By Jeff Wilson, APR (@wilson0507)
For a while now, I’ve been reading about Quick Response or QR codes and have been intrigued by the technology. What exactly are QR codes and what do they do?
The technology isn’t new. QR codes were first developed in 1994 by Japanese company Denso Wave and are stylized barcodes that can be encrypted with information accessible by iPhones, Droids and other smart phones with the properly installed QR code readers, many of which can be downloaded for free. Like a lot of technological advances, QR codes are widely used in Japan and other parts of Asia, but have yet to gain widespread usage in the United States.
On his blog, Mark Sprague describes QR codes as paper-based hyperlinks. A smartphone user simply takes a picture of a QR code and gets directed automatically to a mobile site. For example, some business cards are being enhanced with QR codes. When someone hands you a card with a QR code, all you need to do is scan it with your smart phone and the person’s contact information is transferred to your phone automatically. On a much broader scale, Sprague points out an example of how McDonald’s uses QR codes on its packaging in Japan so consumers can access nutritional information and review the amount of calories, fat and carbohydrates in their meals.
QR codes also can be used electronically. You can attach a QR code to a Tweet or displayed on a web page to transfer information directly to the cell phone. The image above is a QR code, which links to Wikipedia’s website. Just last week, I received an online invitation for a networking event, which included a QR code. When I scanned the code with my iPhone, the code sent me to a link with pertinent information about the event, along with directions of how to get there.
While I’ve dabbled around with QR codes online, I hadn’t really experienced them in the “real world” until last week, and it happened at my mechanic’s garage of all places. While I was sitting there waiting for my car, I noticed a point-of-purchase display for a new tire by Michelin. I noticed that down in the bottom, right corner was a QR code. I scanned it and was directed to a microsite with information about the tire, photos of it and videos of it in use. While I didn’t get the tires, I did get excited thinking about ways brands and businesses could use QR codes.
With the widespread use of iPhones and other smart phones, are U.S. brands and businesses finally ready to embrace QR codes in a big way?
Consider the possibilities. I like to cook. Each week, I scour through a number of cookbooks, looking for recipes to try. This week was a tasty spinach casserole. Image if I went to the grocery store where there was a sale on spinach along with a display featuring a QR code that took me to a mobile site with dozens of spinach recipes, videos of how to prepare them and coupons for 10 percent off spinach.
Here are a few other examples of how companies can use QR codes, including some tips from Mashable:
- Use QR codes for promotions and on collateral material. QR codes are made for billboards, posters, brochures, direct mailers and point-of-purchase displays. They can direct customers to your brand’s Twitter and Facebook pages, mobile sites about your products or YouTube videos demonstrating your brand in action. Check out how Calvin Klein used three QR Code billboards this month in New York and Los Angeles to launch a new jeans campaign. The code takes you to an “uncensored” video of extremely skinny young people wearing extremely skinny new jeans. In the fall of 2009, Dick’s Sporting Goods kicked off its new mobile site using a QR code on the world’s largest HDTV Jumbotron at the Cowboys Stadium during the Dick’s Sporting Goods Cowboys Classic (University of Oklahoma vs. Brigham Young University). The code directed fans to the company’s mobile site http://dsports.mobi for an exclusive offer of $10 off a purchase of $50 or more.
- Small businesses can use QR codes to drive traffic. Small retailers have long put quality stickers in their windows touting their membership to the local chamber of commerce or BBB accreditation, and restaurants love to display Zagat and AAA ratings, along with positive reviews from local newspapers and blogs. A QR code can be placed on window decals and other merchandise and used to encourage Foursquare check-ins or prompt customers to share photos and videos about your business on Flickr or YouTube. Google is even supporting the use of QR codes by designating some businesses with Favorite Places Destinations. For example, just last week in Richmond, Va., I saw that the Richmond Smile Center dental practice was recognized by Google with such a distinction. The Richmond Smile Center’s QR code takes the customer directly to the dentists’ Google Local page where they can learn more about the practice, get to its website, see its hours of operation and get directions to the office with Google Maps. There is even an opportunity to read reviews written by patients.
- QR codes can be used as part of a customer rewards or loyalty program. As Mashable suggests, businesses that place decals with QR codes in their windows can reward patrons who scan it with discounts off their purchase or some free merchandise to thank them for their patronage. The more the customer uses the QR code, the more opportunity for savings.
- Get your customers to promote your brand or business with QR codes. I can image a bar or night club giving away T-shirts with their logo and QR code on them to customers and employees, in essence turning them into walking billboards. The same could hold true for cool brands with logoed merchandise.
- Track ROI via QR codes. Businesses could use QR codes to assess print-based media effectiveness, tracking which ad or direct mailer drove customers to their website or even to their front door.
The possibilities are endless. What other ways can brands and businesses use QR codes?