Somehow, the best marketing tool of the online era is still flying under the radar of many small businesses. QR (Quick Response) codes are a two-dimensional type of barcode, originally designed by a Japanese automaker to revolutionize the manufacturing inventory process. These powerful little gizmos have an almost unlimited ability to assist any business in tracking and improving a variety of processes; however, they really shine when used to help with marketing efforts.
So, how do they work? Well, let’s start at the end and work our way back. For marketing purposes, QR codes are read by your prospect or customer using a smartphone application. ScanLife,1 QuickMark,2 Optiscan,3 Barcode Scanner,4 and the Google Goggles5 application are just a few of the many options available. You include a QR code in your marketing materials, on your business cards, or on promotional items, and when your prospect scans your code with her mobile device, she is directed to text, video, photos, music, or even a URL of your choosing.
The obvious advantages for customers include the instant access to your content and the convenience of not having to write down (or try to memorize) a phone number or web address for later use. Many potential customers are lost every day to the lag between exposure to your brand and the time it takes to get to a computer or phone. QR codes let you take that lag out of the equation. They are extremely cost-effective, simple to use, and almost limitless in their potential.
You can generate your own QR codes easily, quickly, and cheaply (can you say, “FREE?”) using a code generator such as Kimtag,6 iCandy,7 Kaywa,8 or a host of other code generators that are available for free or as part of a QR services suite. StickyBits9 will even produce your QR codes on stickers or temporary tattoos, for even more fun options.
Codes no longer have to be homely little squares of squiggles, either. QR codes can be crafted into your company logo and colors, or shaped to resemble almost anything, such as a dog or a house (Check out these 15 examples of QR codes on Mashable). Each code can store almost anything the creative marketer can imagine.
Although the sky’s the limit for getting creative with QRs, let’s talk about some specific examples where QR codes can help you market your small business.
- Window or trade-show displays. Picture this … it’s late at night and a happy young couple stroll home from a romantic dinner. They pass your jewelry store, long-since closed for the evening, and wish they could look at rings. But wait! There is your QR code, shining in the display window like one of your fine bridal sets. She bats her eyelashes, he whips out his smartphone, and voila! Your online catalog pops up instantly so they can browse (and even purchase) your wares as they stroll on.
- Promotional materials. Many companies like to give away swag at trade shows, seminars, or sales presentations. Imprint a QR code on your swag, and potential customers will never lose the ability to connect with you. Attach some kind of limited special offer to the code that isn’t available to the general public, and you will create instant urgency and brand loyalty.
- Ecards. Imagine your business card, supersized! On your business card, include a QR code that will allow the recipient to scan your information instantly into his smartphone contacts. Or, have the QR code direct your potential customer to your company’s website, online storefront, or Facebook page.
Right now, you may be asking, “What’s the downside?” Well, actually there is one disadvantage of note. Many people don’t know what QR codes really are or how to use them. This problem is simple to overcome, however. Place a blurb in your marketing materials explaining what the QR code does and where to find a scanning app. You will give your curious customers all the help they need to start scanning their way into your bottom line!