Thursday, August 4, 2011

Know The Code!

Maybe you've seen them out there.  Funky looking squares that look more like those "Magic Eye" pictures than any kind of real marketing materials.  They're called "QR" codes and believe it or not they represent the latest in guerrilla marketing strategy.

You might already be using them, and if so, that's fantastic. But chances are, you have no idea how these things work and more importantly, how to use them.  Even if you ARE using QR codes, you may not be using them correctly.  So let's take a moment to learn about what they are and how to use them to drive traffic to your websites and customers through your doors.

QR What?

Basically, the QR code is a pre-programmed visual representation of information.  Think of it as a kind of barcode.  You can't really see the information that's programmed into that barcode, but you know it's there, right?  Well, a QR code is essentially the same thing.  The biggest difference is that the information encoded into a barcode generally deals with pricing, or personal information such as height, weight, eye-color, etc.  The barcode on your driver's license contains a wealth of information that can be used by police, fire, emergency crews and so on.

But chances are, you're not looking to provide that kind of information to your customers or online viewers.  So what kind of information DO you want to give out to your friends, fans, followers and customers?  You want to tell them about your daily specials, your upcoming deals, your website address, your social media information, everything that will help improve your business.

Chances are, though, that you don't have the time, or skill needed to program a barcode that includes all of that information.  Most of us don't.  Fortunately you don't have to be a computer programmer or take hours to develop a QR code that contains that information.

How To Get It:

The best and easiest way to generate a QR code for your business is to find a website that does it quickly and for free.  There are a number of sites out there that do this.  Simply type QR Code Generator in your google search and viola!  For most sites, once you get on, you only need to type in the URL for the site you want encoded and the site will generate your code square. 

Once the square is generated, you can download the code to your desktop.  From there, it's all up to you.  You can post it on your social media sites, print out a poster, insert it into your blog, whatever you want to do.  This is where the fun begins.

How It Works:

Like a barcode, the QR code needs to be scanned in order to work.  I'm guessing most of you don't carry around barcode readers when you go shopping, but many of us DO have smartphones.  So many of us, in fact, that barcode readers for your iPhone or Droid are as common as wallets and belt buckles, everyone has them. 

For most of us, we use these barcode scanners to retrieve nutritional information while we're shopping.  We can scan the back of a potato chip bag, or can of green beans and find out how many calories per serving, how much sodium, etc.  QR Codes have different kinds of information programmed in.  While you're using the QR code to provide information, it's more of a delivery system than a repository for information itself.  Instead of having tons of information encoded in, the QR square is primarily used to take the user to a specific location where they can find all the information you want them to see.

All you have to do is download a QR code reader onto your smartphone and you're ready to go.  It's very simple to use.  Just open the app, your camera will turn on and then you simply have to point the camera at the nearest QR code square you see.  Within seconds, you'll be transported to a website that is hopefully interesting and useful.

How To Use It:

Unlike bar-codes, the QR code really only contains one piece of information.  Generally, this is a web-page.  But it can also be the link to your Facebook page, your Twitter page, your blog, whatever you want it to be.  Some companies, such as Coca-Cola have designed special web pages specifically for their QR codes.  When you scan the code, you will be taken to a website that has information, specials, daily deals, whatever they want you to see.

When I put together QR Codes for my clients, I make different codes for all of the different social media sites, website, and, if necessary, a special code for a special deals page.  This could mean four, five, six different codes, which is fine, since you may want to drive folks to specific pages for different reasons.

There are two important factors to keep in mind when using your brand new QR code:

1.  Enticement
2.  Payoff

In other words, your code presentation has to be interesting enough to grab the viewer's attention and get them to pull out their smartphone, open the app and scan your code.  But perhaps more importantly, you also need to make the effort worth it.  There are few things more frustrating than scanning a QR code only to be taken to a page that offers nothing of value.

This doesn't mean you have to offer the world, but consider this:  Platforms like Foursquare and the Facebook Check-in have been built on, and successful because of a reward system.  You check in on Foursquare and more often than not, you'll receive a free drink, a free appetizer, a discount on a meal.  It makes the effort to check in worth it. 

Yes, it's nice to provide pure information to people, but what they really want is to be rewarded for patronizing your website or your business. 

Years ago in Denver there was a band that called itself, "Free Beer".  An interesting name to be sure, but the bar that employed them as a house band would advertise the band by putting out fliers that said, "Free Beer Tonight at The Whiskey Bar!"  People would see that and they'd flock to the bar expecting free beer.  Well, they got free beer, but they were pretty disappointed when they found out it was a band and NOT free alcohol.

But, the bar DID make it okay by providing one free beer for everyone who came to see the band.  If you put together a QR code poster that said, "Scan me for Free Beer!" chances are you'd get a TON of hits to your website.  If, once they get to your website, they are told about the band, and that they can get a free beer if they come to see the band, chances are you'll generate some excitement.  You might even draw a bigger crowd because of your efforts.

The point is, the presentation of your code garnered enough interest to get folks to scan it.  This alone gets the word out about your event or special.  Then, you actually offer a decent payoff for people to consider walking through your doors as a customer.  This is marketing 101. 

Do's and Don'ts:

So here are a few tips to make sure you're using your QR code as effectively as possible:
1.  Test your code - The minute your code is generated, scan it with your smartphone to make sure it takes you to the page it's supposed to.  If it doesn't work, there's no point in using it.

2.  Don't get too fancy - When you present your code, whether it's on social media platforms or as part of a poster, don't bury it in a ton of other media.  In other words, you want folks to see the code and immediately know that it should be scanned.  If it's buried inside pictures, graphics or other design elements, it can be confusing, and the last thing you want to do is confuse your customers, or potential customers.

3.  Find a Signal - If you use your QR code as part of a poster or flier, make sure you hang that flier or poster in a location with a strong signal.  I like to post my QR code fliers around downtown Denver and in an area we call LoDo.  But there are pockets in town where the signal is pretty weak.  One bar kind of weak.  Plus, the WiFi that is available nearby is locked.  There's no point of hanging the poster or flier in a place where people can't actually scan the code and be taken to the page.  Test your code wherever you hang it.

4.  Be Mobile - Make sure that whatever page your code directs the customer to works in a mobile format.  Some websites aren't very smartphone friendly.  They either use flash (which is bad for iPhone users) or they don't really fit into the smaller smartphone format and is a terror to negotiate on the phone.

5.  Be Interesting - Make sure that the text or title around the code is interesting enough, intriguing enough to actually get people to scan the code.  You want just enough information that entices them, but not too much that makes the scan irrelevant. 

6.  Make it Worth It - Add value to your code by offering a reward to those who take the time to actually scan your QR square.  This could be in the form of "secret" information, a free drink, a discount on a purchase, whatever it is, reward the user for taking the time to scan your code.  Trust me, they'll come back and scan again and, even better, they'll tell their friends to scan your codes as well.
Chances are, the QR code will, at some point, go the way of the fax machine, but then again, maybe not.  That's the problem with new technology.  We're not exactly sure what will stick and what won't.  If you had asked me ten years ago if MySpace would make it, I'd have said yes, absolutely.

But then Facebook came along and made MySpace a non-factor.  Does that mean that the time spent on MySpace was wasted.  Absolutely not.  Bands and other entities were able to use MySpace to build a fanbase, and when Facebook came out, they simply transferred that over.  QR Codes may be replaced in a year or two by something else, true.  Until then, why not use it to help grow your business and get the word out to the masses? 

The QR Code is simply another weapon in your arsenal that can be used to help you.  It is easy to generate, easy to use and easy to understand.  They're already being used significantly by businesses of all sizes and stripes.  And, at least for now, they seem to be growing in popularity. 

So get yourself coded and get out there, it's cool, it's fun, and hey, everybody's doing it!