The Way We Work
March 28, 2011 by Julia Camenisch

Interested in promoting your small business or freelance services using a free technology with recent growth rates of 1600%? Yes, the customers are flocking to a new advertising medium. The cost for you to implement it is zilch. Oh, and did I mention the enormous potential for effectively engaging customers and adding value and efficiency to your operations?  What's not to like? It's all about the power of 2D codes, often known by their more popular incarnation, QR Codes. These small black and white boxes are becoming a  key offline marketing tool for businesses both large and small.

First, a quick primer. 2D codes are a variation of the standard barcode, often  seen on the back of various retail products. The difference between  these codes and their striped cousins is the amount of information that can be held in them. 2D codes can hold roughly 1700 to 7000 characters,  depending on the type of data stored. In real world terms, these codes store A LOT of information and are very versatile data containers.

When a 2D code is scanned by a smartphone, it can send the phone's user a  variety of information. The code can direct them to a webpage, provide an ebook, link to a video, dial a phone number, be used as an e-ticket with an airline or even become an invoice in a  mobile payment system.  There are several flavors of 2D codes, with the primary flavors being QR  (quick response) Codes and Microsoft Tag Codes.

Those are the basics. But how can you effectively utilize these codes for your business? Here are 3 ways to get you started:
  • Enhance Your Business Card: As a video producer, my demo reel is what draws in new clients. But when interacting with potential customers, I might not have the reel DVDs on hand. And it can be a little awkward trying to help a smartphone user key in my site's long URL.  Problems no longer with a 2D code printed on my card! When a prospect scans the code on the business card with their smartphone, they're automatically taken to my online reel. If you're a photographer or web designer, you can use this too - just link to your online portfolio. Another option is embedding your contact information within the code. Then, instead of "bumping" phones to give your number to a colleague, they can simply scan the card and the details will be automatically added to their contacts list.
  • Tell 'Em What They Want to Know: From restaurants to retail stores, QR Codes are an accessible way to give customers easy acceCustomer reading informationss to information. For example, in all US Best Buy stores, QR Codes have been added to products' fact tags. When a customer scans one, they can read more about the product and access user reviews. Not only does this provide a better shopping experience for the customer, it also gives Best Buy some great data on what's happening in their local stores. Embedded in the QR Code's URL is the store number. This enables the company to see what products are most popular in each store, as well as allowing them to customize the user's experience based on the store they are in. The possibilities for implementation are endless, and it's only a matter of time before consumers expect this instant access to what they want to know.
  • Pull Your Offline Customers Online: There's only so much that can be shared about your company through magazine ads, promotional posters or brochures. But with 2D codes included in each of these mediums, the communication potential is moved to a whole new level. For a brick and mortar retail store, you can add a QR Code to the "Closed" sign. The code will direct customers to your online store. For a non-profit, you can add a 2D code to print ads that will take readers to a video promoting your project. Wanting to find out more about an upcoming sports event or concert, consumers can scan the poster's QR Code and see a trailer or find out stats about players. There's two things to keep in mind when using 2D codes in this way: First, you must direct them to a mobile-optimized site. (For more info on this, read my past article on Making Websites Mobile Friendly.) Second, you must provide valuable information. If a customer scans your code and is disappointed at what appears, you've just lost trust. They'll be much less likely to scan something from you in the future. So wherever you send them, make it worth their time.

And those options are just the start. To get those creative juices flowing, check out this list of 50 Creative Uses of QR Codes. Now it's your turn. How have you implemented 2D codes? Do you think they're the next "big thing" or just a passing fad? Weigh in with your thoughts below.


Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.