QR Codes: Funny Pixels
What are QR codes? And why are people talking about them?
You may or may not have seen these funny little barcode things, either in magazines, on billboards or even on plane or train tickets. But before we can get into what they are and what they do, you need to know where they come from.
QR codes were first created in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota, called Denso Wave, to track vehicles during the manufacturing process and are effectively just a different kind of barcode.
Why did we need another kind of barcode you ask?
The normal barcodes which you and I are used to seeing on cereal boxes or candy bars can only be read in one dimension, left to right, whereas QR codes are read in two dimensions, left to right and top to bottom. This means that the amount of data, which can be stored on a QR code, is exponentially greater than that which can be stored on a standard barcode.
Whilst deciphering the magic of these codes, it’s also important to know that “QR” stands for “Quick Response”. Its much faster for a barcode scanner to read a QR code as compared to a traditional barcode, which is one of the reasons it is so popular in the manufacturing industry. The massive advantage they also have is that they do not require really old bulky ugly barcode readers to be scanned! Most modern smart-phones will have a QR code reader built in, and if its not there are about 50 different ones you can download for all types of mobile operating systems.
Great so now we know what QR codes are and where they came from, begs the question, “This is Aurora not “IT Nerds Weekly” what am I supposed to do with it?”
Well since I’ve just told you that they can be scanned with cell phones its safe to assume that the rest of our happy literary journey is going to be focused on how they can be used with mobile devices, for the most part.
As you step out of your house you’re going to be slammed with tons of advertising clutter and almost everyone is going to try and connect with you in some way; visit our website at xyz123.com, call us on 111 blah blah blah, opt in to our SMS list by doing god knows what!
Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to get consumers to connect with you online, over the phone, through SMS or to try and pass them the location of your store, that’s what we’re all trying to do. The problem is that there are so many URL’s, SMS short codes and phone numbers out there that it becomes impossible for the consumer to remember them when they’re “offline”. Think of the last time you walked past a movie or concert poster and couldn’t remember the web address to check it out later (Yes I know that’s why god invented Google, but that’s not the point right now) it’s happened to me tons of times!
This is where the real power of QR codes comes in!
QR codes are a physical hyperlink between the offline (Real) world and the online (Mark Zuckerberg, Google & YouTube) world, if you have a capable mobile device of course. They are essentially used to help drive traffic from traditional media onto digital media outlets.
When you scan a QR code with a mobile phone it can automatically dial a phone number for you, create an SMS or display a piece of text, or take you to a website, it all depends on how you’ve decided to use it.
When brands use these codes they traditionally embed them into their press ads or outdoor media in order to help drive traffic to their website or their particular product page.
Now please bear in mind that when we are scanning these codes with our mobile devices they will also navigate us to those online platforms on the very same device, meaning, if you don’t have a data connection on your phone then scanning a QR code with an embedded web link wont really make much sense since you cant go to the site, because you don’t have a data connection.
You don’t only have to use QR codes to direct people to a website, if you know you’re in a market where there are fewer data users, such as Pakistan, then you can create a QR code which displays plain text which can be used as a sort of coupon if you wish, or you can get it to create an SMS to help the consumer opt in to your SMS subscription list.
I’m not going to lie to you, the most awesome uses of QR codes are with data; we’ll get there, eventually. The problem with this in Pakistan is that a lot of people who carry around phones which cost more than my computer, don’t actually have data enabled on those devices, thus actually shutting out most of the really cool things we could do with mobile phones, aside from SMS.
Lets imagine for a minute though that we have a really large base of consumers with phones that are capable of scanning QR codes and are also data enabled. This means that we can place QR codes along with our web address on all of the billboards around town, a consumer scans the code and goes right to our website, no chance of forgetting that web address. Another consumer scans a QR code in a restaurant and opts in to the SMS list to receive updates on new menu items. We have a third consumer who goes shoe shopping and scans a QR code to receive a coupon for a discount when she checks out. These are all really small isolated things, which help you bridge the gap between the real world and the online world.
If you have a large line of products, lets say clothes or shoes for example, you could place a QR code on the labels of your clothes which will let people visit the product page and read the reviews someone else left on your site or Facebook application. If you have a restaurant you can let people order from your menu by scanning QR codes and sending them right to the kitchen via SMS.
You can do practically anything that comes to mind, QR codes make it easy!
Like I said earlier QR codes are generally used as a means for linking the real world and the digital world – remember they were used to track physical parts in a factory to inventory and production systems, which reside on a computer – if you’re already on a digital medium don’t annoy your consumers or platform users by putting a QR code on the computer screen, it doesn’t make sense, sure it works, but there’s no need for it since you can share a hyperlink which is 256 characters long and it wont make a difference because all the user has to do is click on it!
Go ahead use them in your billboards, pole signs, press ads, or even your TV commercials – make it easier for the offline world to connect to the online world.