QR Codes, Quick Response Codes, using QR codes in print, benefits of QR codes, QR
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An Introduction to QR (Quick Response) Codes

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An Introduction to QR Codes (Quick Response Codes)

What is a QR code?

An example of a QR code. The text encoded is "Mr Watson, come here - I want to see you."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 space.

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 web address, 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 on smartphones 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.

A group of people using smartphones to scan a billboard-sized Quick Response codePart 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 to find out what a QR code did even if they wanted to.

New smartphones tend to have QR readers built in though, and the codes have been widely embraced in Japan, the home of emerging technologies. So if you are interested in being at the front of the tech-pack (or even if you just want to seem like you are) then adding QR codes to your business cards, advertising posters, point of sale displays, beer mats and presentation folders is probably no bad thing.

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 been scanned by customers. 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 printed design?

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 risk diminishes.

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 contact data).

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 marketing messages.

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 in touch.

This article may mention companies whose names are trademarks or registered trademarks in the UK and abroad. Use of the Registered Trademark symbol (®) or its absence should not be interpreted as any implication of its perceived status as a trademark or registered trademark in the UK and/or abroad. Plain-Talk Print recognises all trademarks and/or registered trademarks.

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