QR Codes 101: The Basics & Best Practices

QR Codes 101: The Basics & Best Practices

You may have seen these odd, squared-patterned codes on anything from business cards to posters and even on advertisements. But what are they and how are they being used in popular marketing campaigns? This month we are taking a look at how these codes are being used and giving you a quick cheatsheet to teach you everything you needs to know about QR codes.

What are QR Codes?

A QR code (or Quick Response code) is a two-dimensional code similar to a barcode that is readable by dedicated QR readers, image scanners and mobile smartphones with cameras. The code consists of modules arranged in a square pattern usually on a white background. The information encoded may be text, URL, or other data.

The QR code is common in Japan, where it was created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994 to track car parts. The QR code is becoming a popular type of two-dimensional bar codes in the US because it was designed to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed. As the nation becomes more inclined to mix “real world” physical/analog items, with their digital online world, the QR code is helping to bridge the gap. These codes store digital information. This information can allow you to open a web URL, read an RSS feed, send an email or text, add an event to your calendar, share a contact card, open a map, download audio and more.

How to scan a QR code

Special image scanners were the original way to scan a QR code, but the popularity of these codes stems from the accessibility of scanners on mobile apps. Most smartphones have apps that allow your mobile phone to scan QR codes. The app does not need an internet connection to scan and retrieve the information. However, if the downloaded info is a web URL or some other content that lives on the internet then a connection is needed.

What is the difference between a standard bar code and a QR code?

A standard bar code is one-dimensional, must be read by a laser and only allows for about 30 characters of data. A QR code can be read by a camera or image scanner and since it is two-dimensional, it allows for a little over 7,000 characters of data. This means QR codes can deliver over 200 times more content than a standard barcode.

How do I generate a QR code?

You can generate QR codes using a QR generator. In addition, you can create a QR code for shortened URLs by adding “.qr” to the end of any bit.ly or goog.le shortened URL. Below is a list of some QR code generators:

QR Stuff Generator


Social QR Code

Tracking QR codes

If you want to track where and when people are accessing your QR codes, you can use unique URLs with Google Analytics installed or you can use special generators that include metrics.

Designing with QR codes

QR codes began as black on white codes. As the technology grows, it is gaining more flexibility. Most QR readers will read any color QR code on white. About half will read white on other colors. Codes with no white present are still hit-or-miss for most readers.

Do people really use QR codes?

Some people seem to think that the QR code technology is a “fad” and is fading out. This stems from the fact that Google decided to no longer use them on their Google Places. However, the statistics confirm that QR codes are still widely being used and growing in popularity. In 2010, 3G Vision/I-nigma Worldwide Data reports a 13% increase in QR scanning in Q2, a 34% increase in Q3, and an 83% increase in Q4 from the previous quarter.

Best practices for using QR codes in your marketing.

The code itself is not a call to action.

If you are including a QR code on a marketing piece, it should be obvious what it does. If it’s not obvious, reference the consequence of scanning it. For example, if you put a QR code on your business card, people will likely understand that it is a link to your contact information in some form (shared vcard, url, etc). If you put the QR code on a generic ad, the user has no idea what happens when they scan it. It may be a URL, a video, audio, etc. Without knowing, you decrease the likelihood that it will be scanned.

Don’t interrupt the user.

Your QR code should benefit the person scanning it and give them information they want. Don’t waste their time with videos, useless experiences, or marketing spiels.  They want something interactive and they want to know what the experience will be before scanning. It should be a worthwhile experience for them.

The action should match the medium.

QR codes are scanned using mobile phones, therefore the content should be appropriate to mobile devices and should make sense for the time/place. The action should save the user time by providing instant requested information.

Ideas for using QR codes in your marketing

You can use QR codes on ads and other printed materials to direct clients to your website where they can get more information

Use QR codes to send users to your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts so they can ‘like’ your company’s Facebook page or follow you on Twitter.

Create a QR code to include in employee email signatures or on business cards that links to their personal bio.

Use a QR on confirmation pages that link to videos, coupons, or special content to thank your customer for opting in or making a purchase.

Use QR codes at promotional events as a way to identify your team members and make new contacts.

If you sell a product, place a QR code on product labels that send the user to more information about the product such as user guides, etc. Or have it go directly to a review site.

Market wisely

The ideas above are just the tip of the iceberg. You can get very creative with these codes. Just remember, the same marketing principles still apply. For it to be successful, it has to benefit your potential customer.



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