Though not
    yet ubiquitous, the odd-looking pattern of squares and dots that make up the
    Quick Response (QR) code are popping up in more places and on more media with
    each passing day. Most major advertisers have leveraged this two-dimensional
    barcode symbol to get a leg up on marketing and sales, but the availability of
    free, online QR code generators make reaching out to customers with QR
    technology available to virtually anyone. As always, taking advantage of new
    technology takes a bit of foresight and planning to most effectively implement
    it. QR codes are no exception.


    QR codes
    lend themselves to a fairly easy way to identify audience — smart phone users.
    While QR codes can be read with many standard barcode-scanning devices, few
    consumers carry portable dedicated scanners. However, the growing popularity of
    smart phones, and QR code-scanning applications for them, has steadily spread
    the target audience and, most likely, will continue to propagate among the
    general cellular market for some time. According to Nielsen, the number of
    smart phone users has grown to make up about 40% of the cellular market. As the
    percentage of smart phone users increases, so too will the marketing
    opportunities through this unique channel.


    Unique
    channel? How can a barcode be "unique," much less a "channel?"


    Well, QR codes
    are graphically well-suited for scanning by phone cameras. By design, they are highly
    efficient and capable of being rapidly scanned. Furthermore, a single QR code
    can store up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters (think the lyrics to Don
    McLean's, "American Pie"). Granted, efficiency and impressive storage aren't
    necessarily unique qualities in the world of 2D barcodes, but high readability
    by smart phone cameras is. That's what turns a simple, static data storage tool
    into a marketing channel. When your potential customer scans a QR code on his
    or her TV screen, a billboard, a computer monitor or your external packaging to
    access more information about your product or service, they create a real-time
    interface between the real world and the virtual world. This interface provides
    you with a unique opportunity to push targeted information back, instantly. This
    process is known among the barcode cognoscenti as hard linking.



    As with all
    new, or at least newly introduced, technologies (after all, Denso Wave introduced QR back in 1994), initially
    the innovation gets a lot of attention, while it's still fresh. Right now, people
    are anxious to use their smart phones in yet another new and exciting way, like
    opening a web page with detailed information about the product or service
    tagged with a QR symbol. Companies like Starbucks are using QR codes for credit
    card-like transactions on the iPhone. Other companies are using static URLs within
    QR codes and changing the URL content based on different market factors. Ultimately,
    sustaining consumer interest in this channel will require inventing evermore creative
    ways to drive meaningful, targeted and personalized marketing content that
    inspires consumers to keep scanning.









    I practice what I preach, too. Here's a QR code I created online for
    free that points to my personal woodworking blog. I posted it on my personal Facebook page and got a surge in hits almost
    immediately.



















































    DAVE MARTINA is the vice president of systems integration
    for NEPS, LLC of Salem, New Hampshire,
    a firm that provides solutions for the automation of
    document-intensive business processes. For more,
    email david.martina@NEPS.com.