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Hello, Summerville! Welcome, business owners! We’re happy to have you here on the Creative Consulting blog where you’ll find the most relevant information about marketing your business in the digital sphere. From building an outstanding webpage to graphic design to managing your social media to optimizing SEO to building a cohesive brand identity—Creative Consulting covers everything you could possibly need to know to take your business to the next level.
Today, we’ll be discussing a widely known but rarely understood tool in marketing—the QR code. You’ve probably seen these strange, black-and-white boxes posted to the sides of lampposts, lingering on the backs of business cards, or even looming above the highway on massive billboards. At first glance, these unassuming squares can resemble their technological cousin—the barcode—but they’re actually far more advanced. The potential applications of QR codes have yet to be breached, but the average business owner can already benefit from its existing capabilities. We’ll explain what a QR code is, how a QR code works, and how to use QR codes to expand your business’s reach. If you’re interested in learning more, read on!
What are QR Codes and How Do They Work?
First, the term QR code is actually short for quick response code. Quick response code was developed in 1994 by Masahiro Hara, the chief engineer of a Japanese automotive company called Denso Wave (a subsidiary of Toyota). Hara developed the code as a method of tracking parts and parcels through the production, manufacturing, and distribution process. QR codes contain more information than the standard bar code (e.x. locators, identifiers, trackers) which can all be read by a machine. The QR code utilizes four standardized encoding modes: numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and kanji. Several factors inherent to the QR code design (including the surrounding white space, the position of the black pixels, and the anchoring black squares) allow the code to be scanned quickly and from virtually any direction.
There are two types of QR codes: static and dynamic. As you might have inferred already, static QR codes are codes which cannot be altered or changed after being generated. This might apply to QR codes which share a coffee shop’s WiFi password or QR codes for entrance to a mass event like a concert. Meanwhile, a dynamic QR code can be altered or changed after being generated, as many times as needed. The dynamic version lends itself to customization and increased ability to track advertising statistics.
Though QR codes were created in the 1990s, the United States has been slow to integrate their use. While countries like China have been using QR codes in their payment systems and day-to-day life for decades, we’ve only caught onto the brilliance of these black squares in the past few years. Apple programming their cameras to read QR codes in 2017 and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 played a large role in introducing QR codes into our society. Many restaurants switched to paperless menus with the help of QR codes.
The truth is: There are an endless number of applications for QR codes. They can be used to determine an object's position in three-dimensional space for augmented reality. They can be used to establish “virtual stores,” which unfold before potential customers wherever the QR code exists. Giant companies such as Walmart, Procter & Gamble, and Woolworths have already undergone making the concept a reality. QR codes can store bank account information and can work in tandem with a payment provider application to facilitate transactions. They can be used to log into a website, board a flight, order food at a restaurant, and join a WiFi network. Best of all, QR codes cannot be hacked.
We’re only just scratching the surface with what QR codes can do. And, when it comes to advertising, there may be no better way to establish a personal connection between consumers and your brand.
Applying QR Codes to Your Business
The wonderful thing about QR codes is that users need only scan the code with a phone camera to unlock the code's information. This makes the user end of the interaction incredibly simple and streamlined. On the brand’s end, there are a multitude of places you can take a user once they’ve scanned. You can choose to direct a consumer toward a website or a landing page. You could also direct consumers toward the download page for an app. You could pull up multimedia (i.e. video, audio, image) or a discount code or promotion. If you’re participating at a business conference or engaging in networking opportunities for your business, you can use QR codes to quickly exchange information. Whatever you choose to do, you want to make sure you establish a clear Call-To-Action (CTA). Users should be able to determine exactly what scanning a QR code will do. Some businesses use QR codes to expand their SMS or email list, but we wouldn’t recommend doing this. Anytime consumers scan a QR code, while they are trusting the creator of the code, they haven’t given their express permission to be a part of any mailing lists.
QR codes do not obtain any personal information from the phones which scan them, however they do provide some insight to their creators. QR codes can report on where and when they were scanned, which gives advertisers an increased comprehension of which areas are proving to be highly engaging and at what times, too. The major reasons for using QR codes in an advertising campaign are the ability to build direct connections with consumers, collect first-party data, and ass attribution tracking to ad channels. If you use the same QR code on a billboard and a mail card, within a given time span you’ll have the requisite data you need to determine which campaign is better suited to your efforts.
Most QR codes require a connection to the internet. You’ll want to keep this in mind when choosing locations for your codes.
QR codes have evolved in the decades since their inception and now offer perks like brand protection, anti-forgery protection, and increased traceability. There are companies which specialize in assisting businesses tailor and apply their QR code strategy across their business platform. Next, we’ll examine a few cases where businesses applied QR codes to their benefit.
One of the best examples of integrating QR codes into a business structure is Instagram’s name tags. Once scanned, name tags allow users to quickly and easily identify the user they want to follow. Instead of searching for their username (potentially spelling the username wrong, missing an underscore or a period, etc.), name tags simplify the entire process. As well, in Instagram’s case, they were able to alter the appearance of the QR code to be on-brand and appealing. This is a huge aspect of using QR codes, as you want to incite the user to scan the code and they’re more likely to do so when the code is pleasing to the eye. This feature could also be used cross-platform, allowing users to post their name tags on other social media sites; thus adding more followers to their account and bringing more users to Instagram.
Another example is when Amazon Go stores implemented the use of QR codes. Instead of waiting in life for a limited number of cashiers, customers could check out on their own time using QR codes. This cuts the shopping time for users in half and leads to a more positive shopping experience overall.
This has been a shallow overview of the possibilities inherent to QR codes and we’ll definitely be returning to this subject in the future to delve deeper into it’s wonderful uses. Until then, consider the benefits of using QR codes in the expansion of your business. QR codes are inexpensive to make and easy to use on both the user and the developer’s end. The potential to learn more about how consumers engage with your business—as well as to convert consumers into customers—is an appealing draw to QR codes. We hope you’ll give them a try soon!
For more marketing and branding expertise, the Creative Consulting blog has you covered! Or, give us a call and set up a consultation. We are dedicated to helping you determine which marketing strategies will work best for your business or brand! Be sure to return for our upcoming posts on CRMs and co-branding! Until next time, thank you for reading!