Within the past few years, QR codes have been popping up in the most unlikely places: in museums, on tattoos and even within food. Marketers have embraced these codes because of the possibilities they offer. When scanned with an equipped smartphone, QR codes can establish an exciting link between the real world and the online one.

Despite the popularity of QR codes, it is easy to be skeptical of their effectiveness. After all, they often come across as more of a gimmick than a viable marketing strategy. Before you dismiss QR codes, take a close look at their effectiveness in local marketing. The following are ten creative ways local businesses are using QR codes to increase engagement, establish customer loyalty and get new leads.

 1. Restaurants – Start including a few links to recipes and facts about your food right on the menu. You can also improve the effectiveness of your direct mail pieces by including a QR code that allows diners to make an online reservation in a matter of seconds. Put QR codes onto key tags so customers can quickly check for daily specials, events and coupons.

2. Manufacturers – If your company manufactures consumer products, consider including how-to and troubleshooting instructional videos into the user manual through QR codes. A QR code can also link to up-to-date information on local retailers who carry replacement parts and related products.

3. Retailers –QR codes allow you to incorporate coupons into more marketing than ever, including outdoor advertising, television commercials and magazine ads.

4. Media – Everybody loves free stuff. Put QR codes in print ads, in-store signage out and even hard-to-find places for free previews, downloads and exclusive content. Use QR codes in your television commercials for an interactive experience.

5. Realtors – Many realtors have found their “For Sale” signs to be perfect for QR codes. These codes link to video tours, realtor contact information and open house schedules.

6. Auto Dealers – Auto dealers can use QR codes in print ads to allow consumers to customize their dream vehicle before they ever walk into a dealership.

7. Grocery Stores – Grocers that sell locally grown produce can use QR codes to show consumers where the produce was grown and talk more about organic food. They can also use these codes for recipes, coupons and dinner suggestions.

8. Financial Services – Users can scan QR codes for quick personalized quotes on everything from auto insurance to local mortgage rates.

9. Hotel – Improve customer loyalty through exclusive package deals for consumers who make their reservation through a QR code.

10. Non-Profit – While most people would like to donate more of their time and money to non-profits, they often let other things get in the way before their good intentions can turn into action. Charities can help push people toward action through QR codes on signage, direct mailers and outdoor ads. Now, when the charity is still top-of-mind, people can scan the QR code and donate their time or money directly through their phone.

Is your business making creative use of QR codes? Share your story in the comments section below.