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Some of the hottest technologies of the past few years have been those that integrate the web into our day-to-day lives. Google Glass, iBeacon, and iPhone’s Siri are all examples of this mixing of IRL (that’s “In Real Life”) with URL (an abbreviation of Uniform Resource Locator, the technical term for “website address”).

For the average small business owner, utilizing cutting-edge technologies can often be far beyond one’s marketing budget or time/manpower resources. However, many businesses, both small and large, have found great success in embracing one of the most easy-to-use, cheap-to-launch, and widely-recognized of these technologies: the QR Code.

Most everyone is familiar with the funny square-shaped codes that appear on the package of seemingly every consumer product these days. Because of their ease of use, universal recognition, effectiveness, and adaptability, they are a powerful resource for the big and small business alike. In an earlier blog, we mentioned QR codes as great tool for connecting potential and current customers with your website, social media, or other data by placing them on a business card. We explained how to go about making a QR code, but we didn’t mention some of the very creative ways QR codes have been used. Here are some examples:

Product Information
Because they are so adaptable and free to create, QR codes are a perfect way for a business to offer more information about the products they offer at the point of display. A simple card with a call-out and a QR code could potentially answer a common question about a specific product. An added benefit is that you can track not only how often it is scanned, but when it is scanned, giving you valuable data about your store traffic.

Coupons and Gift Certificates
The country of Croatia has issued a QR code postage stamp with a unique identifying code for each stamp. Scan the QR code with your smartphone, then enter the code, and you get tracking data for the letter or package it was placed on. This same strategy could be used with gift certificates and coupons as a way to prompt interaction with the recipient. The QR Code takes the coupon recipient to your website, then the code unlocks the coupon or certificate’s value. Who doesn’t love instant traffic?

Interactive Decor
QR codes on a restaurant menu encouraging patrons to follow on social media is a common function. But QR codes could also be integrated into tiles on tables or floors that resolve to web pages featuring weekly specials, social media, or hidden menu items, making for a fun, interactive experience for your more smartphone-obsessed patrons.

Printing some new T-shirts for your business? Why not add a QR code and make them interactive? Not only will the code spark people’s natural curiosity, but if placed on the back of the shirt, strangers will be more likely to surreptitiously scan the code while they’re pretending to look at Facebook. This is a great way to advertise, say, lunch specials for a restaurant, or to get Facebook fans by having the QR code lead to a “like-to-unlock” page offering a valuable promotion or discount.

Google Maps
Does your business have a big roof or parking lot? With a several buckets of black and white paint, you can convert these areas into a fun promotion for your business on Google Maps and other satellite mapping websites by creating giant QR codes visible from outer space. No, this isn’t a joke. Facebook was the first to try it.

Remote Virtual Storefronts
Are you paying for eye-level print advertisements that appear in public places? Why not turn these ads into an actual storefront? A Korean grocery store chain has been doing this for nearly two years with phenomenal success:

For QR codes placed in public areas, be sure to use common sense regarding the safety of the person who may be scanning the code. Obviously, roadside billboards and bumper stickers are not a good place for QR codes, but also keep in mind that many outdoor settings such as construction sites and high-traffic areas are not ideal for encouraging someone to pause to scan a code.

QR Codes have been integrated into food items, tattoos, haircuts, cobblestone patios, and even a sundial. New technologies are constantly emerging, but for a small business, QR codes can’t be beat for their low cost, adaptability, and potential for creative uses. Are you leveraging this valuable tool for bringing the IRL to your URL?

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