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QR codes

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You’ve probably seen QR codes on postal packages, in print ads and catalogs, even on an iPad commercial; but do you know what a QR code is and how it can benefit your business?

A QR (quick response) code is a two-dimensional matrix barcode that can be decoded by smart phones that have a QR decoder application installed. Created in Japan by a subsidiary of Toyota (NYSE: TM) in 1994, these codes have been commonly used there and in Europe for more than 10 years, for a variety of purposes. In 2010, they started appearing in the United States in marketing applications.

The majority of QR codes are black on a white background. Free apps are readily available for creating and decoding QR codes, and many smart phones are now coming pre-loaded with a QR decoder. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), for example, owns a proprietary version called Microsoft Tag that uses CMYK colors and requires its own app for decoding.

A recent industry study showed that QR code creation has increased 700 percent from January 2010 to January 2011. U.S. consumer-based QR scanning has increased from an average of 1,250 per day in January 2010 to an average of 37,500 in January 2011. Clearly, this is just the beginning of a growing trend.

The marketing applications of QR codes are relevant for any type or size of business. Because they can be generated at no cost, the bar for entering the world of QR code marketing is low. The key to using these codes successfully is in finding creative and appropriate placement.

At their most basic function, QR codes are an efficient way to transmit information directly to a prospect’s cell phone. You can program a QR code to take the recipient directly to a website, deliver your contact information (VCard), or to create an SMS (text message) to be sent directly to your cell phone so that your prospects don’t have to manually enter the information. This ensures that your prospects won’t mistype anything, causing them to be unable to reach you.

For more experiential marketing opportunities, QR codes can be used:

* On in-store signage, giving customers on-the-spot discounts, incentives and product information; * To drive people to your Facebook or Twitter page to get them to “like” or “follow” you; * In museums, art galleries and other displays to provide a link to an online audio file that will enable them to use their phone in place of an audio tour; * To deliver clues in a scavenger hunt; * For an online sweepstakes; * As an invitation to an event; or * To give directions to a particular location for an event;

To create a QR code, simply use one of the free code generators available online (just search the term “QR code generator”). Some generators have more functionality than others. Paid generators with more robust capabilities, including the ability to track statistics on scanned codes, are also available.

Where can you put a QR code?

* Printed marketing materials (e.g. business cards, brochures, etc.); * Promotional products; * Signage; * Websites and online ads; * Product packaging and more.

The key to marketing successfully with QR codes is to create a code that, at the very least, gives the person scanning them an easier way to start or maintain contact with you. At its best, a successful QR code creates an interactive opportunity for your customers and prospects so that they want to continue a relationship with you.

A marketing professional versed in the uses of QR codes can develop a program that can integrate the use of QR codes into an existing marketing plan while maximizing results from their use.

The options are really only limited by the imagination of your marketing team.

Beerfas is chief solutions specialist for San Diego-based Lev Promotions, offering marketing consulting, marketing workshops and promotional products. Lev Promotions builds effective marketing campaigns including implementation of QR codes.

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