Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

QR Codes 101

Here’s everything  you need to know about using QR code technology to connect your offline with your online resources.

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As mobile internet access explodes across the country, businesses are presented with new opportunities to engage customers with new marketing channels. Today’s smartphones feature digital cameras with specialized features that can help bridge the gap between offline marketing and online information. One of the newest ways to do this is with a specialized “bar code” technology called QR codes. Here’s what you need to know to start using them as marketing tools.

What is a QR code? A QR code is a kind of “two dimensional” barcode similar to the classic barcodes we are used to seeing on product packages. QR codes look like postage stamps that have a “blocky” design on them. The “QR” stands for “quick response.” QR codes contain actual information – like a traditional barcode contains the stock number and price of a product – that can be deciphered by a code-reader application on a . When you “scan” a QR code by taking it’s picture with your , the application deciphers the content  in the code and presents it as normal text, numbers, hyperlinks and even graphics.

How do QR codes work? Basically, QR codes can contain between 4000-7000 characters of information encoded into their compact design. You can create a QR code using software or websites that translate different kinds of information into coded QR images. You can encode web URLs, text, phone numbers and SMS messages into the image that will enable a smartphone to display or connect to your web content or even yourself (by calling you). For example, if you encode a URL into a QR code and place it on a print advertisement, a customer can see the ad, scan the QR code, and follow a web link to your website for additional information.

How do people “scan” the QR code? New smartphones have QR code readers built into them. Usually there is an application in the phone which activates the scanning features of the camera. A user simply starts the app and points the camera at a code image. The phone begins scanning the code “points” to decipher its content. The entire process usually takes about 2-3 seconds. The “contents” of the code will then be displayed on the phone’s screen, such as a URL, text or a phone number.

How do I create a QR code? There are a number of free QR code creators on the internet, which can be found by searching for “qr code generator.” One useful site is where you can encode a variety of content types and generate QR code images which can be downloaded and printed. The site features a service to print your QR code on marketing products like postcards, t-shirts, coffee mugs and other promotional items. Once you downloaded code image, you can then place it on printed materials like any other clip art or image.

Where does it make sense to use QR codes? QR codes are a novel way to help customers receive additional information from traditional media, especially printed items. Adding a QR code to listing sheets, postcards and newspaper ads lets smartphone-savvy customers go from the offline marketing piece to richer online content quickly. QR codes can save space in print media by replacing long text contact information with a small graphic image. Anywhere you can place a square graphic presents an opportunity to connect the physical item to your online content.

What can I encode into a QR code? Think of the many types of information you can offer customers to learn about your products and services. All of them can be encoded into a QR code. If you can link to it on the internet, you can encode it: maps, files, podcasts, videos, social network profiles, blog entries, and even vCards with contact information. Likewise, QR codes can simply contain phone numbers to connect customers to your voice. And the simplest QR codes merely contain up to 7000 characters of additional information about your product or service.

QR codes are a great way to connect your online and offline marketing strategies. They provide consumers with a ready-to-go and low-risk tool to receive additional information other than email, registration pages or downloads. QR codes extend the value of your expensive print investments by driving traffic to online content. With only a few minutes of practice, you should be able to create, distribute and leverage QR code technology across your marketing plan, opening the door for new ways to connect with customers in a mobile-empowered world.

  • Very cool! 2011 is the year of the QR Code! I recently launched and it is designed for businesses interested in growing their Facebook fan page or Twitter followers using QR Codes.

    Turn foot traffic into webtraffic for your Fan page and Twitter page!

    Please give it a try!

  • I am soooo on it! Planning to start rolling them out on everything soon.

  • Liz Murray

    Great information, now all I need is a smart phone to try the ap.

  • Rjs Usa

    I’ve often wonder what these “pop art” looking guys where! Now I know…I now have my IQR hat on. Is there an app for my iphone for free..let me lQQk.
    Thanks for the info Matt.

  • Matt – Thanks for a detailed post about what and how to use a QR code. I am still not sold on them as a “game changer” as many people seem to be thinking they will be the next “easy street to easy deals” marketing tool. Think of how many agents still don’t know what they are yet they think Joe Consumer will?

    And to think that a consumer will pull up to a property, jump out of their car, pull out their phone, scan a code and wait for it to load the same flyer they can pull from the sign box is just silly. Why not just display the same web address on a top rider where you want the client to go? Does it take any longer to type in a short code thannit does to download a QR app and scan?

    I think there is value in a QR code for the agent who thinks differently about how and where to apply them and what they link the codes to. When I travel I sit at bars and restaurants alone and am always active on my mobile phone – social networking, checking email, texting, etc. My suggestion to agents would be to partner with the local beer distributors and place a QR code on the back of the beer coasters. When patrons are sitting at a bar, they usually have nothing else to do. Would it be neat if you connected some live videos for the local community, new listings or home buyer/seller tips?

    Or perhaps in sports event or musical programs so the audience can see some new listings while waiting for the referree to complete the “instant review”?

  • Sean:
    We agree that putting QR codes on signs is silly; no need with the ability to use a URL or a text message. However, there are plenty of great places to put the codes – especially for all those REALTORS who continue to use print in any way – postcards, newspapers, magazines, mugs, etc… I loved your idea about the brewery – let’s try something similar. Many restaurants have those “business card place mats” – why not a QR code there?

    – Matthew

  • Jbrustman

    Informative piece that complements a recent training I attended. Thanks Matthew

  • Leelaurino at Home to Italy

    I sold real estate for 23 years and then put my home on the market.
    i used a QR code on a separate sign outside that went to the virtual tour.  
    It was interesting to watch who stopped and used their smart phones to read the sign.   I am the ONLY sign in the neighborhood with “something different”.

    I can tell you the QR code on my car (for my new career) stops people EVERYWHERE:
    gas stations, on the ferry to Cape May, in parking lots.

    No it wont sell my house or make me famous, but are you not tired of being the last person to know about technology?   Thanks to Matt and Juanitna at InmotionREI, I may stay aware of what is happening.