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Use of QR codes increases

I’ll be the first to admit, when it comes to QR codes, I’m actually a big nerd. They totally fascinate me with all of their uniqueness and ingenuity.

So what exactly are QR codes? Simply put, QR codes, which is short for quick reference codes, are 2-D barcodes that are scanned to connect to online information such as websites, photos, email, text messages, videos and more. They are most often scanned by using downloaded smartphone apps, but new technology built into tablets are making scanning from a tablet just as easy.

Similar to the barcodes that are found on almost every product in your local grocery store, the QR code has the ability to connect the person scanning it to a vast array of information. The attraction to QR codes comes mainly from the creative design the creator can add.

They don’t have to be built in the most common black-and-white format. As long as the lines are sharp, the contrast between the light and dark areas is great and the code is high resolution, there are no rules regarding color or design.

By not being limited to straight lines, the code can be created to grab and hold the users attention in a way that will encourage — or often provoke — them to scan it and see where it goes. Since the QR codes lines are both horizontal and vertical, they are able to hold more information that traditional barcodes.

The QR code was invented in 1994 by the Japanese firm Denso Wave for the main purpose of tracking automotive parts. Since then, the popularity of QR codes has grown to include not only functionality but also marketing and entertainment.

The No. 1 reason users will scan a QR code is to get a discount or a coupon. The rise of mobile coupons has provided a way for users to receive discounts without the hassle of clipping and filing coupons. Many products have QR codes printed directly on the product that, when scanned while shopping, can sometimes lead to a savings before you even leave the store.

For businesses, QR codes can be a great, cost-effective marketing tool. When Audi wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of production in Saxony, Germany, it chose to celebrate with a QR code. The tribute involved 130 members of its Audi Japan factory creating a QR code which measured 1,711 square feet. Its QR code currently holds the record as being the largest QR code on record.

And if you want even more amazing facts about QR codes, check these out:

n There was a 1,200 percent increase in QR code scanning during the second half of 2010, with 44 percent of scans coming from households earning more than $100,000 per year. Users ages 35 and older accounted for 58 percent of the scans, and 64 percent of the scanners were female, according to RSVP Publishing.

n While consumers still rely on newspaper inserts for their shopping research, 43 percent prefer to respond to offers online, requiring a critical balance between print and digital marketing tactics, according to Kathy Calta, chief marketing officer of Vertis Communications, a provider of targeted advertising.

n Twenty-eight percent of Zillow’s weekend traffic is coming from a mobile device (17 million monthly unique visitors).

n While it remains to be seen whether local publishers will dominate the space, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason listed local papers, television and radio as the company’s largest source of competition in an interview with All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher.

n Twenty-two percent of Fortune 500 companies are using QR codes.

n According to the website Search Engine Land: “Last year, smartphone consumers increased their scanning of QR barcodes by 1,600 percent, typically to get discounts, get more information or make a purchase. Think this is just a youth movement? Think again: 70 percent of QR consumers are between ages of 25 and 55.”

n Approximately 14 million mobile users in the U.S. used their smartphones to scan QR codes in the month of June 2011 alone, according to comScore. Of that audience, 60.5 percent was male, 53.4 percent were between the ages of 18 and 34, and 36.1 percent had a household income of $100,000 and above.

So what makes QR codes such a great marketing tool? The main reason is simplicity. QR codes can be scanned anytime and anywhere as long as you have a smartphone (or tablet) and an Internet connection. It doesn’t get much easier than that. When you combine that with the quick access to information the possibilities are endless.

Then there’s the quick response rate factor. When a QR code is set up properly, it can give the user complete access to the business by phone, email or mapping with just the touch of a finger or the click of a button.

Although QR codes are relatively simple to use as a marketing tool, there are some basic dos and don’ts that should be followed to have a successful campaign.

n Have a purpose. What do you want the QR code to do and what do you want the user to do once they scan your code? Once you answer those two basic questions, you’ll know how you want to set the code up.

If the purpose of your goal is to generate more purchases, then a coupon may be the best use of your QR code. However, if it’s education you’re looking to provide, then a video or information would be better.

n Have a strong call to action. Once your purpose has been established, you have to plan a method to gain the users’ attention. In many ways, your QR code is like a gate that separates your great product, service or idea from the user on the other side. All you have to do is get the user through the gate.

So how exactly do you do that? Motivation! Entice the user to scan your code by telling them, briefly, what they will gain. For example, “Scan for a free gift” or “Scan for discount.” Just be honest about what you’re giving them so you don’t damage any future relationship by breaking the users trust.

n Have a great design that’s also usable. The more appealing your QR code, the more likely it is to be scanned. Bright colors and unique designs are a better option that the traditional black and white code that resembles an incomplete crossword puzzle. Besides being more attractive, decorative QR codes typically have a higher scan rate and are more appealing to look at on sales materials.

Design and usability doesn’t stop at the QR code itself though. It should carry over onto the mobile landing page. One of the biggest mistakes a company can make when incorporating QR codes into their marketing campaign is having the code link to their desktop website. Besides offering the scanner little or no value, the desktop site is difficult to read and navigate on most mobile devices.

n Measure and track results. As with any other marketing campaign, it’s important to track the results of your QR code. Not only the number of scans you receive, but also how the person scanning the code interacts with where you are sending them. If the user scans and then closes the page almost immediately, then changes are you need to re-evaluate your campaign starting at step one. On the other hand, if they are scanning and then spending some time with your mobile landing page and where it takes them, you can consider it a success.

If you receive zero scans in a month, there is probably a problem with the scan ability of your code. These problems could be the placement of your code or the resolution of your code. If your code is placed in an area that isn’t conducive to scanning, such as too high or too small, or if it’s placed in an area with no Internet connection then your QR code will not connect to your landing page. If the QR code is too small or at a poor resolution, then the user will have a difficult time scanning the code and will find it useless.

n Be social. QR codes are a great way to promote your social presence. Besides the original call to action to drive users to fulfilling your purpose, it’s a great idea to incorporate your social media networks. Using a QR code to drive traffic to your social sites is an easy way to get more fans on Facebook and more followers on Twitter while playing with one of the latest trends in technology.

n Don’t forget to test your QR code. Most people would think of that as a no brainer, but you would be surprised. Not only are you going to test the code to make sure it will scan and go to the proper landing page, but you will also want to make sure that the code can be scanned from various angles and at various sizes. Testing will also let you know if any embedded links need to be run through a URL shortner such as bit.ly or goo.lg.

n Don’t go overboard with the text. Keep in mind that you are given the task of improving the user’s mobile experience. One of the easiest ways to do that is going to be to give them the maximum amount of information in the least possible amount of space. Give the user what they came there to get and then direct them on where they can get more, if they want to. You also increase the likelihood of them scanning any future codes you may have.

There are virtually no limits to what you can do with a QR code. By being creative, you increase the success rate of your QR code campaign the improving the users experience.

Though the marketing world remains divided on the topic of QR codes, one thing is certain, information will continue to become more readily available to people who want it. The 14 million Americans who scanned QR codes in June 2011 only made up 6 percent of actual smartphone users. The QR code trend is only beginning and it’s just a matter of time before the habit of scanning objects becomes second nature to smartphone users.

Those who are opposed to QR codes claim that they are simply today’s gimmick which offer little or no reward for the amount of work the user puts into scanning them. I’m personally going to disagree with both of those statements.

First off, apps to read QR codes are free and the process to download them on any smartphone is quick, simple and painless, as is the process to scan the code. As long as the company providing the scan is offering something of value to the user, then it is worth their time. If the user spend five seconds to scan a code and received a coupon for $1, I would have to say it’s a pretty good value.

Although QR codes don’t solve every problem that consumers face today, they do address one issue that mobile users have. They make it easier for mobile consumers to receive information. Even with the ease of navigation on mobile search engines and mobile websites, the simple scanning of a QR code takes the consumer directly to where the information they are seeking is located.

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