What’s the Deal with These QR Code Things?
Black Friday is three days away and Cyber Monday is less than a week from now, and that means we’re less than a month from the big holidays (you know the ones I’m talking about). If you’re smart, you’ve already gotten some of your holiday shopping out of the way and have a plan in place to save big this weekend on the bulk of the remainder. If your’e like me, however, you’ve done precisely zero percent of your holiday shopping and have no designs on camping out front of a Best Buy Thursday evening in to Friday morning. Good thing there’s Cyber Monday… and good thing there are still a few weeks after that before the holidays, because I’ll probably continue to procrastinate even on Monday.
Whether you’ve already started shopping responsibly, plan to do so this weekend or are taking the Nick Morris “I’ll do it ‘later'” approach, you’re going to need to get it done at some point, and there are probably some high-tech gifts and promotional tech gifts on your shopping list. That could mean a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS or Vita gaming system. It could mean a new iOS, Windows or Droid smartphone or tablet computer. Or it could mean any of approximately a gazillion other things. Point is, your shopping list probably involves technology, and one technology that’s been steadily picking up steam among smartphone and tablet users is QR codes.
What Are QR Codes, Anyways?
You’ve probably seen those “weird” little barcodes that are popping up at retail, in advertisements and other locations around the country over the last few years and noticed them asking you to scan them. I’m sure some of our readers already know what they are, so you guys can go ahead and skip to the next section of this blog. But for the uninitiated, those are “QR codes.” While they were originally created as a way to track automotive parts, they have since expanded into many other uses.
The tie-in to your smartphone and tablet shopping is that QR codes are scanned by them for quick and easy linking to content. Droid devices are able to scan QR codes in order to go directly to apps in the Google Play Store, for instance. Google uses them as a means for promoting itself as well as local businesses through Google Places. Advertisers use them as part of marketing campaigns they’re hoping will go viral. Some companies are using them as a way to scan digital business cards and cities and organizations use them as ways to quickly provide travel and parking information when users are on the go. Those are just a few examples, of course. QR codes can be used for many different things, but you get the idea.
This Is Different from a Regular Barcode…How Exactly?
Traditional barcodes are capable only of encoding data in horizontal lines, which, understandably, probably doesn’t mean a darn thing to you. How does that affect you from a practical standpoint? QR codes have both horizontal and vertical data, which means there is room for much, much more data to be stored in each of them. Perhaps more important is that, as mentioned, QR codes can be scanned by mobile devices. Barcodes don’t work that way: you need a specially designed scanner to scan any specific organization’s barcodes.
The result of all this is that QR code scanning can initiate a website opening or a file downloading. PayPal even recently announced that it was rolling out a new system called “payment codes” that allows retail stores to scan customers’ QR codes from their phones in order to charge their PayPal account for purchases. Barcodes, on the other hand, are able to provide readers with product names, prices and inventory levels and little else.
Should I Be Using QR Codes?
If you’ve got techies or even tech-savvy or, really, even moderately tech-savvy individuals on your promotional tech gifts list and/or target audience, then they likely have smartphones and there’s a good likelihood many of them have used QR codes in the past. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should go slapping QR codes on everything related to your business. Some marketers and business owners plaster the things all over banner ads and marketing email blasts. Using them in such a manner makes little sense considering that the audience will often already be online on a desktop or laptop when they’re exposed to them through those means, negating their need for them.
As with all marketing efforts, you need to have a plan in place in order for QR codes to be truly beneficial to you. Where are you putting them? Will people see them there? What do you want them to do when they scan them? What will they actually do when they scan them? These questions must be answered before you start deploying QR codes with your marketing campaigns.
QR codes shouldn’t just send customers and prospects to your website’s homepage. They have to ask the user to do something or provide them with something they’d want. There has to be a call to action and/or some useful information that you can’t get elsewhere. Constant Contact offers 11 great reasons to use QR codes for your business that you can consider trying.
Just remember, if you’re going to use QR codes as part of a marketing campaign, make sure it’s an actual campaign, not just a literal throwing of QR codes at the wall. Make a plan!