What’s a QR code? How to use new 2-D barcodes to link print with the Internet



By Mark Goodman, Guest columnist

What is this 2-D Barcode? How are businesses using it to link print content with their Internet strategies?

Have you ever seen a barcode like the one shown below? In the parlance of the Internet, they are QR codes.

QR code image
A sample QR code, which links from print to the Internet

These two dimensional representatives of data were invented by a Toyota subsidiary, wanting to better track automotive parts in the mid-1990s.    As smartphones became more prevalent, they were adapted to link print to some type of URL.

You may have first seen a QR code in a magazine. I first saw one in a golf magazine in Hawaii a few months ago. Then I started to notice them in fashion and travel publications.    A month later, the codes were visible in such publications as Time, National Geographic,   Chicago Tribune, etc.

So, what kind of content was linked to QR codes? As it turned out, the codes were linked to a variety of media applications.    A fashion line linked to a video that showed behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week. A hair dryer went to a set of slides that provided more information on how the device functioned. The Chicago Tribune linked the movie review section to the film critic’s video review. The Chevy Dealers of Chicago offered a link to a dealer locator.

But print publications are not the only place for a QR code. A direct mail piece    from a local hospital included a QR code linked to registration for an e-newsletter.    A rental property included a QR code linking to a more information on the available apartment. A restaurant put a QR code on the door linked to reviews of the restaurant on Google. A nonprofit is featuring QR codes in its brochure as a bonus for higher level sponsorship.

What are some tips for using QR codes? Here’s a few to consider:

Think about what to link to: Videos and    mobile friendly websites work best. A video allows for the viewer to take the next step in getting to know you. Plus, it does not require the viewer to do anything else other than just press play.

  1. Try out the link on your smartphone before you put it in print. Make sure that the link works well and that the experience on a small screen is reasonable.    One of National Geographic‘s QR Codes linked with a very hard-to-read website.    Then, when you hit the link in the middle of the site, an iPhone went to a Flash site that it could not read.
  2. Lastly, include a little piece explaining how to access a QR code reader.

When creating content, consider how it can be used across various media. At e-Conversation Solutions, our process focuses on the questions that your customers and prospects are asking you. Take those questions and answers and make them part of the dialogue that you have with your community.    Ask a question with a QR code, then answer it in your link.

Remember that a QR code requires a smartphone. Smartphones are the fasted growing category of mobile devices, and they are catching on rapidly among business owners. Still, you won’t reach everyone. But even among those who don’t use smartphones, if nothing else, a QR code will surely start a conversation.

Mark Goodman, founder of e-Conversation Solutions and workshop chair at SCORE

Mark Goodman is the President & CEO of e-Conversation Solutions and workshop chair at SCORE Chicago.  Prior to founding e-Conversation Solutions, Mark held numerous positions as a technology executive, including director of business development at Motorola, where he was the first business manager in the cell phone group. In addition to Motorola, Mark was an executive for a Silicon Valley company and a film buyer for General Cinema Theatres.  Mark holds an MBA from Boston University and an MA in radio/TV/film from Northwestern University.