What is a QR Code?

Zellie Friedman
By Zellie Friedman

QR codes are marketing tools that have been around for a while now, but do you actually understand their purpose and how they work? Before you brush them off as old technology, you should know that QR codes can still be very effective when they are properly weaponized, and take very little time and money to implement.

We’ll cover the history of these clever little boxes of code, and tell you how you could, and should, still take advantage of QR codes today.

So… What Is A QR Code, Anyway?

A QR code is a two-dimensional version of the barcode that can be read by smartphones. The QR code was created in Japan, where it was originally used to help optimize logistics in the automotive industry. As smartphone use became more widespread, the QR code was adapted to be a useful piece of mobile marketing.

The name QR is short for Quick Response because of how quickly the smartphone can read the information hidden in the code. A QR code can be used to transfer a piece of media and put it on your cell phone through things like magazines, supermarkets, billboards, t-shirts, fliers, banners, business cards, and more.

After you read the code with your phone, you can pull information about whatever it is the code was associated with. If the code is for a business, you can see their product offerings and search nearby locations. A QR code on a billboard for a movie may bring you to a link to the movie’s trailer and possibly get a coupon to go see it. QR codes can also save a contact to the user’s list or a location to their address book.

QR codes are capable of storing URL links, text, digital coordinates, and more data that will be useful to customers. They are more modern, effective version of barcodes, that allow people to learn about a business or event on the go and take the information along with them.

What Are Dynamic QR Codes?

Once you generate a standard QR code, you can no longer change the content, but with a Dynamic QR code, you can. Dynamic QR codes will point to a static URL that hosts content, but the content on the site can be changed after the QR code has been printed.

How Does Your Smartphone Read A QR Code?

For most smartphones, you will need to download a QR code reader app in order for your phone to be able to read the codes. However, some newer phones have the functionality already built in. If you have an iOS device such as an iPhone, you can find plenty of QR code readers in the App Store, such as i-nigma. Android users can download Barcode Scanner by ZXing. Most of these apps will be free.

When you have the app installed and want to scan a code, you simply start the application and hold your phone’s camera over the QR code to scan. If the code is readable, the link that the QR code directs to should then automatically pop up on your phone.

Modern web browsers are also capable of reading QR codes. You can scan the codes right through your web browser on Firefox and Chrome through devices that have webcams. You can also send a link from your phone to your desktop or vice versa.

How Do You Make A QR Code?

QR codes are easy and often free to make through various sites and applications. You can create one in literally seconds — Google even has its own QR code generator. Basically, all you have to do on your end is find a website that will generate a QR code, choose the type of code you want to create, then plug in the address you would like the code to link to and that’s it. You’ll click “create QR code” and it will be ready for you to use after you choose the image format you want for your code. But since you can’t modify the page after the code has been created, you’ll need to make sure you have the page you want to link to all set first.

What Can You Put On A QR Code?
If you so choose you can enter up to 7,089 digits or 4,296 characters, including punctuation marks and special characters, onto a single QR code. In addition to whatever words and phrases you want to code in, you will also encode a web address that the code will link to as well. The more data you add into the code, the more complex the code structure will become.

How Would You Use A QR Code For Marketing?

Glad you asked! That’s kind of our area of expertise.

Small and large businesses alike can still use QR codes in a number of ways. You can easily add them to your product listings on your website, so shoppers can pull contact information directly to their phones. You can add them to your business cards so anyone you leave it with can easily access your website. Put them on your flyers, posters, invites, or any other print advertising. You can even add them to your social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and more. Essentially anywhere you have visual marketing, you can add a QR code.

Over the years, QR codes have become a vital and easy-to-use marketing tool. They are beloved for their versatility, as they can fit virtually any marketing campaign. Modern QR code readers also help companies reach their target customers.

QR codes are valuable because they provide a direct, immediate link to your website, giving you opportunities for your customers to engage with you. Your QR code can be used for something as simple as providing contact information or event dates and product descriptions, or you can plug entire special promotions and sweepstakes, coupons, and even online polls. There are no limits to what you can attach to a code, basically anything that you can display on the web can be linked by a QR code.

The codes are easily accessible, incredibly low cost, and can be applied universally across a variety of platforms. They can reach your audience at any time, in any place. There are also no middle men involves, just you and your customers.

The success of your QR code (which remember, took almost no time or expense to create) can easily be measure. You can use analytical tools to see how much web traffic was generated by your QR code. This makes the success of your campaign incredibly transparent and traceable.

Will My Customers Use QR Codes?

QR codes certainly aren’t as prevalent as they were at their inception, but they still hold value if people use them to gain entry to your site. Since such minimal effort is required to create and include them in your materials, any traffic generated from them can seem like a win.

Beyond sales and traffic, you can also measure the success via customer engagement. Customers aren’t tricked into scanning a QR code — they actively choose to. They are requesting more information about you and your product voluntarily, which means you are getting not just traffic, but engaged potential buyers. This is extra valuable today, when consumers encounter so much advertising every day that they never asked for.
QR codes can also be great tools for you to use to capture your customer’s contact information. You can then use their data for future marketing campaigns and will help build stronger email lists to whom you will send your materials. By opening this dialog, it may lead to further interactions and customer loyalty.

QR Codes May Be Old, But They’re Here To Stay

There are literally billions of people in the world who have smartphones. Most marketing has already shifted toward mobile, as more and more people primarily use their phones to shop and gain information. Mobile marketing itself is very versatile, giving you a wide range of options.

Growing and better network coverage means more people will continue to use their phones as their primary devices. As long as the trend continues, QR codes will continue to hold value as a way to meet customers in real time.

Zellie is a Social Media Manager at Power Digital who is passionate about growing brands’ audiences and engagement on social organically. Zellie loves the challenge of working with clients from a variety of industries; from consumer pet products to B2B security companies.