A beginners guide to QR codes

QR Codes are a familiar sight to most people these days. The square, often black-and-white cluster resembling static from an old analogue TV can be seen on posters, menus, flyers, business cards and a myriad of other locations in our day-to-day lives but where did they come from and why are they used so badly? This post will give you the low down on the history of the QR code and offer you some sage advice on how to best utilise them in your marketing efforts.

What is a QR code?

QR Code

These discrete little codes have been used for almost two decades in manufacturing but many people still don’t know what QR stands for. That’s simple: Quick Response. In the simplest definition, a QR code is “a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and smartphones” (Source: Wikipedia). They can be used to store up to 7089 characters of information making them ideal for storing basic information such as a website URL, contact details or product specification details. The inherently “quick response” nature of the codes makes them suitable for a range of applications.

A very brief history of QR codes

In 1994 Denso Wave, a Toyota group subsidiary company, invented what we know today as the QR code in order to help automotive parts manufacturers to track their products. The DENZO WAVE INC. QR code website states “in the automotive industry, shipping slips and receipts are encoded with QR codes containing customer data, shipper data, product number, quantity, and other data.” QR codes were used in manufacturing for well over a decade before they become something that the general public could use via their own smartphone. Since then, QR codes have found their way on to almost everything including magazine adverts, currency and even gravestones.

Where should you use QR codes?

The point of a QR code is to allow a user to get access to digital data quickly without the need for extensive manual input. By adding a QR code to your business card you could enable the recipient to add your contact details to their address book without the need to manually type in all the information. When used for sales and marketing campaigns you should be looking to drive people to your owned digital media, e.g. a QR code on a print ad could take people to a product demonstration video on YouTube. Make sure that the QR code is well positioned; I once saw a theatre production poster on the London underground where the QR code was at ankle height thus making it awkward to access.

QR codes: The final word

While QR codes still have a relatively low usage rate, they are gaining in popularity amongst UK smartphone users. This is good news for marketers who have been trying with limited success to implement them in their campaigns, although this could well be due to poor implementation of QR codes as much as anything else. The future of QR codes seems bright and with some creative thinking about how they are used, they are likely to further integrate online and offline campaigns. Just make sure you don’t do what I saw one restaurant doing: adding a QR code to a PDF of their menu… on their printed menu.

QR Code Statistics

  • 11.4% of UK smartphone users reported using QR codes in the three months prior to July 2012. This represents a 43% increase on the previous year. Source: comScore
  • The main users of QR codes are males aged 18-34 Source: Venturebeat








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