Using QR Codes and Smartphones for Marketing

What are QR Codes?

Small QR CodeMy favorite definition says that QR codes are bar codes on steroids.  It makes sense.  QR codes (abbreviated from Quick Response Codes) are scannable images very much like the UPC codes and bar codes we see on items in stores.  They’re just image representations of two-dimensionally encoded information.

…still sounds a little techie, right?  That’s okay.  You don’t have to know how QR codes work to make and use them for advertising and marketing.

Making your own QR codes and using them for marketing is VERY easy and totally free!

…unless you go with a method that requires printing costs, but even a print campaign using QR codes can generate a lot of interest and web traffic for very little cost.

Why Should I Care About QR Codes?

Honestly, the potential to directly connect with smartphone users and to sidestep the issue of trying to write down a URL or trying to memorize it – is just incredible.

  • It’s more convenient that trying to find a pen and a scrap of paper.
  • You won’t have to worry about losing that scrap of paper or reading your own handwriting.
  • It eliminates the issue of LONG domain names.
  • It eliminates typos or misspelled words in a link.
  • It’s relatively new technology, so people will be apt to try it just to see what happens.

Data from advertising efforts already shows that using QR codes increases conversion rate (from potential attention to a sale).  It also shows that the immediacy speeds up the sales process to a more probable sale, in less time.

Apparently over 14 million QR codes were scanned by Americans last year.  That’s 6.2 % of smartphone users, and more will start using them as they discover what they are and how to scan them on their phones.

The numbers are already great, and they’re just going to keep getting better.

Making Your Own QR Codes

First, you should know that QR codes are really EASY to create – for free!  There are several options out there, but my first test was quick and successful using a free online tool at

1.  Just select the type of information you want the QR code to trigger… a URL (web address), a Text, a Phone Number, or a SMS.

2.  Type in the data.

3.  Select the size you’d like for your QR code.

4.  Click Generate.

Enter Info for QR Code Data

5.  An image and html code to the permalink for your newly created QR code will appear on the left.

save image or code

You can right-click the image and select Save picture as… to save it as a png or bmp file.

You can also select the html code generated for the permalink to the QR code if you want to insert it on your web site or blog.

qr code to brewpub web site

I found another free online QR Generator that incorporates images or logos, too.  It’s pretty cute.  The resolution of the original image is clear, and I love the color options.


Scanning QR Codes

Ideally, other people will be scanning your QR codes, so you may not even need to know how to scan QR codes yourself.

Me?  I need to test.  There’s no way I’m sending a QR code out into the world without knowing what it’s going to send or trigger.  Well, I actually already know since I created it, but I must test.

So, what do you need to scan a QR code, and how do you do it?

All you need is an app (application/software) that reads QR codes and a camera on your smartphone.

There are several free and paid apps for pretty much any smartphone or device with a camera.  Just search for “QR” in iTunes, the Android Market, or your favorite source for apps that work on your smartphone.

You MAY already have a QR code reader on your smartphone.  Both the ShopSavvy and RedLaser shopping apps (originally used to scan UPC/bar codes) can also read QR codes.  Both ShopSavvy and RedLaser are available for iPhone, Android, and Windows smartphones.

Regardless of the app, the steps are pretty much the same.

  1. Open your preferred app for reading QR codes.
  2. Point the smartphone’s camera at the QR code.  (Click the scan button to open the camera if it doesn’t open automatically.)
  3. Position the QR code within the camera’s guide lines/grid and hold the camera steady while the camera captures the image and processes the action.

Go ahead and point your phone’s camera at this QR code and see where it takes you.  You can point your camera toward a printed copy of the QR code or the image displayed here on the screen.

Large QR CodeOnce your smartphone processes and reads the QR code, the designated action will occur.  This may be opening a web page/URL, or prompting you to see if you WANT to open the web page.  It could be text data, a phone number, or whatever action has been encoded.

So, I have a functional QR code, now what do I do with it?

The marketing possibilities are endless.  You can print the QR codes or display them on screens.  They’re easily read by smartphones either way, so use your imagination.

QR codes have been used on many of the following already.

  • Business cards
  • Bookmarks
  • Brochures
  • Book covers
  • Magazine ads
  • Newspapers
  • Web pages and blog posts
  • Stickers and magnets
  • Flyers and signs
  • T shirts
  • Scarves
  • Ball caps
  • Key chains

QR Codes can trigger:

  • textual information
  • contact information
  • a prompt to share a link on a social network
  • a link directly to a web page
  • a link to a contest entry form
  • a link to an email opt-in form
  • a coupon code
  • a video
  • etc.

The potential is wide open.  How will you use QR codes to connect with your customers?

Seriously, we’ve already listed several options above (t shirts, business cards, magazine ads, on web sites, etc.).  How else could we use QR codes to connect and draw in our readers?  Feel free to comment with ideas and suggestions below.

…and check out even more QR Code goodness over at

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