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Digital Marketing

What's more enticing than a snappy headline?

Quick response codes offer targeted marketing materials to specific clients and prospects

By Heather Lockwood

The first one I saw was in a sports magazine promoting some high-end athletic shoe that every "real" athlete must have. I was curious about the little box with the squiggles in it, but the ad was focused on a specific demographic…the tech savvy 20-something who waited in line overnight for the newest smartphone, was awesome at sports and was willing to pay $200 for an athletic shoe.

Well, the QR code has come a long way since then, and seemingly overnight. It's hard to pick up a magazine or newspaper, walk by a bus stop with poster ads or shop without seeing them.

What is a QR code and what can it do?

A QR code is a "quick response" code comprised of a matrix of boxes that has a code embedded, so that if you scan it with a smartphone and using a QR reader that you either downloaded or came installed on your phone, you can link to an online experience from the offline location. It could take you to display text, a Web site, a YouTube video, or a splash page for a special promotion. In fact, the code could be programmed to take you just about anywhere in cyberspace.

These codes can be customized by ad, by publication, or by just about any criteria you want to use to drive your "readers" to a specific location. This gives agencies a whole new way to reach potential customers and to measure the success they have from a particular code in a particular location. And there's no limit on how much a QR code can be shared.

The new generation of QR codes provides even greater flexibility by allowing the incorporation of color and graphics within the code. According to "The key to creating these eye-popping designer codes is to take advantage of the fact that up to 30% of a QR code's data can be missing or obstructed, and still be scanned. QR codes can be generated with 0%, 10%, 20% or 30% error correction rates built in. Building in the 30% error correction rate adds more noise (extra boxes) within the code, but those extra boxes within the code can then be removed to make way for a logo or other interesting imagery."

This may take some trial and error (and testing) to make sure any graphics applied don't interfere with the 30% that's needed to read the code, but the up-side is that it allows agencies to include their logo, a design or words within the boxes that make up the code.

Why do they work?

The greatest thing about these codes is the intrigue. With traditional advertising, your heavy hitter was having a headline that would entice the reader to read on. With QR codes, what's behind that code has endless possibilities, and readers are curious as to where they lead. Now, instead of having an ad in a newspaper or magazine or a billboard inviting people to call you, you can direct them right to your Web site, video or Facebook page almost instantly and offer a call to action to get them to buy from you…now. With QR codes, your ad can provide instant gratification rather than leaving time to think about it and maybe take action later.

So what does this mean to you?

If social media and advertising are part of your marketing plan, it might be a good idea to try QR codes. There are many free online services that will generate QR codes from the URL that you enter, or for more complex campaigns and campaign management, you can purchase these services. You could have one code that simply links users to your Web site or you could create several to be used in different locations that could link to different places based on what you are trying to promote. For example:

• You could place a newspaper ad that consists of just a QR code or place an ad for your agency with the code included, and drive potential customers to your agency Web site or Facebook page.

• If you do agency or community events, have a QR code on banners, posters or materials you make available at the event. This gives you a great way to measure the success of your event, and to entice participants to take action while they are still participating or shortly after.

• If you do bus stop poster ads, bench advertising or other local advertising, include a QR code in the art, posters, flyers or mailers. You can easily see if there is a lift in responses or visits to your Web sites driven by a specific advertising activity.

QR codes can be an inexpensive way to reach more potential customers and interest them in buying from you while you are front of mind. You can start out small and test one code and see how it works in your market, or go all out and use different codes for different things that all drive readers to different places so you can measure the success of each marketing strategy. However you decide to do it, an interesting effect from using QR codes is that it tells the reader your business is moving with the times, is forward-thinking and could provide them with something new.

The author

Heather Lockwood is advertising manager for Foremost Insurance Group. For more information, visit


With traditional advertising, your heavy hitter was having a headline that would entice the reader to read on. With QR codes, what's behind that code has endless possibilities, and readers are curious as to where they lead.











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