QR Codes - An Introduction

September 6, 2011 by Eric

Even if you don't know what a "QR code" is, you've probably seen them. They are appearing on everything from magazine ads, to For Sale signs, business reply cards, catalogs and travel brochures.

QR codes look like a Pong game gone wrong. They are usually black and white, although they may be other colors.

The term "QR code" stands for Quick Response code. They are similar to the UPC barcodes you've seen on product packaging for decades. UPC barcodes are useful, but they can only represent about 12 letters or numbers.

QR codes, by contrast, can represent over 4,000 letters or numbers. They were developed in the 1990's by a Japanese automobile parts supplier as part of their efforts at automating inventory control and management.

The mobile phone has been the force behind the movement of QR codes outside factories and warehouses and onto Main Street. Fifteen years ago, only businesses could afford the equipment and technology required to read and process the codes. Today, tens of millions of people carry mobile phones with a camera and the software to read the codes. Utilizing a QR code is as simple as taking a picture of it with your phone.

Using a QR code

The QR code itself is simply a computer-friendly way of representing text, that is, letters and numbers. There are no restrictions on what the text may be; for consumer use, the most common text is a website address. For example, our website address is "". The QR code representation of that text, or address, is below. as a QR code
The text does not need to be a website address. For example, it can also be a representation of the information on your business card. When your phone scans the code, the software on the phone interprets the text and decides what to do. If it is personal information from a business card, it may ask you if you want to add it to your address book. If it is a website address, the software on your phone will usually open the address (website) on your phone's web browser.

The really neat thing about QR codes representing website addresses is what you can do when you take a user to a web page. The possibilities are vast. Think of all the things you've seen and done via a web page. A QR code can take you to a page which shows a video.... or plays an audio welcome.... or fills out a contact form.... or starts a slideshow.... or connects them to a customer service rep.... or offers the user a discount on products.... or displays flight status.... or displays shipping status. I think you get the point.

There is another very important aspect of QR codes which make them a marketer's dream: you can track them. Fifteen years ago, if you sent out a mailer, there were a few —largely unreliable— ways to track the response to that mailer. Today, with QR codes, you can track every response to the mailer, down to the individual. The ability to track QR codes does take some extra effort. It's one of the ways we can help set up and run your marketing program using QR codes.

There are some issues you should be aware of before using QR codes:
  • One, if you are creating your own codes, test them before printing or distributing them. You don't want to print thousands of mailers with a code which sends the user to a "Page Not Found" error.
  • Second, make sure your site is mobile-friendly. You will lose a lot of goodwill generated by the QR code if you take the user to a site which appears tiny on their phone.
  • Third, give the user a reason to use the QR code. The reason could be simply making it (much) easier to get them the information they're looking for, but you should also consider offering a discount or added value on an order.
QR codes are a powerful new tool in every business owner's toolbox. Contact us to find the best way to utilize them in your business.

Posted in Company News, From the Design Team, Promotions and SEO

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