Those Funny Looking Barcodes Have a Name?


QR codes are changing the way business and marketing efforts work.

I was walking through the Baton Rouge airport on my last visit home and noticed a poster for LSU featuring a block with white and black lines on it.  I had never seen this design before so of course I called my tech savvy mother to ask if she had any idea – which of course she did!  She explained they are similar to the barcodes used by retailers to track inventory and price products at the point of sale but the key different between the two is the amount of data they can hold or share.  When you scan or read a QR code with your iPhone, Android, or other camera-enabled Smartphone, you can link to digital content on the web; activate a number of phone functions including email, IM and SMS; and connect the mobile device to a web browser.

Since I work for a small business, I realized that the ability of QR codes to connect people with each other and to multimedia digital content is very useful!  Since there is so much information on the web, the creative usage of QR codes is endless – ranging from directing the viewer to a website, making a phone call, deliver an eCard and much more.  QR codes are a new concept and so many people will not recognize them when they see them or won’t have a smart phone with a QR reader installed, which limits their impact.  Most current advertisements that have QR codes still have to explain how they work and the steps the person has to take in order to access the additional information, therefore it’s important to determine if QR codes are a good fit for the audience.  In a recent study commissioned by ad agency MGH, 72 percent of Smartphone users indicated they would be likely to recall an ad with a QR code.  Top usage of those who said they’ve used a QR code was to secure a coupon, deal or discount.  Other uses of a QR code included: access additional information, enter a sweepstakes, sign up to receive more information and access video.  This data shows not only are consumers interested in interacting with advertising that bears a QR code, but QR codes can help an ad break through the clutter by increasing the change it will be remembered.

So what are some creative usages for QR codes? I found a few I thought were interesting…

QR codes on business cards – OK, not the most creative idea ever! Rather than overload a business card with all of your contact information, one could include the bare minimum for contacting, then create a QR code that leads people to the company’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, FourSquare or any other social media profile.

Labeling – For example, a restaurant patron is enjoying wine and notices a QR code on the bottle.  The consumer can scan this information which takes them to a mobile site where they can learn more about the wine and where they can purchase it.

Storefront displays – Few retail businesses are open 24/7 so by creating a “Shop Online” QR code and placing it in their storefront window, customers won’t be disappointed.

(This isn't the one I created!)

Tradeshow banners – I used this method to develop my company’s QR code.  I work for a healthcare consulting firm and we attend a lot of trade shows throughout the year.  I created our booth banners and included a QR code on each one, directing users to different pages on our website that corresponded with the information on the banner.  Since people are on the go and do not want to be bogged down with tons of information, QR codes work great and are of great convinience.  We will be debuting these banners at an upcoming trade show, so hopefully we will see good results!

QR codes, like all emerging technologies, is ultimately about making our lives richer and more efficient.  With a quick scan, these simple bar codes allow us to move from the physical world to the digital world while entertaining and informing users.  The simplicity of the code allows for printing on just about anything imaginable and they can direct people to anything on the web.  I expect QR codes to play a huge role in the future of print media, television and will include greater brand integration in advertising.  The best part about a QR code is its ability to make anything interactive! QR codes are easily customizable and track-able which allows marketers to see how many times their code was scanned, by whom,  and even by what device.



One response »

  1. Hi Lauren,
    Thanks for the great information. QR codes do seem to be everywhere these days! Even though they seem new to us in the marketing world, the technology is actually 17 years old. A Japanese company, Denso Wave, Inc., created QR codes in 1994 to track vehicle parts during the manufacturing process.

    Two weeks ago, as I was putting on my tennis shoes, I noticed a QR code on the inside tag. Now, if my tennis shoes were brand new, I might not have thought too much about it. By my tennis shoes are old – I can’t remember exactly when I bought them, but I think I’ve had them for at least 10 years (and yes, it’s time to get new ones!). I tried to scan the QR code to see if anything would happen and nothing did, but I assume that the company used it to track the product during manufacturing.

    What surprised me is how long I’ve had my tennis shoes, yet I never noticed this funny little bar code. I guess I wasn’t supposed to notice it because it had no value or meaning to me (after all, smartphones hadn’t even been invented when these shoes were manufactured). But now that I see the value of QR codes for interactive marketing, I notice them everywhere. It’s kind of like once you buy a red car, then all you notice are red cars.
    At my job, we started using them to direct people to our Website and to track the response rate of printed materials and ads. As you mentioned, not everyone is familiar with them yet or has smartphone technology, so the numbers are low and may not be representative of the effectiveness of our materials. However, once more people start noticing and using QR codes, I think that will change. In fact, from July to December 2010, there was a 1200% increase in the scanning of QR codes. I think QR codes will be a great measurement tool for marketers to assess audience engagement and the ROI of their campaigns—especially for print campaigns, which can be more difficult to track.

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