More small businesses are using Quick Response, or QR, codes to attract and stay connected to customers as consumers increasingly turn to this readily accessible advertising technology to obtain information on products and services. A new generation of QR code technology already is in the works, however, further proof of the rapid-fire pace of digital evolution.
A study by the digital business analytics firm comScore Inc. found that 14 million mobile users in the United States scanned a QR code on their mobile device in June 2011 alone. For the three-month period ending in October 2011, some 20.1 million U.S. mobile phone owners scanned a QR code each month using their device, according to comScore.
“Any smartphone with a camera is a QR code scanner and businesses large and small use them to engage with their mobile customer bases,” says Paul Macchia, Verizon Wireless’s national public relations manager for small and medium-sized business. “The low cost and high interactive aspect of this technology make it a good option for small businesses and provides valuable insights into customers…The most significant business outcome for small businesses though is the chance to engage with customers and build a relationship in a new way.”
QR codes were created in 1994 by Denso Wave Corp., a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp., to enhance speed and efficiency in tracking automotive product as it passed through the assembly process. Since then, they have grown in usage, design and purpose. One great advantage of QR codes is versatility —the ability to facilitate the needs of just about any type of business, from tour companies offering private tours without live travel guides to restaurants publicizing their menus. Contests giveaways, historical information and almost all types of digital information can be coded to display via a QR code.
The ability to transmit an enormous amount of information via a two-dimensional code embedded in a tiny visual depiction is another major advantage of the QR code over its predecessor, the standard barcode. This depiction can
be printed, displayed and, in some instances, carved onto a surface. Once scanned with a smartphone that possesses the necessary application, the code will take the user to a site or display that gives you additional information on the product, service or event.
QR codes are also cost-effective tools for smaller businesses because of the ease with which they are produced. “Small-business owners can use free or paid sites, such as QReate and Track (Qreateandtrack.com) and Delivr (delivr.com) to create their own QR codes and find out the number of scans, location, dates and times used,” Macchia says. Business owners can obtain a QR code generator at these sites and select a basic format to transmit their information. The generator also allows business owners to choose from more complex designs and different color schemes to make their codes more dynamic.
Larger companies are deploying QR codes to attract small-business clients. For example, The Boston Brewing Co.’s Samuel Adams brand developed QR codes to publicize its microloan program for small-business owners. Samuel Adams is placing its codes on posters and signs in bars and restaurants across the country to allow mobile users to find out more about Samuel Adams’s “Brewing the American Dream,” initiative, an initiative designed to help small-business owners through loans and coaching.
To date, QR codes are the most available form of digital advertising with the least problematic track record. Companies such as Smartsy Corp. (smartsy.us) have taken the QR code technology a step further by incorporating visual recognition, which involves the use of an “invisible” ink that is recognized by a code reader. Given the potential of this technology for brand recognition, proponents expect that it will one day overtake the basic QR code, which typically do not show a brand name or image of the brand itself. With Smartsy technology, a potential consumer sees an actual image with its brand name, which, when scanned or photographed by a smartphone or reading device, opens a world of content to the viewer.