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Getting Started with QR Codes

A Quick Response (QR) code is a type of two-dimensional bar code that can be scanned by smartphone cameras to automatically pull up text, photos, videos, music and URLs. These codes are quickly becoming mobile-friendly ways to point people in the offline space to online resources, available via a smart phone Web browser.

While already popular in Japan and other foreign countries, consumers and marketers in the United States are just now beginning to take advantage of QR codes and what to do with them. If you're unfamiliar with the business potential of QR codes, this article should serve as a way to familiarize yourself with the technology.

QR Code Generators and Scanners

A quick search for "QR code generator" is all it takes to find a number of places you can go to generate your own QR codes. Consider starting with three leaders in QR code generation: iCandy, Kaywa or Stickybits.

Kaywa's QR code generator is the simplest way to generate a QR code for a URL, text, phone number or SMS. Simply select your preference, enter the content, specify size and click "Generate." Then, save the code to use elsewhere or grab the HTML to embed it online.

iCandy is more robust and allows you track scans and look at analytics around generated QR codes. You can also print codes through partner services.

Stickybits is slightly different in purpose, but the service also makes it simple to create stickers for your codes, as well as inspire collective content creation from people who scan your codes.

On the scanner side of things, apps that can scan codes are available for most smartphones. Simply search your app store for "barcode reader," or "QR code scanner," and you'll find several to choose from.

On the iPhone, options include QuickMark and Optiscan. On Android, Barcode Scanner is a popular QR code reader.

Put QR Codes to Work in Your Marketing Efforts

Here are a few ways that you can use QR codes to inexpensively augment your small business marketing strategies.

  • On business cards: A fast and simple way to use QR codes for your own professional purposes is to place them on business cards. Generate a barcode that directs scanners to your website, online resume, small business Facebook Page or a product-specific Web page to help new contacts find you, your business or one of your products faster. You can even use QR codes to market a "for sale" item located at a specific URL/landing page.
  • On marketing materials: You've got fliers, brochures, white-papers and many other materials in your media kit. Add QR codes to direct viewers to a particular how-to video, to send them to an on-line photo set, or to point them to a landing page that promotes a new campaign. For a great example, check out what the Detroit Red Wings did with QR codes in their arena marketing programs.
  • In storefront windows: Google is sending out QR code window decals to top local businesses with Google Place Pages. If they don't send you one, steal the idea and generate your own QR code to place in your window. You can use this code to encourage Fousquare checkins, point scanners to on-line profiles, or simply invite customers to share memories in photo, video or text form via Stickybits.
  • For freebies: If you really want people to pay attention to your QR codes, make them good for something fun. Say you've placed a QR code decal in your storefront window, why not reward those who scan it with 10% off their purchase or a free pastry? Give them something small to thank them for their patronage. Simply create a custom QR code for the freebie you want to offer. You could even get creative and hide the QR code offers online, like on your Facebook page or website, or somewhere inside your store.

Things to Remember

If you're going to use QR codes for small business marketing, you'll want to keep in mind that QR codes and the apps that scan them are still foreign to most people.

Yes, more and more people are starting to associate the codes with action, but never assume your customers will know what to do. Make it a point to spell out how to scan the QR code, and help instruct customers on where they can grab scanner apps.

Remember that QR codes should provide some kind of value to the individual. It may be easiest to direct QR code scanners to your website, but that may not be the most satisfying place to send people.

Does your small business use QR codes? If so, how are you using them? And if not, what are the uses might fit your marketing efforts?

Thanks to Wikipedia and Mashable for insight into using QR codes.


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