These hideously ugly “Quick Response” codes are nothing new, but over the past decade, people and companies have started getting more and more creative with where and how they use them.
Now, I'll be the first to admit – I generally don't do anything with QR codes when I see them (because they're usually not explained well and I have no idea what will happen if I scan them)… but it wasn't until just recently that I realized – these things can be used for all sorts of different purposes and placed on all kinds of different things.
I've started playing around with QR codes in some of my recent direct mail campaigns and in the process, I've realized – with a little bit of creativity and planning, they can actually be quite useful.
What Can QR Codes Be Used For?
Not long ago, I got an email from a guy named Jordan Crawford. He runs a direct mail service called Scout.
From what I've seen of the service, they're doing some pretty innovative things with direct mail that I've never seen before.
They can generate a unique QR code for every individual recipient on a mailing list. Each QR code is designed to trigger a very specific action from each recipient and then track which people are scanning the QR codes.
Now – this kind of sophistication is WAY above and beyond what I've done with QR codes in my direct mail campaigns, but it's fascinating when you realize what's possible with this technology.
QR codes are incredibly versatile. They're also very simple to create, and they can accomplish all kinds of creative purposes.
The most common way I've seen QR codes used to send users to a website URL… but the possibilities extend far beyond this.
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If a QR code is utilized and presented well, sending users into a thoughtfully designed funnel – it can greatly enhance the desired outcome (again, assuming the recipient actually scans the QR code in the first place… more on that later).
There are billions and billions of ways QR codes can be used.
Here are some of the most common uses…
1. Visiting a Website
Probably the most common use of QR codes is sending users to a website URL.
Whether you're trying to build an email list, sell a product online or get people to engage with your content – you can send people anywhere on the internet.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
This is a powerful thing.
Of course, you'll want to be smart about which URL you send people to. Most smart marketing won't just send people to their homepage. They'll create a specific landing page that continues to push users through a marketing funnel (e.g. – getting them to submit some information, watch a video or learn more about the company's product or service).
It's not a bad idea for the landing page to reference and acknowledge how the user got there. For example, if you created a unique QR code and placed on your business card, your landing page could say,
“It was nice to meet you!”
If you created a unique QR code and placed it on your mail piece, your landing page could say,
“Glad you got our postcard!”
If you created a unique QR code and placed it on your powerpoint side, your landing page could say,
“Thanks for attending our presentation!”
Don't just send them to a generic page with no personality. Treat them like a real person and usher them along to the next stage of your business relationship.
2. Dialing a Phone Number
QR codes are also a great way to get prospective clients to call you. Whether you choose to send these callers to a pre-recorded voicemail message or answer the calls live, this can be WAY easier than making people type in your phone number manually.
3. Linking to Social Media Accounts
If you're working on building your social following (and you probably should be), QR codes are a great way to send users directly to your various online social profiles so they can like, follow, subscribe and connect with you on social media.
QR codes are kind of ugly, to begin with – but the good news is, you can tweak the appearance of your QR codes quite a bit. This goes for the colors you use, the images you incorporate into them and even the shapes that make up the design as a whole.
Here are four designs I created for free through QRcode-monkey.com.
Pretty cool, huh?
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some other creative things you can use QR codes for…
4. PDF Downloads
5. YouTube Videos
6. Google Maps Locations
7. SMS Messages
8. Email Messages
9. PayPal “Buy Now” Links
10. Image Files
11. Dropbox, Google Drive or One Drive Links
12. Sharing Contact Information
13. Attendance Tracking
14. App Store Downloads
15. View Business Locations
16. Directions to any location (starting from the user's location)
17. Promotions, discounts, raffles, and giveaways
18. Issuing Receipts
19. Calendar Invites
20. Online Store, Menu or Product List
…and the list goes on, and on, and on.
You can even create dynamic QR codes. Meaning – you can edit an existing QR code in the future and change the type and/or the information it contains. If you change your mind about what a particular code will make the user do, you can make it happen!
Where to Place QR Codes
Want to know what's even cooler? You can put QR codes on virtually anything.
As long as people can see the QR code through the camera app on their phone (currently, the iPhone is able to scan these with the native camera app), they can get where you want them to go.
Here are a few practical (and creative) places you can place a QR code:
- Business Cards
- Powerpoint Presentations
- YouTube Videos
- Company Logos
- Social Media Profiles
- Craigslist Listings
- Car Magnets
- Temporary Tattoos
- Permanent Tattoos (if you're really hardcore)
- Trade Show Booths
- “For Sale By Owner” Signs
- Bandit Signs
- Within Blog Posts
- Coffee Mugs
- Tickets, Passes, Admission Bracelets
- Shipping Boxes
- Bus stops and subway stations
- Print Advertisements
- Product Packaging
The Problem With QR Codes (and How to Fix it)
In my opinion, there's still a big problem with QR codes. Most people don't understand what to do with them.
These things are supposed to be easy to use (and once you know what to do with them, they actually are), but most of us don't automatically reach for our phones and point it at every QR code we see.
Part of the problem is – most people don't realize how easy it is to use these things. iPhone users can use the native camera app on their phone, and Android users can do it fairly easily as well. You don't need to download a special app.
If you want your target audience to do something with your QR code, you have to “hold their hand” a little.
For example, suppose you see this on the side of a bus one day – with no explanation:
Would stop what you're doing, reach for your phone and try to scan this thing?
If I have no idea what it's about, what it will do, and no compelling reason to engage with it – why would I exert any effort to scan this thing?
And yet, this is how most companies employ QR codes today.
Remember, most people still have no idea how to use QR codes, and even if they do understand how to use them, they need a compelling reason to take out their phone and scan it (not to mention, they need to trust the source to some degree).
One subtle way to encourage people to use your QR codes is to give them some instructions (even if you simply include the words “SCAN ME” somewhere with the image, that's better than nothing). Here are a few examples:
Note: These were created FOR FREE on qr-code-generator.com.
Be Smart About QR Codes
QR codes can be pretty brilliant little pieces of technology, but they're only as brilliant as you are.
Think carefully about how you're going to use them.
Remember, people are going to scan your QR code on their phone… which means we need to keep a few key things in mind:
- If you're sending people to a website, it needs to be a mobile-friendly website.
- You should only display the QR code where people will have an adequate wifi or phone signal.
- You should only show QR codes in locations where they can be easily and safely be scanned (think twice about putting these on a billboard next to the highway).
- Make sure the QR code image is large and clear enough that ALL phones will be able to scan them.
Most QR codes are pretty ugly, to begin with – so it's also smart to think about where and how you're going to incorporate it into the overall aesthetic of the object or image, and whether it will stand out or blend in with its surroundings.
Free QR Codes Generators
Do a quick Google search and you'll find that there are a TON of free sites out there that will help you create your own QR codes for free (and of the few sites I tested out, they all seemed to work pretty well). Here are a few I've had a good experience with:
QRcode-monkey.com – This was probably my favorite one. Easy to use. Easy to customize in a number of ways. No account required.
QR-code-generator.com – Another solid QR code generator that offers lots of different options and variations on what the code looks like and what it does (a free account is required to use the site). It also has some impressive QR code tracking functionality built into it.
QRstuff.com – I haven't used this site much, but from what I've seen, it seems to be a huge resource for all things related to QR codes. They even offer some tracking functionality (if you're a subscriber) and the ability to create dynamic QR codes.