QR Codes Explained

"Those boxy things that sort of look like UPC codes."

I have had several clients approach me over the past week about QR codes, so I thought it would be good to do a quick little writeup on what QR codes are, what they do and some practical examples of how they can be used.

So what are QR codes?

QR is short for “quick response,” and these codes are sort of like a barcode that can be scanned using a reader, usually on the viewer’s smart phone. I personally have the free iPhone application called Bakodo installed to test/scan QR codes.

Instead of a traditional stripe patterned barcode that we are used to seeing on product packaging, QR codes use a pixelated looking pattern and are often arranged in a square shape. While they are being used quite commonly overseas, QR codes have yet to really break into the mainstream here in the states. With more and more people starting to use smart phones, I expect that to change in the next several years.

What are they used for?

QR codes can be used to contain several types of data, such as web addresses, text messages, calendar events and vCard information. There are a ton of uses out there for QR codes, but here are three examples of practical uses that I am currently working on or have used in conversation this week:

  1. Business Cards – this particular client is adding a QR code to the back of their business card that, when scanned, will download their vCard information straight to the user’s phone. A simple, yet time saving application.
  2. Posters – another client that does regular promotional pieces for their events. For these pieces, it would be cool if someone could scan the code and create a calendar even to remind them of the time, place and location of the event. Or perhaps they could link the user to a page on their website that would allow them to read more information about the event and RSVP. I’ll also mention here that when linking to a website from a QR code, it would be a good idea to lead the user to a page that’s specifically set up for them. In other words, even if the page contains duplicate information about an event, give it a unique URL so that you can track how many visitors entered the site via the QR code.
  3. Trade Shows – the next client regularly attends trade shows and they could use a QR code to send attendees show specials or promotional codes via text message – something they could take with them and apply discounts to orders placed online once they returned to the office.

To show you a live example, if you scan the QR code found below, you will download my vCard information to your address book. Go ahead, you know you want to try it out!

Jim Ferguson vCard QR code

So are QR codes something I should use?

Well, that depends. Like I mentioned above, QR codes aren’t exactly in the mainstream here in the states yet. You need to examine your audience to determine whether or not the QR code is something that they would find useful (or even understand the concept), or if you would just be confusing them by adding them to your piece. I know they sound neat, but if your target audience is unlikely to own a smart phone in the first place or are unlikely to be savvy enough to use the scanning software, then I wouldn’t recommend using QR codes.

So in a nutshell, that’s it. I hope that was informative enough without getting too technical. Feel free to follow up with any further questions in the comments area.