Point. Click. Profit. (As published in The Business Journal)

Quick Response (QR) Codes and How to Use Them

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How do you fit a volume of information about your product sitting there on a shelf onto a label the size of a name tag? Give up? Meet the QR, or Quick Response, code. It’s the hot marketing tool right now, and it can be your bridge from the physical to the virtual world. Let me explain.

First developed by a subsidiary of Toyota in 1994, QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes that can be affixed to just about anything and scanned to retrieve information. Their original use was to identify and track car parts. With a capacity to store up to 7,089 numeric characters or 4,296 alphanumeric characters, it’s a capable choice for the job.

These days, you might see QR codes in magazines or on bus ads or on a product label at the electronics store. QR codes are used by shipping companies to store vital information compactly on the shipping label. Computer chip manufacturers can embed a micro-QR code right on the circuit board for process control. Marketers, instead of printing a URL the customer has to remember, can embed a URL in the QR code that can be read by a smartphone application which then opens the target Web page.

How else can you use a QR code? Display text, download a vCard with contact information, create a text message or compose an email.

A museum not wanting to distract from the display of an art work with elaborate notes could print a QR code along with the work’s title and artist that contains text or a URL to Web pages about the artist.

Real estate agents are including QR codes on property literature, taking interested buyers to Web sites with additional pictures or virtual tours.

Looking for a more personal touch? Include a QR code with the next birthday card you send to a friend overseas and have it link to a video greeting on YouTube.

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

The big idea here is that you can leverage the dynamic nature of the Web to serve as an anchor for your message, while what is printed on the static page remains consistent. A physical display can just contain the bare essential details, while the accompanying Web site can change as needs warrant.

Next to a garden, just print the familiar and Latin names of the flower. Include a QR code that points to a URL where the guest can read about the discoverer of the genus and its distinguishing characteristics.

Your next product advertisement that appears in the newspaper or trade publication can just focus on the features and value proposition. Offer a discount code just for readers from that periodical. Include a QR code to take the customer to a purchase page that automatically includes the discount.

I’m writing this column from a convention in Chicago where each registrant badge features a QR code with the attendee’s contact information. Prefer not to make that available to everyone who walks by? Just cover it up.

Ready to get started? Download a QR reader app, like KAYWA or i-nigma to your smartphone and scan the code in this article. You’ll be taken to a site that lets you create QR codes to your heart’s content. It will even store the completed code images and give you the HTML to link to them.

Another easy way to get started is by accessing your Google Places page. Note that Google has already included a QR code image for you to use and direct customers to your Places page.

Don’t forget to create unique codes for each ad campaign, and measure the effectiveness and your return on investment.

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