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Why your small business should be using QR codes

By Anne-Marie Watson
Published Feb 07, 2012

Although QR codes are not as well-known as something like Facebook, they have become a hot topic in recent times. Even though there is an obvious lack of knowledge about these codes amongst consumers (only 1 in 5 know what a QR code' is), recent research has shown that this is beginning to change with significant increases in usage in recent times.

With smart-phone usage exceeding 50% of all phone users in many places in the world, utilization of QR codes is becoming much easier.

What are QR codes?

In case you haven't caught up on them, QR codes, also known as Quick Response codes or mobile barcodes, are a 2D technology that allows people to interact between non-digital and digital instantly. All that's required is to scan the code with a mobile phone, using one of the many QR code reader apps around, and then you are connected with the internet or other digital options. The codes are a type of square barcode that appear as a black pattern, usually on a white background. To work effectively, they have to be encoded to a set of standards, including a 1 square perimeter, with 1/10 white border (called the quiet zone). It is in the black squiggly area where all the information sits.

Research has shown that many people are still unfamiliar with the term QR code' and do not know what they are supposed to do with them. This is a problem that can be solved though through the provision of some simple, clear instructions placed near the barcode. Just as the phrase 'www.' was needed to be used initially before website addresses to identify them clearly but now is almost redundant, QR codes will very likely be self-evidently understood with experience and then instructions on how to use will no longer be needed..

While some commentators have forecast that QR codes will not catch on, this seems to be the opposite case if recent research is any indication. Even phones which are non-smart phones can use QR codes as long as they have a camera to take a shot of the code.

Where are QR codes used?

These codes are being used in an increasing variety of places including printed material such as advertisements in magazines and fliers, table menus in restaurants, windows, bus advertising, outdoor posters, printed tickets and business cards. QR codes are seen as an instant link between print and online, so much of their use up till now has been for that purpose. However,they are also being used in public places e.g. parks and museums, to provide an avenue for sourcing more information via websites etc.

QR codes are able to provide more than just a connection to a url address though. While many are used for this purpose, they can also hold other forms of data e.g. they can be used to access business contact details (Vcards), instigate an email to be sent or make a phone call. More sophisticated QR codes are set up to take you to an online menu, which provides a number of options for the user to choose from.

Where can you get them?

These codes can be obtained free in many places which can be found through any quick Google search online. However, if you go down this track, be aware that the free version has much less flexibility than the versions you can purchase through proprietary providers. These suppliers can develop codes that can stay the same in appearance while having the flexibility of being able to change any of the coded details numerous times to match marketing campaign needs or other information. They can also shape the QR code to a certain degree to display a particular shape or letters that can increase your business' branding. The large multinational company Unilever for instance uses a QR code shaped like a capital 'U'.

Some websites that provide free QR codes include Scanlife, Kaywa.com, ZXing (Zebra Crossing) and QRStuff.com. Not all QR code generator sites though it seems offer the same thing exactly. An article from Website Magazine did a short profile on some of these explaining what some of the differences are. Other suppliers include Mobile Barcodes, BeQRious, Delivr and Azonmedia to name a few (an additional list of QR code suppliers can be found at Freenuts.com). As not all these suppliers provide exactly the same thing, you may want to trial different offerings before finalising a QR code, to ensure you get the most suitable result for your small business' needs.

Mobile barcodes provide a very cost-effective way to entice people to engage with small businesses digitally, that may not have been possible before. Just be sure that if you use these codes, make the effort used by your customer in scanning and visiting the detsination you provide as well-worth it.

Don't for instance, just lead people to your website home page. Develop a special landing page that is customized for these new visitors and use this opportunity to make an impression with a compelling offer!

NB: Southside Marketing is not affiliated with any company mentioned above nor do we endorse any particular product or service.. Use of any of these services or products is a decision for individual businesses to make in their own right. We take care to provide the best information available but responsibility for the final choice is completely in the hands of the purchaser.

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