I’ve been asked a lot recently about QR codes and how they are used for things like business cards and posters etc.

So, I thought a quick run down of all the possibilities might be helpfull for those of you still unsure about them or for anyone looking for ideas.

First of all, lets explain what a QR code is…

Barcode and its use

A bar code that you would typically see on the side of a product in a shop consists of a sequence of lines that vary in thickness. The thickness of the line defines a number between 0 and 9 and thus describes a code (usually the product code). The code then has to be referenced to a database of codes to identify the product that it is on.

This has a limitation in that the device used to scan the code needs to connect with a database in order to know what the item is and so if that connection is lost for any reason the information can not be retrieved.

QR code and connection to database

A QR code however does not rely on a connection to a database because the code itself holds all the data you need. This is where the real beauty of the system is and why its now becoming a hugely popular device for adding to printed media.

The web has always been a hugely popular way to promote products/services etc but marketing has struggled with the frustration from the disconnect between web based promotion and real-world promotion.

You see, in order to promote a web based offer advertisers have had to rely on simply adding the URL to a printed item such as a poster or flyer.

For example, if Disney wanted to push you to a website where you can view a clip of their latest movie they were limited to simply adding the URL for the movie somewhere prominent on a poster.

The problem with this is it relies on getting users to remember the url when they’re next at a PC or typing in a long address using their phone. Because of small keyboards on mobile devices this can be difficult and would lead to frustrated users.

QR code and makreting

By adding a QR code to the Disney poster would get round this issue by holding the URL for the movie website within the code itself. Mobile device owners can install one of a large array of QR code readers that are able to translate the combination of black and white spaces into the URL and activate a function with the phone. So in our example, opening the default browser and navigating to the right website.

With the advent of QR codes and mobile devices able to read them this means that advertisers can now bridge the gap between off-line marketing and on-line marketing.

But, QR codes are far more clever than simply holding a URL as i’ll describe shortly. This has lead to some really creative uses for the QR code and as people become more familiar with it (and more smart-phone devices are sold) industry experts are predicting massive things for QR codes.

So, lets look at the various ways that QR codes can be used.

Website URL :

Simply adding in a website URL will allow you to point users to your website. However, you need to remember that people will be viewing the website on a mobile device so it needs to work well and be easy to view on an iPhone (for example).

Plain text :

This is the simplest way to use a QR code. You embed the code with a string of text which is then displayed to the user when scanned. This could be used to provide people with a special offer code or secret message – great for adding to poster for promoting special discounts.

Telephone number, email address, email message or SMS message :

For quick response (i.e. QR) there’s nothing better than embedding a telephone number. Not only will the user get the phone number shown to them but the action of scanning the code will also activate the phone function thus allowing the user to call the number with minimal effort (usually they are prompted to approve the call but its a single click rather than entering a long telephone number). The same applies to the other formats such as email addresses (which can also include the message to be sent).

Contact details :

Ideal for business cards, when scanned the device will download a VCard. This is a recognized format that your mobile device can read, making it easy for users to store contact details into their device.

Event details :

By using the VCalendar format, scanning this type of QR code will add an event to the users calendar. Perfect for promoting an event.

Google Maps location :

If you want to drive foot traffic to a location (such as a shop) why not add the location to a QR code which then displays a map to the user. The nice thing about Google Maps is that users can get directions from their current location to your location too.

PayPal buy now :

Why push users to a website or to a location to buy the product on special offer when they could simply scan the code and pay for the item straightaway. Fantastic for limited time special deals or selling tickets to an event perhaps.

Social Media :

Give users access to all your social media accounts with this format. Very simple to use and great for using on business cards.

iTunes link :

Posters promoting a new album or DVD could link to the iTunes store with this version of the QR code.

YouTube link :

If you want users to view a promotional video why not add it to YouTube and place a QR code on your promotional item?


QR codes a very versatile and are now being used in many, many creative ways. The possibilities are endless and as use of them grows and the public become more aware of them they are beginning to appear in more and more places.

But always remember to use them to add value. Don’t simply link to the home page of your website. Try and surprise users and give them a reason to scan the code if you can.

They can be used anywhere too, so don’t be limited to just business cards or posters. How about creating T-Shirts with the code on or adding to the side of your vehicles? Perhaps even a tattoo on your head?

To create a QR code for FREE go to www.qrstuff.com

I’ve just come across this video showing how FC Barcelona are using a QR code to prompt users to register on their fan site and enter a competition to win a shirt.


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