August 1, 2011 |

2011 August: Quick Response

By Denise Greer

Curiosity may be one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal. QR codes speak to individuals’ inquisitiveness, and the phenomenon is sweeping across the country. Your customers who carry smart phones may be on the lookout for QR codes in your restaurant. But, first, what is a QR code and how does it work?

To begin, QR stands for “quick response.” Without getting too technical, a QR code is basically a two-dimensional, square barcode, similar to a product barcode or ones visible on shipping labels.

Anyone with an Internet-enabled smart phone can download a free application that works through the phone’s camera. The user simply clicks on the QR code scanner app (the camera will automatically pop up) and points the phone at the code. It will send the user to anything from a mobile-friendly webpage or video to social media sites or online coupons — alleviating the need to type in the Web address.

“The key is that it enables someone to jump from the printed piece to the Web,” says QR codes expert Jason Pinto, marketing manager at InterlinkONE in Wilmington, Massachusetts. “You are arming them with more content to hopefully compel them to be a customer.”

Though QR codes are fairly new in the U.S., places like Japan have been using them for decades. Many technology watch groups have pointed to 2011 as the year of the QR code. And they seem to be popping up everywhere: on billboards, signage, posters, business cards and a variety of other print materials, as well as on the Web.

Pinto says that QR codes are so new in the American marketplace that they do require a bit of education at times.

Using QR codes now puts businesses, for a brief time, ahead of the technology curve. With the fickle trends of technology going in and out rapidly, Pinto expects QR codes to be around for a while.

QR codes are free to create and inexpensive or free to track. There are countless QR code generators online where the user is simply required to copy and paste the link of the page for which the code is intended. Then, the user simply saves the QR code image and places it on marketing materials.

As far as tracking, utilizing a QR code-specific coupon page allows for easy analysis. However, using an external source or a general page in your Web site makes analysis more difficult. “There are applications out there that will not only help you create the codes easily, but they also provide real-time reporting and analytics,” Pinto says. These types of services average around $19 per month.

The most important consideration before creating a QR code is determining precisely where to link it. Pinto says to be sure to point the code to a site that has been optimized for mobile web. “If they don’t have the resources to do that, it might be best to point it to an external site that is mobile friendly,” he says. Sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook and Twitter are already optimized for mobile viewing, he adds.

It’s also vital to incorporate a call-to-action with the QR code. “Give people a compelling reason why they’d want to scan it,” says Pinto.

Niki and Scott Blair, owners of Brothers Pizza in Virginia Beach, Virginia, were introduced to the concept by her brother who worked for Google and encouraged the couple to get a Google Places page. With Brothers Pizza’s page, the Blair’s received a free QR code that links to their Google page.

“I was excited about it, so I started putting (the Google Places QR code) on the back of my husband’s business cards,” Niki says, adding that the codes are now on fliers and stickers that she places everywhere.

Niki’s interest prompted her to look further into the codes. She created a free one for the Facebook page using one of the many QR code generator sites.

Scott finds the codes to be a good conversational piece. “When they ask about it, it gives me a window of opportunity for a whole new conversation about the way we do our marketing,” he says.

Dan Scheel of Dano’s Pizza in Columbia, South Carolina, says it made perfect sense to market through QR codes with the abundance of college students who frequent his shop. In March, he began promoting his Google Place and Facebook pages through table tents with QR codes for each. And, he has plans for more. “We are in the finishing stages of adding online ordering. Once that is complete, we will have an opportunity to put our Web ordering address as a QR code,” he says.

More frequently, QR codes are popping up on Web sites, too, making it convenient for visitors to point their phone at the screen and download an app or connect directly with a business. Brian Showers of Fritz’s Pizza in Broadalbin, New York, has a QR code prominently located on his Web site that allows smart phone users to add Fritz’s into their phones’ address books. He enlisted friend and owner of Check It Web Design, Mike Barker, to develop the unique approach.

“It’s just one more way to brand yourself out there — to make you be the one that people are going to go to,” Barker says. “You made it easy and you made it unique where someone didn’t have to go and type it in.”

Tips for creating and customizing QR code

The URL should be short, six to seven characters (The trick: Check on the QR code generator site to see if there is an option to shorten the Web address or use a search engine to find one).

Never make the QR code smaller than one inch by one inch.

You can change the appearance of the code (Only 30 percent of the code is used to make it work. You can change the color and add elements such as a logo. Note: do not cover the three large squares).

And lastly, customizing requires you to TEST, TEST, TEST (Check the code on your phone as well as friends’ and family members’ phones and be sure to check multiple QR code scanner apps).

Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.