The Art of QR Codes

The Art of QR Codes

The Art of QR Codes

If you aren't familiar with QR Codes, they're the square black and white abstract-looking images that you'll sometimes see on posters, ads and flyers. Using any one of the many scanning apps available, you can use your smartphone to scan the code. Once scanned, the "quick response barcode" will trigger the browser on your device to open a specific link programmed into the QR Code.

Businesses and marketers can use QR Codes in a variety of ways to connect people and printed advertising materials to online sources of information. We'll review how to get started, and then cover some creative uses for QR Codes for your business.

QR Code Basics

First, decide what you want a QR Code for! Think about where you're going to print and distribute the QR Code, and what you want to accomplish by having people scan it. And here's your first tip toward QR Code greatness: don't just send people to your Home page. You can use QR Codes to send people to any link that makes sense, so take advantage of that flexibility and be creative. You can use it to direct them to a specific social media profile like Google+ so they can circle you, or provide them with complete contact information by sending them to your vcard. The best and most common use is to send them to a specific landing page within your website.

We have mentioned landing pages before, and I'll go into more detail on good landing page structure in a separate post, but the idea here is that you can and should create a new page within your website that is specifically designed for use with this QR Code. Because you know where you're going to have the QR Code printed and distributed, you will know exactly who is visiting your page and what they're going there for. For example, if you're printing a thousand postcards that are going to be mailed to businesses in your area, you'll know that anyone using a QR Code on that postcard had to have been one of those businesses, and that they're specifically interested in what you had to say on that card. Therefore, you can tailor the content of your Landing Page to specifically welcome and speak to those businesses, and go into detail about why you sent that card in the first place. Sending that traffic to your home page isn't good for the consumer, and sending them to one of your normal product or services pages won't help you determine exactly how that particular campaign performed.

It's important to decide what you want the QR Code to do up front, because in order to create your QR Code, you're going to need a URL. The URL is the link to wherever it is you want the QR Code to send people, so if it's to a Landing Page, you need to create the Landing Page first - at least enough to have the URL reserved. For my Drupal website clients, an easy option is to create a new page with the title that you want, but leave it unpublished. You'll have the exact URL you need to create your code, and can go back and finish creating your Landing Page later on. Since most QR Code usage is on printed materials, this flows nicely.

Now that you have your URL(s), it's time to create your QR Code(s). A simple Google search for "QR Code Generator" will provide plenty of results. The service I use most often is called Kaywa. With Kawya you can customize your design for free, and the paid version allows you to track performance. The codes can link to a web page, text, phone numbers, or SMS.

On Kaywa, and most other generators, simply copy and paste your URL into the designated field, and then click Generate. After a moment, your shiny new QR Code will be displayed on the site. Kaywa provides you with embed code that you can use, or you can simply right mouse-click the code image and save the file to your computer. For most purposes, this is what you're going to need to do. If you're printing your code on materials, you're going to need to send your QR Code image file to the designer or printer to be included.

Another tip: if you're creating multiple QR Codes for different landing pages or destinations, be sure to change the file name of each image file to one that clearly indicates what that code is for. There will be no other indication on the code where it goes, so if you forget to change your labels, the only way you'll know what each code is for is by testing it and seeing where you end up.

Creative QR Code Uses

Since you can put a QR Code on virtually anything, and have it direct the reader to virtually anywhere, people have come up with some pretty creative uses. My favorite, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, is how Guinness created the product-activated QR Code:

Guinness QR Cup

The QR Code is printed on the glass in white, so it's virtually invisible while the glass is empty and even while pouring, until the beer achieves its rich, dark color. Once scanned, it brings up a custom page with icons for various social networks.

Other creative ideas include:

  • Washable Tattoos at events and festivals (I guess you could do permanent too, if you could get someone to do it)
  • Printed on things other than posters and ads, like napkins, coasters, business cards, tickets, t-shirts, receipts and more
  • Indoor signage for your brick-and-mortar to direct visitors to your newsletter, blog, news and other information
  • Outdoor QR Codes built from materials like sand, stone, ice and so on
  • QR Codes that mimic your logo or other branding
  • Contests. The QR Code can take them to Facebook Content, or sharing the code can be a contest in and of itself
  • Displays of virtual products with corresponding QR Codes to add specific products to your shopping cart
  • Linking the QR Code to a page that has embedded audio or video for a more personal and direct message
  • Place a code on product labels so that consumers can learn more. This is particularly helpful in situations where the consumer doesn't take the product home, like when drinking wine at a restaurant.
  • Provide a something for free. Taco Bell and Mountain Dew, for example, partnered to offer customers a free music download after purchase by putting a QR Code on drink cups.
  • Laptop stickers. Slap a QR sticker of your vCard or website to your laptop, making it easier for other geeks to connect with you when you're at SXSW or the local coffee shop.
  • Sun-powered QR Codes that offer timed specials (see video below)

QR Codes, since they interact with smart phones, can even be programmed with a phone number. Use QR Codes in a creative way to help people call your business.

Since QR Codes are still growing in use and acceptance in the U.S. (they're more popular in Asia), be prepared to provide a little education to some of your users and customers. Try a few of the many apps available for both iOS and Android so that you can easily recommend one to someone who hasn't used one before. That way, if someone asks you how to use the code, you can easily explain how they can download a free scanning app and simply point their phone's camera at the code to reveal its riches.

If you'd like help setting up landing pages for your business so that you can use QR Codes to generate leads, please contact me. If you have questions, or other great creative uses you've seen for QR Codes, please share them in the comments below.


Mike is a Social Media Consultant and Blog Coach in St. Louis. He has been working with websites and the Internet since the early '90's. He is active on all of the major social networks and enjoys writing and teaching small business owners on how to leverage the Internet to promote and grow their business. Mike provides training and seminars to businesses and individuals on topics like "Content Marketing - Using Blogging + Social Media + SEO to equal Small Business Success" or "Establishing a Brand on Google+" or "How to use HootSuite to Manage Your Social Media Presence."

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