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QR Codes. Those strange black and white squares are all over the place these days. Marketers are singing their praises but most consumers are not quite sure what they are for or why they should care. QR Codes can be a valuable marketing tool, if they are used correctly. They allow your prospects in the bricks and mortar world to interact with the Internet and they allow the merchant to track that interaction and monetize it.

Here are ten steps to take to launch a successful QR Code campaign:

1. Give consumers a compelling reason to scan it. The biggest mistake most merchants make with QR codes is that they don't give the consumer any reason to scan the code. Getting your website URL is hardly a compelling reason to take out one's phone, find the app and scan a code. Offering incentives is not a new concept. Radio has been offering consumers a compelling reason to "call in to win" for years. QR code marketers must do no less. Offer 10 per cent off, a free gift or something of reasonable value to reward your prospect for scanning your code.

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2. Make sure you have a mobile friendly website. If the code takes the prospect to a website, make certain it is a mobile friendly site. Sending the prospect to a regular website not optimized for mobile viewing is a very bad idea. Doing so generally annoys the prospect and can even create a negative impression of your business. No one wants to pinch and prod their phone to see tiny web print. There are many great self-serve mobile services to choose from so make sure you use one.

3. The code must be readable with a variety of phones. Only people with a smartphone equipped with a camera can read the codes but even those phones may not read the code if it is not created correctly. There are a plethora of free QR Code generators out there. Here is a list. Set the redundancy to high and allow sufficient white (or 'quiet') space around the outside of the code. Also make the URL as short as possible (see below) to ensure the code pattern is less complex. As for readers we recommend i-nigma, Barcode Scanner, QuickMark or QRafter.

4. Use a URL shortener. Making the URL as short as possible will make the code pattern less complex and consequently, more easily readable by more phones.

There are lots of URL shorteners around. The one I use is https://bitly.com/. That service even allows the creation of custom shortened URLs.

5. Make sure the code can be tracked. The primary benefit of QR codes to merchants is the ability to track the prospect that scanned the code. One of the easiest metrics to track is how many people scanned the code. The URL shortener Bitly.com tracks the number of times the shortened URL is clicked on. Therefore anytime the QR code is scanned, Bitly will know it. With additional services the codes are capable of tracking far more info including geographic location and social media sharing.

6. Ensure the code is the right size for the medium and location. After doing all the work of creating a mobile friendly site, creating and tracking the code, it is important to make sure the code is the right size for the medium it will be scanned in. If the code is for a billboard or transit sign where prospects will not be able to get close, it better be big enough to be scanned from a distance. If the code is in a magazine or on a business card, it cannot be so small that the code pattern blends into one big blotch and is unreadable. It is strongly advisable to do a real world test of the code in the environment and size it will be displayed. Do test scans, ideally with a variety of phones and code readers, to ensure it will work before printing 5,000 of them.

7. Consider using visually appealing QR Code artwork. Many marketers think QR Codes are ugly so they don't want to put them beside their beautiful branding. QR codes don't have to be ugly. They are typically black and white because they work on contrast and black and white are as contrasting as you can get. Many of the QR code generators will create coloured codes. Some will allow a logo to be placed in the middle. Make sure you test the coloured code thoroughly before using it. Beyond that some companies will create custom QR code artwork for a specific campaign. Take a look at some of the work done by QrArts.

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8. Make Wi-Fi available in your establishment. Many restaurants and coffee shops have free Wi-Fi available but all merchants should consider offering the service. If you are using QR codes in your store to provide added value for your customers, you want them to be able to access the content on the other end of the codes as easily as possible. Providing a strong Wi-Fi signal is a great way of doing that. Make sure you post signs and tell your customers it is available.

9. Educate your staff about QR and make sure they are on board. It's great if you do all the things suggested here but at the end of the day, it is your staff that will determine the level of success with a QR code campaign, especially an in-store one. It is critical to get your staff on board. Make sure they understand the value of the technology. Perhaps give them an incentive to talk to customers about the new codes and their value to the customer. Consider giving an incentive, perhaps $20 towards their data bill, for staff to use their smart phone to demonstrate how to scan a code. The more pro-active you are, the more you will get out of your QR code campaign.

10. Drive adoption of the technology. There is much talk about the pros and cons of QR codes. Some pundits have already proclaimed them irrelevant in favour of new tech such as near field communication chips. The fact is they are just a marketing tool but their usefulness depends on how they are implemented. The benefits of QR codes to merchants are fantastic, if used correctly. Without QR codes you have no idea who, if anyone, is viewing your marketing materials. With the codes you know exactly who, how many and where the materials are viewed and most importantly, you are able to communicate with that prospect and offer them additional products and services.

Martin Ricketts is President & Chief Architect at Unity Network. They provide Internet based tools to enable businesses to leverage technology to generate more revenue and monetize their brand. Martin can be reached at Martin.Ricketts@UnityNetwork.tv

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