Making QR Codes Mainstream

You are fascinated by a painting you’ve discovered, and want to see more of the artist’s work.  You’ve been pricing a new toy at Best Buy, but need to see which stores carry it in hot pink.  You are walking past a billboard for the hippest band in town and want to add it to your digital calendar without skipping a beat.  Maybe you’re even reading an article about QR codes on your laptop, and want to quickly take it with you and share with a friend.  Manufacturers and marketers have been steadily dropping more of these blocky barcodes all around us, but do you know how to use them yet?

Scanning this QR code will take you to
Scanning this QR code will take you to

A QR code (quick response code) is a simple 2D barcode that holds 4 to 10 times the information compared to that of the standard barcode format.  And while QR codes were first used for tracking inventories in Japan, the uses of this openly standardized barcode format have become almost limitless, especially in the marketing world.  QR code readers are available for most every smartphone platform (for free), and with a simple point and snap with your phone’s camera, you can be transported to a URL to find out more about a new product or automatically add a colleague to your contacts list.

So if QR codes are so easy to use, and extremely useful to most anybody with a smartphone, why doesn’t everybody use them in their daily life?  Simple, we haven’t crossed that chasm yet.  In “Crossing the Chasm”, a marketing book by Geoffrey A. Moore, he describes 5 primary segments of technology adopters, each having their own traits, and each called to action by something different.  Technology Adoption LifecycleThey adopt changes to the technology in their life at different rates, each segment building on top of the momentum created by previous segments.  And while there is already huge value to using QR codes across the web, print, mobile and social mediums, we’re still very much in the early adopter phase.  This is no different than the advent of CDs or the daily usage of Facebook.  How long does it take you to switch over to what’s new, and how does that compare with others around you?

As a developer for interactive marketing agency Springbox, we most recently used them to announce our free holiday-themed wallpapers for mobile devices, and often pitch QR codes to clients who are looking for the coolest new way to connect with both new and existing customers, and quickly direct public interest to their campaign.

The good news is that QR code technology is simple to use, and it’s free!  With free apps like ZXing’s Barcode Scanner for Android, Ricoh’s iCandyMobile for iPhone and iPod Touch, or BeeTagg for BlackBerry, there are few obstacles to being able to scan codes easily from a mobile device.

All of us can be consumers of QR codes, but there is a chasm between early adoption and the beginning of mainstream.  This is where exponentially rapid adoption becomes a requirement to cross over to the Early Majority phase, or risk fizzling out.  Barcodes are not human-readable, so they may appear difficult to use.  But the action of snapping a QR code can save precious moments many, many times over.  It’s the difference between the grocery clerk manually ringing up every item’s price on paper, or scanning your cart’s items using a sophisticated barcode and reader.  And in the marketing world, fast engagement is key to staying relevant to the customer and improving conversion rates.

When users discover how they can create their own QR codes from major websites like Google’s ZXing project and Kaywa, or send them as coupons in their email newsletters using MailChimp, they will not only better understand what is available to them, but innovators will keep pushing the envelope with what the technology is capable.  This is demonstrated simply by the evolution that has already occurred, where barcodes for scanning automobile parts have been repurposed for other industries and consumed by the general public on advertisements, hockey game programs, t-shirts, and not surprisingly, food.

So if you want to help take QR codes from “that’s cool” to “I gotta have it”, just start scanning!

Show your friends and your family what you’ve learned, and help them get a reader on their device so they can enjoy showing up early to the party this time.

Be a champion amongst your co-workers by suggesting some of the many business applications of 2D barcodes, and proving how much value QR codes create for your company and your customers.

What everybody and their dog should know about QR codes

Nothing sounds very cool if it’s still in 2D, right?  Nope, there’s still one thing.  QR codes are 2-dimensional bar codes that can allow quick and purposeful communication like exchanging contact info, or effortlessly transport a perspective customer to your product website.

Follow along and we’ll talk about where you might have already seen a QR code, how to install a free app on your mobile device or smartphone, and describe some of the more creative uses of the technology!  Future articles will contain more technical information for developers and such, but for now let’s just get everybody up to speed.

Continue reading “What everybody and their dog should know about QR codes”

Snap a QR code from a product at Best Buy to instantly know more than the teenager trying to sell it to you

I was at Best Buy the other night helping a friend buy a new notebook computer, and she saw one of those QR codes I’ve been blogging about.  First of all, I’m excited that those who know me, and those who follow me on my blog and on my QR code facebook page can identify these 2D barcodes out in the wild!  They know what they’re for, even if they haven’t tried snapping a QR code before from their own device.

So, of course I had to whip my iPhone out and snap that QR code with one of the many free reader apps available (search for iCandyMobile in the AppStore, that’s currently the one I use most).  Snapping the code took me to the Best Buy website and immediately pulled up the model information page for the Toshiba computer we wanted to know more about.  We were able to see all of the information that was on the info card next to the computer, plus all the detailed specs that were not on the card and unknown to the teenager wanting to help me.   Cool  🙂

The concept behind scanning a QR code and viewing more information on my mobile is pretty great, but Best Buy has one of the best implementations I’ve seen.  They followed an important “best practice” of ensuring the URL for each QR code took me to a mobile-friendly page which was optimized for my iPhone.  The webpage was attractive and informative, and I could use the nicer features of my smartphone’s browser to be able to zoom into larger images and toggle animated panels of exactly the features and specifications I wanted to see.

Best Buy also took the opportunity to create a long-term relationship with me based on my short-term action of snapping that QR code, which is important in supporting brand loyalty and therefore revenue.  This was accomplished by allowing me to sign into my current Best Buy account, or to create a new one from the product page I had visited.  The page auto-filled my zip code in after I allowed their website to use my GPS location, and I could find other stores with that computer in stock.  From the same page, I had the option to read reviews on the product from other customers, and even add the notebook to my shopping cart with a single click!  Ok, at that point if the product was in stock, I could simply pick it up off the shelf and put it in my real shopping cart parked in front of me, but it’s a great feature when a store has run out of something still available from their website.

Overall, I was very happy with the experience – save one thing.  There were only 2 products out of the tens or more we looked at that had QR codes!  I couldn’t find out more about all of the other products sitting next to the Toshiba notebook, nor could I read the reviews posted by other consumers.  Taking a list of the products I was interested in would have required me to resort to typing out long and funky model numbers on my phone and taking some rough photos of the product myself.

How does one encourage a huge company like Best Buy to spend time and effort on affixing QR codes to all of their retail product displays, their marketing and promotional materials, and maybe even their price tags?  I’m already looking into it, and will publish my findings soon  🙂

Remember, today Sunday Aug 29th is the last day of voting for my panel topic at next year’s SXSW Interactive Festival! So please take the time to vote for my panel entitled QR Who QR: Exploring QR Codes, it only takes a few mins to sign up for an account, and they won’t spam the heck outta ya.  Leave me a comment or question on the page after you’ve voted, I’d love to hear what people think and it happens to help me in the selection process!

Voting has begun for the 2011 SXSW Interactive Festival, and I’d like everybody to vote for my topic on QR codes!

Ok everybody, voting has begun and I need your help!  Your voting accounts for about 30% of the decision-making process for any given programming slot.

Here’s how to help promote my “QR Who QR” SXSW panel topic:

  1. Create an account on the SXSW website at
  2. Click the email verification link they send you to activate your account.
  3. Go to my topic’s page at and click the “thumbs up” button!

Also, please leave me a comment or question about what most interests you about those crazy barcodes, I’ll respond quickly and it helps to make my topic more popular!

Thanks everybody!

A really cool example of why *you* need a QR code app on your mobile device

This is what this whole QR code thing is about, right?  Wtf do I care unless I can do something with it!

But what if you’re reading a news article and wanna quickly take it with you?  Or you walk up behind your co-worker playing a remix of your favorite YouTube video and wanna share it with your friends on facebook in 2 or 3 clicks?

Here’s the answer.

I’ve attached a QR code to every page on my blog site, so if anything catches your eye before you have to catch your bus, you can take it with you in an instant.  How cool is that?!  Think of all the sites (more captivating than mine) where this would be useful to you.

Update: I don’t put QR codes on every page any longer.  I prefer simpler layouts these days.

Take a look at the right-hand side of my page, under the title “take this page with you”.  Pull out your smartphone, start up your QR code app, and snap a pic of the barcode to instantly put this url on your mobile device.

How I did it.

I found a WordPress plugin to create the codes, and while it isn’t very configurable or feature-rich, it does the job nicely!  Time invested?  It took longer to write the article than implement my “take it with you” QR code widget.  I still think I’ll write my own WordPress plugin and share it with the community, as there are many other features I’d like to implement to really prove how useful these blocky 2D barcodes really are.  Plus, it’ll be a fun challenge for me  🙂

Need more help?

Try checking out my QR Who QR: Exploring QR Codes page to learn how to get a reader app installed on your mobile device, and see what you’re missing!

Please remember to vote for my SXSW Interactive Festival 2011 panel topic on QR codes beginning Aug 11, 2010 at noon!  Visit to create an account and vote for “QR Who QR: Exploring QR Codes” with Grant K Norwood of Springbox.

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