13 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes for Marketing

In the same way that websites, then MySpace URLs, and more recently Facebook pages started appearing in TV, magazine and newspapers ads, we're starting to see more QR codes appear in traditional advertisements.

QR codes have been spotted on direct mail pieces, movie posters, business cards and in Times Square. Whether they'll have the staying power of your website or of your MySpace page has yet to be determined, but while they still enjoy the buzz of the "next big thing," you can take advantage of QR codes in marketing your small business.

What is a QR code?

A QR code is a 2-D barcode that can be scanned by a smart phone's camera and transfer information. Based on the type of code it is, it might direct the viewer to a website, make a phone call, deliver a vCard or more.

How can I market my small business with QR codes?

QR codes are fairly new here in the states (no surprise, they're big in Japan), so many people won't recognize them when they see them or won't have a smart phone with a QR reader installed, which limits their impact. Most current advertisements that use QR codes still have to explain how they work, and the steps the person has to take to access this additional information.

Because of this, you need to determine if QR codes are a good fit for your business and your audience. If you feel there's a place for QR codes in your marketing toolbox, here are some creative suggestions on how you can take advantage of QR codes.

  1. QR Codes on business cards. OK, not the most creative idea ever. In fact, this is probably the de facto way many businesses use QR codes. Rather than overload a business card with all of your contact info you could include the bare minimum for reaching you, then create a QR code that leads people to your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Plaxo, Yelp, FourSqure, Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Whrrl, and MySpace profiles. Little muss, little fuss.
  2. Scavenger hunts. Again, for some reason this appears on every list of QR code marketing ideas. Probably because scavenger hunts are fun and engaging, although a lot easier to write about than to administer. Still, for destination marketing, a scavenger hunt approach can be a great way to get visitors to check out places they might not otherwise go.
  3. Labeling. Somewhere, a restaurant patron is enjoying wine from your vineyard. They notice the QR code on the bottle and quickly scan it. That takes them to a mobile site where they can learn more about your wine, your vineyard, and links to where you can buy a case for delivery...all before the check comes.
  4. Storefront displays. Few retail businesses are open 24/7. Don't (fully) disappoint potential customers after you've left for the day. Create a Shop Online Now! QR code and put it in your storefront window. One quick scan and you've turned a potential lost sale into an online customer who's going to share a lot more of their contact information with you.
  5. Promotions, discounts and giveaways. If you want to encourage patronage from the iPhone and Android set, you could create discounts that are specific to the QR codes. You could run these codes in advertisements or post them throughout your store. You could even turn them into a "retweet" so that your shoppers share their discount with their followers.
  6. 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.
  7. T-shirts. Put your QR code on your t-shirt (or parka, in Maine) for some shameless self-promotion. Or, make a bigger impression by printing up 100 t-shirts and put them on 100 interns and have them attend a public event like a ballgame, street fair or campaign stop. For more engagement from the crowd, put different messages on the shirts, so people take more scans of more of your codes.
  8. Get funky with your QR Code design. QR codes allow a little wiggle room, meaning that you can "hack" the code itself. A famous, early example is the BBC's QR Code. However, you can play around with the QR code once it's been generated in an image editing tool like Photoshop and work in your own logo or brand. Always be sure to test your QR code before printing up a few thousand copies, however.
  9. Use QR codes to get Likes and Follows. You can create mobile-friendly landing pages with Facebook like buttons or lead them to your Twitter page for a quick follow. The name of the game is engagement, so a like or follow can create a long-term marketing opportunity. Caveat: so far the Like buttons that QR tags generate lead to the Facebook website rather than the mobile app. I don't know about you, but I rarely log into Facebook's website from my phone, so that requires extra steps the average person may not be willing to take.
  10. Supplement your retail space. QR codes next to pieces of art could help art galleries move more art, or museums replace those aging audio tape tours. Hardware stores could link to how-to videos on YouTube of how to use specific power tools. Groceries could link to pages that talk about how their products were sourced, and perhaps to interviews of the farmers who grew the food. Electronic shops could bring visitors to review sites so they could get unbiased reviews of stocked products. Or to an e-commerce site where shoppers could buy out-of-stock items. Book stores could link to their own reviews of books on their blog.
  11. Increase e-commerce sales. Since QR codes can lead to URLs, you can create a code that will populate a shopping cart with specific products. (Assuming your e-commerce solution can handle that.)
  12. Build your email subscriber list. Use your QR code to send people to your email signup. Just make sure you give people a compelling reason to subscribe to your list...otherwise you will have just wasted their time. Not the best way to engage your audience.
  13. Get the phone ringing. QR codes can also make a phone call. (Oh, imagine the mischief!) If you want to get the phones ringing--at your business or at campaign headquarters--you can create a code that will dial a predetermined number. Likewise, QR codes can generate SMS text messages.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to use QR codes to connect and engage your audience. QR codes can provide additional information, including photos, reviews, directions and event dates and times. There's a certain amount of fun and surprise with QR Codes, so that you can take advantage of a "what's behind door number one" mentality.

Have you used QR codes in your marketing and communications? If so, how are you using them, and what results have you seen?

Rich Brooks shares thoughts, opinions, and tips on killing zombies on Twitter. Follow that link or just scan this QR.

Follow Rich Brooks on Twitter (@therichbrooks)

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29 Comments

  • Jason E Stevens

    I use a QR code on my business card but for an entirely different reason.  As a recent graduate I am seeking my next career move thus I created business cards with a QR code, when scanned, leads directly to my resume on my website.  I have had some positive feedback thus far and it definitely separates my resume/credentials from the masses.  I find #13 particularly interesting and this could provide a simple way for immediate contact in lieu of punching in digits-Thanks for sharing.  

  • Omar

    I LOVE QR codes! I think they are the most creative and genius inventions of this decade. More people should use them to communicate with others, because the fact is that we do live in a day and age were someone must be carrying around a device that will read a qr code. It's easier than taking down notes or fumbling for a pen or opening that notepad app on your device. Snap a pic of it and scan it and bam you're there.

    I think that QR codes can benefit a lot of people in the social media business!

  • Stuart Lawson

    We would like to add here that FollowMeSticker.com is selling Mini-QR stickers for Social Media accounts to increase word-of-mouth for your storefront. This is highly relevant to this article so I figured I would post this comment here if anyone is looking for this service.

  • SM Johnson

    Great article.  I am trying to paste my qr code as a photo upload on my fb page; it seems to lose its navigation.  The information shows up when you hover over the code, but no reading of the actual code pops up...my QR Droid 4 can't read it.  Any suggestions for posting code in fb or within an email?

  • Clara

    I'm using with great success http://uQR.me I think it's the best tool yet to create, manage and beautify dynamic QR codes. It has statistics and lots of utilities to let me point my QRs where I want. Even to vCards, upload files to my QRs and much more. I would recommend http://uQR.me

  • jblogg

    These are simply "interesting: ways to distribute a QR code - not enough information on the complete experience needed for results, How you get the code out there is useless if the experience isn't what your user is expecting. Here are 5 simple tips from my experience that i think are worth reading before getting creative on how you distribute a qr code:
    http://www.jblogg.com/2011/04/...

  • Kristin

    Did you hear about the girl with a REAL QR code tattoo on her wrist!?  Sounds a little CRAZY, but I guess you could definitely say she is one CEO with “skin in the game”. Pretty cool idea- http://bit.ly/iExQB6

  • Slimads

    SlimAds have QRCodes and offer even more. SlimAds are rich media, viral listings/widgets for the web, TV , Mobile and print. Free to create and share at www.slimads.com. Uses of SlimAds are many .

  • Founders@SlimAds

    SlimAds have QRCodes and offer much more . SlimAds are rich media viral listings/widgets for the web, TV, Mobile and print. Free to create at www.slimads.com

  • Matt Skinner

    QR code marketing is off the chart.. I have successfully been using it
    to build my business online and offline check out this article on QR
    codes the future of marketing... -
    http://bit.ly/lV6G7U

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  • Johnny Dallis

    If you are looking for QR code marketing solutions, look no further than Barcode Connections. They allow you to design and create barcodes, but best of all YOU CAN TRACK AND ANALYZE WHO SCANS YOUR BARCODE, & WHEN, WHERE, AND HOW OFTEN IT IS SCANNED! With this tool, businesses, realtors, and organizations can track the effectiveness of each of their QR codes, and know how long people spend on your website after scanning the QR code.