, then translating that code to a QR Code format. You can embed your name, address, phone, email, website and more in a QR so that a user can scan the code and get all the information entered into your contacts automatically. You don’t need to worry about losing a business card again. Just losing your phone, and frankly you are going to have bigger problems to worry about if that happens. Notice how their are a lot more squares in this code than the on above. The more information you put in the code the bigger it gets so don’t try to encode your entire company directory at one time.

There are other things that QR Codes can do. Lots of other things:
• Browse to a Website (as noted above)
• Bookmark a website
• Make a phone call
• Send a text message (SMS)
• Send an e-mail
• Create a vCard (also noted above)
• Create a meCard (I noted this above as well, pay attention!)
• Create a vCalander Event
• Google Maps
• Bing Maps
• Geographical Coordinates
• Android Market Search
•Youtube URL for Iphone
• Encode the Latest Tweet of a User
• Tweet on Twitter
• Twitter Profile Image Overlay
• Create a Blackberry Messenger user
• WiFi network for Android
• Free formatted text
• Taking payments (this was not noted above, I will explain this later)

How about a little more “how to”…

Even with all the things that QR Codes can do they are surprisingly easy to create. There are a number of websites that will help you create a QR Code ( look a list of QR Code Generators!) Keep in mind one generator is not a good as another. My personal recommendation for QR Code generator of the afternoon is http://keremerkan.net/qr-code-and-2d-code-generator/ . I used Kerem Erkan’s generator to create all the QR Codes listed in this post. It has a very simple interface and lets you control file output and the color of the code. Surprise! QR codes don’t have to be black and white.

QR Art…

Warning: I am a designer by trade so I may get a little over excited about this bit. You do not have to slap an ugly QR Code on well designed media. QR Codes are just now going main stream so they tend to be the focus of the media they are included in. Big black and white squares positioned right in your face.  For now this makes sense since the marketers using them tend to need to educate their audience on what they are and how to use them. As they become more common they will become something people will look for, like a web address, allowing designers to integrate functional QR art seamlessly with their design. Just because they are traditionally black and white does not mean they should be. QR codes:

• Can be any color
• Can be any modular material
• Must have at least 55% contrast between the foreground and the background
• Should have a margin or “quiet space” of 4 units
• Need to have clear detection patterns in the corner
• Can have up to 30% of the code obscured if you use the highest error correction
• Can be read with any orientation
• Can put it in perspective
• Can be anamorphic (widescreen)
• Can have the cell shape distorted
• Can have the interior made of circle or other shapes
• can have the design reversed.

free Text QR Code
Nothing of interest in this QR Code



If I have your head spinning with all the QR possibilities I suggest looking at Erica Glaser’s post about QR Design. I found 80% of all my information about QR design on her blog. Or if you still want more look here for some very creative uses of QR Codes


Why would anyone want to use a QR Code? Because there are benefits to using QR codes. For the user, aka, the consumer, or the reason you are getting your paycheck, QR Codes are simple.  Seriously, its point and click, how much easier can it get? If you are concerned about the learning curve I have shown nearly a dozen people how to use QR Codes in the last three weeks. As soon as I show them how to install a QR Code Reader on their smart phone the three minutes of lessons are over and they start scanning ever QR Code they see. I know this is true because they bring me all the printed material they find with QR Codes on it. OR they walk up to me with their phone and tell me to scan the image of the QR code that they have displayed on their screen.

Yup this QR Code is made of sand

A QR Code adds an element to print media that will get people to interact in a way never before possible. In the past print media drove people to the web by putting a URL on the paper. If the marketer was lucky the consumer remembered to look up the website when they got home. With a QR Code your magazine ad, newspaper article, t-shirt, button, coffee mug, billboard, etc, becomes interactive at the time your viewer is looking at the advertisement.
You can change the content of a QR Code after it’s printed. No, you can’t change the ink on the paper but you can change the web site the QR Code it pointing to. Since QR Codes that resolve to a URL point customers to mobile-friendly websites you can change the website all you want without changing the print. Update quantities, add customer reviews, list your new line of toe-socks, and everyone who scans the QR Code will see your updated information in essence extending the lifespan of print media pieces.

So let us marketers talk about maketing…

For all of us marketing types, one big benefit of using a QR Code is the trackable nature of the technology. QR Codes with the right support behind them can give you an incredible amount of data: where the code was scanned, what time, what kind of phone was used. Even if you don’t have a budget for fancy metrics you can still get great details about who is scanning the code with Google Analytics and a little creativity. Let’s say you are branding coasters with your company’s newest line of beer, and distributing the coasters to 8 different bars. If you build 8 different landing pages that look identical, and embed landing page one’s URL onto the coasters that get distributed to bar one, and no other coasters get send to that bar, you know that every time someone visits landing page one they were at bar one. Maybe you are sending a direct mail piece and you want to test three different versions of art? Use three different landing pages, and three different QR Codes. Use one code per version of art. You will get some good data, and every consumer will get the same online experience.

This is a tool…

QR Codes are tools and they are not marketing in and of themselves. Well they are new enough now that they market to the techie crowd just by being used, but that will not last. There a some things that can be done to get people to use the QR Codes

Educate the consumer. For now a little bit of education will go a long way. Many people with smart phones still don’t know what a QR Code is. That will change. For now a brief how to” is a good thing.

Tour of Tri-Win Digital Print and Mail Services
Scan this QR Code to get a tour of our building.

Let the consumer know what to expect when they scan a QR Code. If the QR Code links to a video simply say “scan this QR Code to view our video.” Seriously, this QR code does link to a video tour of our facility.

Most importantly give them something new! Don’t just link to a digital image of the ad give them new content. You could create a 2 part ad and link to the other half of the video, or offer them a chance to sign up for an email list. Hey, you could just offer them 10% off their next purchase because they scanned your QR Code. As long as there is more information after they scan the code that is the important part.

Is this just another tech fad…

Yes, it is another tech fad but it is more than that too. There are some large corporations who are adopting the QR Code as part of a daily shopping experience.

Macy’s is using QR codes. They launched a new service called “Macy’s Backstage Pass” that will provide consumers with essential tips,  and information on their latest trends via 30-second films formatted to work on users’ mobile phones. In addition to committing to use the technology Macy’s is also educating consumers with a 30-second TV spot running nationally that shows shoppers how to use the QR Codes and what they will get when they scan them.

Best Buy is using QR Codes. Back in September they added QR Codes to product information tags making them the first national retailer in the US to deploy this technology. Scan the code next to the TV you are thinking of buying and you get access to the product detail page.

Post’s Honey Bunches of Oats is using QR Codes adding them to more than 12 million boxes as the primary distribution vehicle for, “Honey & Joy,” a web based sitcom.

Starbucks is using QR Codes. Letting consumers pay for their coffee is the latest us of QR Code technology. The goal here is to get Starbucks customers to stop using physical Starbucks cards and start using Virtual Starbucks cards. To use the service the customer displays the QR Code on their mobile phone and a reader located at the point of sale scans the code and subtracts the cost of the drink from the funds preloaded on the Starbucks card mobile account.

Home Depot is using QR Codes. Partnering with a mobile barcode platform developer call Scanbuy Home Depot will use QR codes to provide “how to” videos, information about the supplier, appropriate usage guidelines, safety instructions, or anything else Home Depot deems smart phone appropriate. Plus you will also b able to purchase the product using the mobile phone after scanning the QR Code in-store or at home.

But wait QR Codes are not just for retail applications.

New York is using QR Codes. By 2013 all New York City building permits will have a QR Code on them so smart phone users can get details about  the ongoing project or file a complaint regarding safety or noise concerns.

Tokyo is using QR Codes. There was an experiment in Tokyo where QR codes were overlaid on top of a city map.  When the QR Code was scanned the user was given directions to the part of town associated with the QR Code.

The Post Office is Using QR Codes. “Deliver Magazine”, a publication produced by the post office, did a feature article on QR Codes in October, 2010.  Since then they have started using QR Codes in marketing to offer people the ability to get free flat rate shipping kit

What does all of this mean…

I see them popping up all over the place, and I bet you will too now that you know what they are.  They have already taken hold in Japan, they have been in use there for years. While it has only been in the last year or so that QR Codes have started to get the public’s attention they have it now. Plus with it projected that 50% of Americans will have a smart phone by Christmas 2010 the use of QR Codes will only increase. For now integrating QR Codes into your marketing will give you a competitive edge, in a year not integrating them in your marketing will mean you are behind.

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Are you planing on integrating QR Codes into your marketing strategy, or have you already printed them on every thing you own? Let me know, and if you think this post was useful to you link to it, or pass it along to your friends.  Thanks!