An Introduction to QR Codes (Quick Response Codes)
What is a QR code?
A Quick Response code is simply a barcode, much like the black and white
vertical stripes you see on items in a supermarket. Whereas supermarket barcodes
only store a small amount of information (typically, the 13 numbers which
identify the product), QR codes can store a lot more information in a smaller
This is because they use a grid of dots, rather than simple vertical black
and white bars, which is why they are described as 2D (two dimensional) barcodes.
They also have a sophisticated mathematical formula, or algorithm, which
compresses the number of dots needed to store the data. In this way, a
relatively small QR code can store quite detailed information, such as a
a person's name, or even that person's entire contact details.
How does a customer use a Quick Response code?
A customer needs to have a small piece of software (an app) installed on
their phone, called a QR Reader. Software does exist for other devices,
such as the iPad 2 and some digital cameras, but it is most often found
for two reasons: first, smartphones are the devices most people are likely
to have with them when they see a QR code; and second, smartphones have
web browsers built in so that the QR code can load a webpage.
This short (1 minute) video shows a Japanese customer using a smartphone
to read a Quick Response code from the front page of a magazine, which takes
the customer to the publication's website.
QR codes can also do
other things when read by a smartphone, such as compose a text message which
the customer can send instantly (useful for opting in to text-marketing campaigns)
or simply to display a few words on the customer's screen.
Why do I need them?
The short answer is: you probably don't. Although QR codes have been around
since 1994, they have only recently found their way into the marketer's toolbox,
and while QR gurus will declare that they are the most important thing in
marketing today, the reality is they have been slow to catch on.
Part of the reason for their sluggish uptake is the general lack of awareness
amongst consumers of what they actually are.
Some marketers point to this
fact as a benefit though – the curiosity factor, whereby consumers
look at a QR code and are motivated to find out what it is. However, few
people have QR readers installed on their phones, and so would be unable
out what a QR code did even if they wanted to.
Where can I get a Quick Response code and how much do they cost?
There are firms which will charge you handsomely to provide print-ready
QR codes, but the reality is there are dozens of websites which offer them
completely free of charge.
Our recommendation if you want a Quick Response code to direct
customers to your website is http://bit.ly (the
site which shortens long web addresses) because it gives you statistics
on how often your code has
All of this analysis is free of charge, and bit.ly are likely to add more
detail to their statistical tools over the coming months as QR codes become
more popular in Europe and North America.
If you want a QR code to do something else, we recommend http://qrcode.kaywa.com which
allows you to create codes containing text, a phone number or a text
message, as well as a website address.
What do I need to think about if I want to use Quick Response codes in a
The single most important factor is the size of the code. For a code to
work properly, the QR reader must be able to interpret it with 100% accuracy,
because if it 'reads' a single character incorrectly, then the webpage or
phone number which is decodes will be wrong. The smaller the printed size
of the code, the greater the risk that the QR reader will misread it, although
as smartphone cameras increase ever further in quality and resolution, this
Our advice is that a QR code from bit.ly should not be printed at a size
smaller than 20mm square. QR codes which include more data, and therefore
have more densely-packed dots, should be reproduced at a larger size.
We would always recommend you check the QR code on our proofs using a QR
reader, to make absolutely certain it scans accurately, and performs the
correct action (ie. taking you to the right website or displaying the correct
Are they really something I should be interested in?
It all depends on the importance you place on being seen to be at the forefront
of new developments, and of course, on your target market. Younger consumers
are most likely to have a QR-enabled smartphone, and will also embrace the
curiosity factor of QR codes much more readily as they become more widespread.
If the 16-30 age range constitutes the majority of your audience, you should
certainly be considering how you can use Quick Response codes.
If your product or service is less technology-oriented, or your customers
are unlikely to use smartphones, then a QR code at best simply wastes space,
and at worst, can alienate consumers who appreciate more traditional or conventional
I have some more questions...
Although we are no experts on marketing using QR codes, we can help you
with creating them, and naturally we can offer advice in incorporating them
into designs intended for print. Please contact us on 01457 778788 or see our other ways of getting
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