QR Codes: A Marketing Tool for Your Business

by Cathy Zimmermann

Should you be using QR codes in your marketing plan?

QR codes are finally gaining momentum in the United States, but these square two dimensional bar codes are everywhere in Japan, where they were originally devised to track auto parts by Denso (now Denso Wave Incorporated) in 1994. Smartphone users snap pictures of QR codes on products or advertising, then a reader app decodes and displays the information or link contained in the code. Denso Wave owns the patent, but has chosen not to charge a licensing fee for its use.


Why should you care about QR codes?

For little or no cost, QR codes provide an extra level of communication between you and your customers, and increase your exposure to potential new customers. In just a few seconds, they can snap a picture of the QR code and decode it, to display your contact information or a link to a landing page or a video. Commercial QR code generators can provide you with analytics and customize the design to include your logo, but you will pay a fee for their service. URL shorteners goo.gl and bit.ly create QR codes automatically for shortened links and provide some free analytics. (On goo.gl, click on "details" and on bit.ly, click on "info page.")

Make it easy for Facebook users to "Like" your page.

QR Code for

QR codes can connect your customers to your content or social media platform instantly. A QR code on your product means that everyone who comes in contact with it has a quick and easy way to find you and buy it for themselves. On your printed material, you can give your customers access to information that wasn't available at the time of printing. Link to a video, a coupon, a Google Maps location, a special offer or an mp3 download.

 A QR code on your delivery truck could turn passersby into new customers. On a menu or food packaging, the QR code can link to nutritional information.

A QR code on a power tool can link to a video on how to use it, an online instruction manual or a form for replacement parts and service. On stickers, posters, shopping bags, postcards, tee shirts, tote bags, hats or billboards, QR codes are a cost-effective call to action for your customers.


Who's using QR codes?

Anyone. Everyone.

  • Tesco/Home Plus has created virtual grocery stores on South Korean subway platforms. While waiting for a train, shoppers can walk the "aisles" (photographs of full grocery store shelves on station walls,) capture QR codes to send items to a virtual shopping cart, pay electronically and schedule home delivery.
  • Famous Dave's BBQ restaurants offer a QR code option to sign up for their P.I.G. Club (Pretty Important Guest.)
  • Funeral Innovations has developed "Remembrance Codes," QR codes that link to photos, videos and tributes on a funeral home's online memorial pages, and can be included in the program for the funeral service or even permanently mounted under glass on a headstone.
  • The Royal Dutch Mint included a QR code in the design of a commemorative coin. It links to a video of the historic Mint Building in celebration of its 100th birthday.
  • The Empire State Building uses QR codes to engage visitors waiting on lines for the Observation Deck and Observatory with its Multi-Media Sustainability Exhibit.
  • Jerry Harrison of Swoosh! in Myrtle Beach used a QR code for his marriage proposal. The video link is a personal history of their courtship modeled after YouTube’s Google Search Stories.

How Do I Get a QR Code?

There are many "free" QR Code generators, but read the fine print- free code is usually for non-commercial use only. Kaywa is the most popular of these, and it supplies free QR code readers as well. Website Magazine recommends ScanLife for reasonable commercial pricing and quality analytics, and the Google-hosted open source project, ZXing (Zebra Crossing,) which is free and posts no restrictions for commercial use on its no-frills website.

How does it work?

Labor Law Posters from Business Know-How

Labor Law Posters from
Business Know-How

Because 2D codes are read both horizontally and vertically, they can hold more information than a horizontal bar code. The three corner squares tell the code reader which side is up. The chunky pixels create a high contrast image that should be quick and easy to read with a smart phone or iPod Touch (4th generation) and a QR code reader app. How well this actually works will depend on the quality of the device's camera, the quality of the snapshot and the dependability of the code reader app. Smart phone cameras without autofocus may not produce a sharp enough image to be read. The same thing goes for a snapshot taken in low light or while the camera is moving. As smart phone camera quality improves and reliable reader apps are developed for all smart phone platforms, QR codes will undoubtedly be a powerful marketing tool for everyone.

Cathy is a staff writer and digital media producer at Business Know-How and a graduate student in the Stony Brook Southampton MFA program for writing and digital media.
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