You’ve seen them on flyers, in restaurants, magazines and direct mail pieces. They’re intriguing; mysterious; little black and white squares that hold the promise of a must-have discount, special offer or more. While QR codes have been used for over a decade in the automotive industry, they quickly popped up over the last couple of years in a number of different media channels. It’s the QR craze – everyone’s using them. But what’s the value? To be effective, the QR code needs to have something worthwhile to the customer to reward them for taking the time to scan it.

Here are our top 10 tips for utilizing QR codes:

1. Identify What and Why

Your customers are taking the time (even though it’s only few minutes) to scan your code. What’s on the other side of that code better have some significance or be worthwhile to them. Sure, if you use a QR code in a restaurant it could take you to your location’s website. But isn’t it more compelling to have an offer or some type of activity that drives customers to take action? For example, they could be taken to a coupon offer that they can show on their mobile device or find out about restaurant events. Or if they click on a code in a magazine ad, they could find insider beauty tips. Customers need to know if they are opting into a list, receiving a coupon or special offer or if they are visiting a mobile website before they scan to set up the expectation. This can easily be done by putting a short description or phrase on the material to explain what action the user will be completing by scanning the code. By doing so, you’ll get solid results from people that scanned your code since they knew what the result would be.

2. Always Test the Code

Test your QR Code on at least 3 different scanners. Not every QR Code generator follows the same requirements or development standard. If your code does not work on some scanners, there are a number of free QR code generators that are compatible with different formats.

3. Keep it Simple

Send your user directly to the site that you want them to reach without any additional clicking. They won’t know where to go if you don’t take them there directly. Additionally, the site that the code links to should be mobile friendly. Most people will scan the QR code using a smartphone. Websites that are not mobile friendly are difficult to read and even might throw errors.

4. Use the Right Media Type

Codes placed on materials like billboards do not typically give the customer enough time to scan it since they are quickly driving by. Not to mention, this can be a dangerous situation. Recognize what obstacles the user might face when deciding on where to place a QR code. For example, QR codes placed on subways can reach a lot of people but when the train is underground, there might not be a telephone or wireless signal available, defeating the purpose of the ad.

5. Integrate Your QR Code in Your Marketing Campaign

Use your QR code across media channels to establish consistency and brand awareness. In standard advertising, we know seeing a message multiple times resonates more with a customer than only seeing it once. Do the same with your QR Codes.

6. Create a Custom Design Only If Needed

Custom created QR codes grab the user’s attention and builds curiosity about what they are scanning. Codes can have different colors or have a small image placed in them. While there can be a small margin of error in the design that will still allow the code to work, it can be tricky to create a custom design. Really, custom designs should only be used if the campaign really needs that little something extra. For most campaigns, regular codes will do just fine.

7. Find Out Any Limitations with Your Link

Some QR code generators create codes that will expire after a given time period. Finding out if there is an expiration date is important in case you will be using the code for a long-term campaign. Also, make sure that the link will not be changing after a given period. You certainly do not want to advertise a QR code that won’t work.

8. Create a Code Based on Appropriate Size

QR codes can be created in different sizes depending on the material type that it will be used on. Since QR codes are built on a series of modules – the tiny dots you see – the larger the QR code, the more modules generated. Best practice is to create a smaller code upfront if it will be used in a smaller space. Shrinking a large QR code down could make it more difficult for a scanner to read. If you are using a QR code on multiple documents for one campaign, you will still want to create separate codes for each material. This way, they all link to the same campaign but you can identify which media types were most popular. See our next tip!

9. Measure Your Results

Creating and using your QR code are just the first steps. Measuring how well your QR code campaign worked is necessary to understand how effective it was and to help in strategic planning of future campaigns. If you use a QR code on multiple mediums, you can identify which material provided the best results so you can spend your dollars focused on those outlets rather than ones that didn’t work as well. There are a number of websites that provide free QR code tracking so you can monitor your hits throughout your campaign. Some sites even output the QR code and tracking URL at the same time.

10. Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Using QR codes to link to your Facebook or Twitter page make it easy for your customers or fans to leave comments, “like” your posts and see what other customers are saying. Every organization wants recommendations direct from their consumers – why not make it as easy as possible for your users to access these pages and give you free publicity.

Bonus Tip!

Get creative. QR codes can be used in a variety of ways, as long as there is a purpose behind it. Check out these links below to start getting creative ideas of how YOU can use QR codes in your business. And, be sure to let us know what creative ways you are using your QR codes!

http://mashable.com/2011/11/10/j-c-penney-qr-codes/

http://mashable.com/2011/04/26/qr-code-resume/

http://mashable.com/2010/07/12/social-media-business-cards/