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Are QR Codes Your Next “Quick Response” Marketing Strategy?

A QR code.

You’ve seen them lately on posters, websites, and product packaging — those black and white squares that look like pixel versions of a Rorschach ink blot test. Are you supposed to try to read them? Find hidden patterns? Call an eye doctor because your vision’s finally going?

The answer, of course, is none of the above. Those strange futuristic shapes are called QR codes — short for “Quick Response.” QR codes were developed in the 1990s as an alternative to UPC retail barcodes because they were more easily scanned and could contain more information. A UPC barcode is one-dimensional and can hold only 20 numerical digits of information, whereas a QR codes is a two-dimensional matrix that can store up to thousands of digits of information — both numbers and letters.

In other words: you can put a QR code to very good marketing use.

How it works

All folks need is a smart phone and a piece of software that enables the scanning function. Scanlife, I-nigma, and Qrafter are among the many QR code reader applications available for free. Once they have a QR reader app on their phones, your clients (and potential clients) are in business to start scanning at will.

What happens after the scan?

That depends on the particular product or promotion. Once a code is scanned, the user can be shown text, directed to a URL, or even have their phone’s SMS text function opened with a pre-generated phone number and message to send.

QR codes have been linked to:

  • Exclusive gift offers
  • Promotional discount offers
  • “Instant winner” contests
  • Free music downloads
  • Online and audio tours in museums and galleries
  • Real-time information such as special events and travel reports
  • Personalized voice messages from a gift giver to a gift recipient
  • Photos and videos
  • Media-rich landing pages for comprehensive campaigns
  • Facebook “like” buttons
  • Email signups
  • Customer support services
  • Sales requests leads

Yeah, but is anyone really going to bother to scan my QR code?

That depends on the client base you’re courting. If you’re marketing to the elderly, well, you’re not likely to see many scans — but then again, you already knew that. Some dismiss QR codes as a passing fad, but the technology’s been around for almost 20 years, and its usage is slowly building steam. In truth, there’s a great (and growing) target market that’s QR-code aware, and the time is better than ever to capitalize on it.

And you can do a lot on your end to ensure that your efforts are successful.

Keys to successful QR code use

It’s all about specificity. Sure, you could just use it to link to the home page of your website, but then what? Do you think a user will really take the time to click around through every page? Focus on one particular message. Think direct calls to action.

Give ’em a good reason to scan. Don’t slap a QR code on a boring campaign just because it looks cutting-edge. Find a fresh juicy carrot to dangle. The kind of QR codes that generate the most response are exclusive offers such as free gifts and limited-time discount prices. The more incentive a user has to scan a QR code, the more likely he or she is to scan it.

Make sure your message fits the medium. There have been some outrageously ill-advised QR code applications — as anyone who’s ever seen a QR code on a vehicle or on a billboard hundreds of feet from the ground can attest. Hot tip to burgeoning marketers — if your potential customers have to chase down a moving target or scale the facade of a skyscraper just to get to your QR code, you’re not going to see quite the number of scans you were hoping for.

Use moderation. Don’t saturate your campaigns with QR codes for every purpose imaginable. That’s not only confusing for customers and fans, but annoying as well. Pick one end goal at a time — say, to drive people to “like” your Facebook page — and stick with it.

Bottom line: used well, and for a specifically targeted purpose, the QR code can act as a valuable tool in integrated offline-to-online marketing campaigns. Happy QR coding!

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