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Q: "Lately, I’ve noticed bar codes being used by companies on printed materials. What are they and how can I use them for my business?"

This is an excellent and timely question.  Those black and white barcode images that you're referring to are actually called QR Codes.  QR codes, abbreviated for Quick Response, are two-dimensional codes that are readable by smartphones.  QR codes are most commonly used on printed marketing materials and are frequently found in but not limited to newspapers, brochures, business cards, flyers, and posters. 

QR codes create many potential benefits.  QR codes are an excellent and creative way to bring your offsite customers online.  They not only help to drive traffic to your website, but they are an innovative way to engage with your prospective customers.  This engagement may also encourage visitors to return to your website in the future.  QR codes are a great addition to current or new printed marketing efforts and are inexpensive to create.   

How do QR codes work? Once a QR code is generated, it is placed on a printable surface.  When the QR code is scanned by a smartphone, the user is delivered to a designated mobile landing page that corresponds to the offline marketing message.  Below is a prime example that illustrates the QR code marketing process.  The QR code is generated and placed on a printed flyer. When the QR code is scanned with a smartphone, a special Happy Hour Menu displays on the mobile device. 

One of the most important things to keep in mind when using a QR code in marketing is the deliverable.  What are you trying to accomplish?  If your goal is to promote a new product, then you should consider linking your QR code to a landing page on your website that features the new product.  Taking it one step further, entice the individual to scan the QR code by including a special offer on the printed material (next to the QR code).  Advertising 10% off or a "buy-one get-one free" offer may be compelling enough that it convinces someone to scan the barcode to access to the special promotion.  By doing this, you have created a potential win-win situation for your business and customer.  The QR code on the printed material helps to create interest and drive the individual to a page on your website that features your new product.  Your goal to promote the new product is being met and your prospective customer is visiting your website and reaping the benefits of a special offer (increasing the likelihood that they will purchase your featured product or any others on your website that may be of interest to him/her). 

Another item to keep in mind when creating a QR code campaign is where you are sending the user.  If your QR code takes the individual to a non-mobile friendly website or a website that does not render well on a small screen, your efforts may be at risk.  For this reason, creating a mobile version of your website (one that appears in text and is easy to navigate) may be worth the relatively inexpensive investment.

If your company frequently generates printed marketing materials to gain brand awareness and advertise promotions, QR codes may be a great fit and addition to your marketing plans.  If you do most of your marketing online, you may want to incorporate a print advertisement (with a QR code) into the marketing mix as a test.  Being featured in the next coupon mailing or coupon book may be an interesting concept.  Here are some other ways to use QR codes for your business: 

  • One of the best times to use a QR code is when you have limited space to
  • explain an offer.  If you are a concert venue, placing a QR code on the back of a ticket or on the front of an admission band would allow people to view upcoming concert dates after scanning the code with a smartphone.
  • Use a QR code to create a "mobile only promotion".  This is a great way drive traffic to your mobile website.  This "value-add" may encourage users to visit your mobile website in the future for additional offers.
  • Leverage QR codes on business materials.  The barcodes create curiosity.  By placing a QR code on a business card, the individual may become intrigued to discover what's "behind" the barcode.  Not knowing where the QR code will lead encourages you to scan the QR code to find out more. 

With the increase in usage of smartphone devices, one would suspect that the popularity and utilization of QR codes will increase over time.  Incorporating this type of marketing effort now may help to differentiate your business from competitors.  Additionally, using QR codes is an immediate solution in creating a comprehensive online/offline marketing strategy.  Being able to advertise offline (on printed materials) and integrate that same promotional effort online (on your website), is a unique opportunity that may be worth exploring.

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