Quick Response Codes, or QR Codes for short, are those funny looking little black and white squibs that you see on subway signs, magazine advertisements and lots of other places these days.
QR Codes are a variation of the bar code – also known as the Universal Product Code (UPC) – which has been used since the 1970s at retail checkout areas. Bar codes also are commonly used for inventory purposes.
QR Codes were first used in 1994, when engineers at a Japanese factory owned by a subsidiary of Toyota wanted to create a three-dimensional version of the bar code that could hold exponentially more information and that could be decoded at faster speeds. The first QR Code was used to control the inventory of automobile parts as they moved through the manufacturing process.
How QR Codes Work
Unlike UPCs – which are mechanically scanned by a narrow beam of light – QR Codes are scanned as a two-dimensional image by a semiconductor image sensor. This image is then digitally analyzed by the processor the scanning device.
The processor detects the three distinctive squares at the corners of the image, and – with the help of a fourth smaller square in the fourth corner – automatically converts the image into a standard size, orientation and angle of viewing. The tiny dots are then converted into binary code, which is matched against an error-detecting code.
The binary code can represent anything, such as text or an image, but in most cases it is a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), or an Internet address.
Uses and Benefits
Anybody with a mobile phone or tablet can scan a QR Code. Scanning apps are free and can be downloaded instantly on iTunes, Google Apps, the Android store and elsewhere.
Other apps let users generate and print their own QR Codes for others to scan and be diverted a device to a URL, eliminating the need to the user to copy down and type in a web address.
QR Codes are used widely in advertising. But they also can be used by online marketers to promote offers and to send traffic to web pages. Other uses for QR Codes include:
- Visiting a Google+ or Facebook profile
- Showing your branding on textiles such as t-shirts or bags and even mugs
- Checking in on recommendation services like foursquare
- Using QR codes in blogs
- Playing a YouTube video
- Easily installing an app from the App Store or Android Market
- Sending a predefined short message (premium services)
- Sending a Tweet with your content
Mobile Marketing Uses
QR Codes are most frequently used for mobile marketing. They are supported by Google’s mobile Android operating system; in iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod; on BlackBerry devices, on the Windows Phone, and even on the Nintendo 3DS.
Once scanned, QR Codes can use a URL to lead users to website where they can view useful content. This can include expanded product information, locations and store hours of the places where the product can be purchased, and even links to buy the product right away.
QR Codes also can be used for mobile tagging. This is when you capture the reading device’s phone number and automatically send an email or text message either right away or at some predetermined future time. Mobile tagging also can launch a sequence of email swipes designed to build excitement and encourage brand loyalty.