QR-Codes. You've probably seen them and not paid a lot of attention. They are the square black and white "matrices" you see on outdoor advertising or in magazines. They are becoming more and more common, yet a lot of people don't know what they can do for their businesses.
QR Codes are just one of many bar codes that have been developed since 1950 when the first bar codes for rail car identification were developed. Of course if you buy anything in a store you see the ubiquitous UPC bar code that was developed in the mid 1960's for grocery stores. Where the UPC bar code is one dimensional (you scan from left to right), a QR code is two dimensional (scanning from left to right and top to bottom), so it can hold a lot more information. The QR Code is not the first two dimensional bar code to be used, PDF417 is used by the Postal Service for postage and airlines for their boarding passes. QR Code stands for Quick Response Code and was originally developed in Japan for inventory tracking in the auto industry.
But QR Codes have seen an explosion in use as marketing tools. With a greater percentage of the population carrying smart phones, mostly iPhone or Android, with cameras and web browsers, smart marketers have discovered you can make it easy to go from a sign or magazine article to a related website. While "typing" in a URL on a smart phone might be hard enough to discourage visiting a URL, free applications on all major smart phone platforms make taking a picture of a QR Code and being whisked to that website simple.
The good news is the applications to create QR Codes and the applications to use QR Codes on your smart phone are free, so there is no barrier to starting to use QR Codes for your business. In fact, even if you don't think there will be a lot of traffic from a QR Code in your ad or at your place of business, having one shows you are up to date with the times. It's free, it's easy, so adding one or more should be a no brainer.
To create a QR Code on-line you can go to either QR Code Generator by Delivr or QRals.com- QR Code App to generate your own QR Code for free. The first offers .EPS output which would be good for printed materials, QRals is the de-facto standard for generating .JPG or .PNG files for other uses. Either will generally work. Just remember to use a high enough resolution that you can scale down rather than scaling up.
I would recommend you use a special URL with its own landing page. That way you can tailor the message and if you have Google Analytics installed you can see who used your QR Code to get to your website.
More information is one application for a QR Code. Another might be a discount coupon or contest people could enter by scanning a QR Code. The possibilities are limited by your imagination (or by what you can learn by Googling "QR Code uses").
Beyond marketing applications, think about what other uses you can put QR Codes to work doing. Since you can encode any text in a QR Code, you could use a QR Code to make it fast for an employee clock in or clock out of a specific place. Or you could track your inventory using QR Codes, something they were designed to do in the first place.
The bottom line is automated data entry is an overlooked productivity tool. The UPC revolutionized retail sales. QR Codes are changing how advertising and smart phones interact. And there are lots of other uses that you can put a QR Code to. Even if it is just to show that you are keeping up with the times, you should start putting QR Code links to your website on printed materials. I'd love to see any examples you have come up with.