WTH!?  QR Codes?  Are QR Codes really viable for marketing? Wait a minute, I’m not Gucci, Ford or some other big brand… Indeed, you may not be a big brand–I would argue, as I have done for several clients, QR Codes are not just for the big boys.  A good understanding of your customer and how QR Codes can be used can help you make the decision to QR or not to QR.

QR Paul ReedWhat is a QR Code

Wikipedia tells us a QR Code is, “a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.”

Blah, blah, blah… A QR Code is a scannable/readable barcode that allows you to share text, data or a URL with people. Anyone with a smart phone (Android, iPhone, etc) and a QR Code reader can play along.

A QR Code can be almost anywhere, Calvin Klein replaced their racy billboard ads with a “Get It Uncensored” strategy, Best Buy used QR Codes to enhance shopping, and Mashable has featured 5 Creative Uses for QR Codes.

You basically only need 3 key elements for QR Code marketing:

  1. Customers with a smart phone and QR Code reader,
  2. Free or paid application to create QR Codes, and
  3. A compelling reason/place for QR Codes to be used that your customers (or potentials) will recognize and be willing to scan.  (This is the critical element.)

QR Codes from a Users Perspective

QR Code readers do not come pre-installed on smart phones and it is likely the majority of your audience, at this point in the game, will not recognize or feel compelled to participate in the QR Code party.  That said, QR Code scanning is increasing, particularly among the Gen Y, affluent or techie markets.

Adoption of QR Codes is soon to spread with big brands, major retailers and even the government starting to use QR Codes. Smart phone sales have far out-paced stupid phones (non-smart), while iPhone and Android markets have matured significantly.  Needless to say, there are a ton of respectable drivers behind adoption of QR Codes.

Popular QR Code applications include QR Droid (for Android phones) and Neo Reader (for iPhones).  There are also several brands and websites installing QR Code readers as part of their own application, like TriOut (check out Wayne Sutton’s excellent post on their latest iPhone application which includes a QR Code reader.)

QR Codes from a Business Perspective

As a business, you’re probably thinking this is way out of your technical scope.  You’re wrong.  That’s the beauty of QR Codes, they are relatively easy, free and painless to create.  Seriously, the harder part is figuring out if and how to implement them.  Creation is the easy part.

My favorite QR Code creation tool is MyQR.co, which includes analytics into every free account so you can easily track if anyone is even scanning your pretty little codes.  Your QR Code analytics will tell you how often they were scanned, from what devices (Android versus iPhone) and user location.  You can even brand them with color to match your website, printing, etc.

QR Codes from a Marketing Perspective

Now comes the real dilemma, if and when to use QR Codes for your “not-a-big-brand” business.  Rather than go down a long list of do’s and don’ts, I thought it would be more helpful to showcase the many ways my clients and others are using QR Codes in their marketing, with some helpful hints.

Offline Marketing

Back of business cards: Many of my solopreneur, consulting and speaking clients are using QR Codes on the back of their business cards (in addition to a URL) to direct offline contacts to their website or free-no-strings report/whitepaper/offer (PDF).  Scans have been far higher than expected and many have increased their offline to online engagement as a result.

Presentation materials: A great addition (and easy to add) to any presentation materials you are distributing to clients, groups, and audiences that links them to additional resources and information about you, your services, or educational materials.

In-store locations: Windows, menus and other places to promote a special discount for their current/next visit.

Packaging and labels: I have a luxury brand, strategic consulting client that is including QR Codes on product boxes for each seasonal line (Spring, Summer & Fall) that will direct consumers to a branded content video featuring fashion tips/advice for that particular item.

Online Marketing

Digital publishing: A current strategic consulting client, digital publishing company, is including QR Codes that link directly to sample chapter downloads and additional branded content (video from author, etc) to promote sales of the book.

Real estate: A current strategic consulting client, real estate broker, has included QR Codes on all home promotional items (on-location and online) that include a branded video showing of the house, complete with show schedule and broker contact information.

QR Code Possibilities

What you need to remember, and this holds true for everything you do in marketing–focus on your customers and potentials.  Every marketing tool may not be worth your time to implement.  The same holds true for QR Codes.  Let this help guide you:

Does my audience fit into the Android, iPhone user category? If so, are they likely to adopt QR Codes now or in the future?

How do QR Codes make sense for my business? At what touchpoint do they make sense?  To collect leads?  To enhance the experience of current customers?  To offer discounts, promotions or special offers?  To offer additional content, guidance, education?  Just for fun?

What is my plan to test QR Codes in my business? What is my goal?  What am I offering or creating the QR Code to do?  How will I promote the QR Code?  How does the QR Code tie into the rest of my marketing?  How will I track success or failure?

Onward and upward!