Sept. 15 2011 01:09 PM

Quick Response (QR) codes are those little square bar codes that are showing up on advertisements, direct mail and product cartons. I’m seeing them used by my clients, so I want to share some thoughts on how to leverage them successfully in your business.

How do they work? QR codes are scanned with a camera on a smartphone. Both the iPhone and Android platforms have code reader apps. Once a code is scanned, it automatically directs the viewer to an internet URL.

Why are they important? With half of all Americans carrying a smartphone, QR codes can provide instant access to rich content, like instructional videos or product information, to customers who are on-the-go.

Experts predict that hand-held devices will surpass desktop computers as a primary means of accessing Internet-based content in the next decade. Many of us are already using phone-based apps to compare prices, update social media accounts or summon a tow truck. In places like Japan, where QR codes have been used for more than 15 years, consumers now rely heavily on smartphones throughout the shopping process.

QR code use in the U.S. increased by 700% in 2010, according to ScanLife.

Typical users are high-income professionals aged 35-54, the core user group for the Apple iPhone, which accounts for nearly 70% of QR code scan activity.

Larger-screen mobile devices like the iPad are making QR codes more viable and attractive. Think about how your customers will be able to access how-to videos, on-line technical calculators, participate in your promotions, “like” your Facebook page or register for your e-newsletter through QR codes. The possibilities are exciting and almost endless.

Are they measurable? When setting up your code, I strongly recommend that you use a tracking service that gives you continuous feedback on how it is being used. Choose one that can provide demographic and usage data, including number and length of page views, the physical location of the scan (typically by state), the type of device and much more. This data can tell you a lot about customers and the type of content they appreciate.

What are the pitfalls? There are two big hurdles. The first is the mobile device. If your code takes the viewer to a destination like a website that is slow or not mobile-friendly, you’ll frustrate your customer. The second is good content. Your QR code needs to link directly to something useful and relevant to the shopping process. Don’t simply bolt on a QR code to your company’s standard static webpage. You’re not adding value by making the customer hunt for what they want. Instead, create mobile-friendly content and direct them right to it.

It won’t take long before your customers are accustomed to using QR codes.

How will you take advantage of this new technology?

Editor’s Note: Jeff Carowitz leads a landscape industry marketing agency. Find him on LinkedIn or at Jeff@StrategicForceMarketing .com