A QR code is a type of barcode anyone can scan and read with the camera in their smartphone. The technology, invented by Hara Masahiro in 1994 for high-speed scanning of auto components, caught on among marketers in the early 2010s but then faded into relative obscurity as consumer adoption was deemed weak and the technology cumbersome. However, the tiny jumbled squares, whose initials stand for Quick Response, have seen a brisk resurgence and greater acceptance in the past year, thanks in part to the pandemic as customers sought out touchless experiences.
Today, the inexpensive and easy-to-implement technology is being strategically used by entrepreneurs in industries such as food, logistics, manufacturing, media and advertising. And marketers are giving QR codes a second chance this year, placing them on the packaging, retail displays and out-of-home ads. Each QR code can contain up to 7,089 characters and in their simplest form can simply point users to the correct website or microsite, but the operational uses of QR codes are limited only by the imagination.
Ways in which businesses can leverage QR code technology
Food safety, traceability
As social distancing norms came into play amid the pandemic, QR codes have emerged as an integral part of the revamped operations of restaurants and other food businesses focused on maintaining safety. With common areas and multi-use products deemed a strict no-no, QR codes have played an increasingly important role in offering restaurant menus and specials as an alternative to the traditional printed versions, for example. Food manufacturers are using scannable QR codes to offer recipes, advise the recommended way to serve the product and give tips on preparation. Some food producers are also adding QR codes to offer information about the genesis of their products. For example, seafood companies and restaurants may offer a QR code that upon scanning tells consumers about the supply chain of the fish they have purchased.
Example:Restaurants can place QR codes at each seat in lieu of printed menus to ensure a touchless experience.
Imagine you own a month-old startup and need to quickly build awareness of your business. Advertising is expensive, and your promotion risks being overlooked with ads being a dime a dozen in the eyes of consumers. In the view of many business owners, QR codes are an increasingly viable option to get the word out. Some use them to “talk” to potential customers by showcasing a particular QR code, or by issuing a call to action that takes customers to the desired landing spot upon scanning.
Example: Include a QR code in advertising that leads users to a link where they can download your app.
What does a marketer like more than their campaigns going viral? Obtaining data on customer behaviour and engagement on their website, or understanding how customers respond to their marketing material. QR codes present a unique opportunity by allowing marketers to tap into a wealth of such information. Whenever a customer engages with a QR code, marketers understand they have followed a particular call of action. Knowing that the customer has scanned the QR code for its designated purpose provides marketers with invaluable insight.
Example: Use a QR code on your business card to connect customers to your site, social media, products and more.
QR codes are also being used as a low-risk, cost-effective way to gather customer feedback and to improve engagement. By affixing a QR code to product packaging with messaging for consumers to scan it in the event of a concern or problem, manufacturers can rest assured that instead of the complaint going viral on social media, the feedback will make its way directly to you. This improves the producers’ locus of control and makes for better customer relations. Likewise, if a customer appreciates what you offer and scans a corresponding QR code, their engagement could be leveraged into positive affirmations such as following your business on social media, jotting down positive feedback or even customer referrals.
Example:Allow customers to prepay for products they order online. In return, the customer receives a scannable QR code to present at the store and check out without needing a cashier.
OOH advertising, also known as outdoor advertising, traditionally commands a sizeable investment. Sometimes, the creatives are spot-on and deliver the desired results, but not always. And at times, your OOH spot may not be able to launch at the optimal time. But QR codes present an opportunity that can be leveraged on the fly, simply by adding a code that funnels customers to where you wish. In return, your business derives data and insights while spending much less.
Example:Displaying your QR code promo on a sign, billboard or other OOH format lets you reach consumers in convenient, contextually relevant location. For example, a coffee shop could use a QR code in a high-traffic parking garage to lure commuters looking for their morning java.
And did you know about Apple’s hidden QR code scanner?
Of course, users can open the camera app to scan a QR code. But the iPhone has a dedicated Code Scanner app that takes you a step further by showing all the information you need to see about the code. The Code Scanner can only be found using iPhone’s Spotlight search feature. From your iPhone’s home screen, swipe down in the middle of the screen, then type code or scanner into the search bar. The Code Scanner app will appear as a suggestion; tap to open it.
QR codes are making a comeback because they’re practically made for 2021, in that they are seamless and require zero contact. No longer limited to just packages, QR codes now exist on menus, walls, signage and more, allowing you to transform anything into a tool to engage with customers.
To get started:Just find a QR code generator, generate the code and download it as an image file. Put it anywhere you may regularly place an image.