If you’re a marketing geek like me, you’re probably having fun trying to understand the value of the latest craze, QR (Quick Response) codes. These two-dimensional bar codes have been in use in Japan since 1994 but are now starting to take the US by storm. Well, maybe it’s a light rain.

QR codes can help you engage your customers, drive sales and encourage brand loyalty. That’s, of course, if you use QR codes to provide real value or a unique experience.

How they work

Unlike one-dimensional bar codes that have one line of data, QR codes have higher information density. Smartphone users who install one of many free QR code readers, like the popular i-nigma, can simply take a picture of the code and be sent to a web page, text or phone number.

In addition to the black and white QR codes, you may also notice more colorful codes from Microsoft. These codes allow the marketer to design the code, by including a picture or logo, for example. But at least for now, they are not as easily generated as the open source QR codes, like the ones you create from Google.

Make it Worth Their Time

I’ve been busy shooting as many QR codes as I can find to see which ones I like; which provide a good experience and value. You’ll find QR codes breathing new life into your magazines, brochures and catalogs but you’ll also see them on billboards, at point of purchase displays in stores, on homes for sale, on business cards and on business swag. The possibilities are endless.

While it’s not time consuming to shoot a QR code, the company better make it worth my while. Don’t send me to your website, for example, when I could easily get there on my own. Give me something unique and valuable. Make my life easier in some way.

Use your QR codes to give consumers access to a special video, song download or coupon. Or, use a QR code to make it easy for them to link them to your Facebook page, Twitter account or YouTube channel. You can send people to recipes from food in the grocery store or a Yelp review at a restaurant.

JPL Brand Promise video

For a B2B company, consider providing a code to make it easier for people to follow you on a social media site, or watch your brand promise video to learn more about your company. QR codes can also be used to engage an audience at a meeting or event by encouraging them to share it via social media, like we recently did for TechQuest PA’s awards gala.

In all cases, make sure your QR code not only provides a unique experience but also actually works. There is no sense in creating a QR code and sending people to a website that is not mobile friendly, for example, since people would be interacting with the code from their phones.

Make it Something They Can Share

Part of the beauty of using QR codes is that if you engage the consumer with the content and ask them to share it, they might. Make it easy for the user to share the link via social media. You could even encourage the user to share in exchange for a coupon. Even without the incentive, people want to share something interesting so a good link can help put many brand ambassadors to work for your company.

Good QR Code Examples

Dick's Sporting Goods QR Code

Dick’s Sporting Goods put the tiny QR code on the big screen for Dallas Cowboys fans to use. The code on the Jumbotron screens rolled out the company’s new mobile site and sent people to a special coupon to use on the site.

Marketers for the Detroit Red Wings are using QR codes to engage the fans. The codes placed on souvenir programs drive hockey lovers to special team videos on YouTube, building their brand and hopefully, driving repeat ticket sales and increasing merchandise sales.

How to Generate a QR Code

Generating a QR code is simple. From Google, for example, you can create a short URL and in one click, turn that URL into a QR code — loaded with analytics. Remember: while smartphones are gaining popularity every day, not everyone has one and not all smartphone owners care about QR codes. Be sure to extend the same offer to everyone by providing a URL near your QR code to increase your chances of success with this new marketing tool.