Are you familiar with QR codes? You’ve probably already seen them around—those quirky squares with the intricate black and white design inside. The design is actually a matrix code that stores a large amount of information in a small, square space.

When scanned, it quickly and accurately decodes that data such as URLs and text (hence the acronym “QR” which stands for “quick response”). With the advent of smart phones and barcode-scanning apps, resourceful marketers began using QR codes (also known as 2D barcodes) as a portable way to promote their businesses.

QR codes often pop up in ads or other types of marketing. And they’re being used in more effective, imaginative ways as companies and organizations develop a better understanding of how to use this tool to engage and educate consumers. How can your business take advantage of QR codes? Let’s look at some clever applications.

Get creative with your codes

Despite their high-tech nature, it’s easy and place them on almost anything. Magazine ads, newspapers ads, posters, packaging and brochures represent some of the most common ways to employ QR codes. But, that’s just the start. There are plenty of practical and engaging QR code applications, such as:

Business cards: Why not update this classic business mainstay? Create your own and include a QR code that links to your website (or online video) to give users an instant, more complete look at your company. Or, link to your online coupon or seasonal offer to give consumers a reason to hold onto your card.

T-shirts, mugs, and key rings: Freebies like these that feature your QR code can promote goodwill with your audience – and deliver a simple way to learn more about your company. You can encourage scanning by allowing users to win coupons or prizes.

Name tag or shirt: Don’t feel like passing out business cards at a convention or conference? Wear a name tag or shirt with a QR code so others can instantly capture information about your company or offer. (As long as you don’t mind people scanning you!)

Store windows: Create window signs and place a prominent QR code in your storefront window or door. This allows those passing by to upload important data about your business, such as your hours of operation, phone number, menu, service list, prices, web site URL and more. You might even provide a link to a popular review site that features your company.

Receipts: Ever thought of using your receipts as a selling tool? Place a QR code on them that gives patrons easy access to special offers, freebies, or loyalty programs. Or do the same with a code on your shopping bags.

Banners: Companies with a booth at a trade show or convention compete for attention. But, a large banner that includes a QR code acts as a giant business card for your organization.

Product packaging: No matter if your company makes yummy jams, decadent chocolates, or blissful beverages, you probably use product labels. So, enhance your branding by inserting a code on your labels and cards to deliver useful information – such as recipe ideas – that complement your product. Feeling really inspired? Some cupcake, cookie, and pastry makers place tiny toppers with a QR code on their items for a quirky, whimsical way to interact with their customers.

Keep these important tips in mind

As with any marketing tool, a QR code should serve your customers and prospects. When thinking of all the different ways your business can use barcodes, be sure to:

  • Give individuals access to worthwhile information. Don’t waste their time.
  • Use codes with enough clarity and size to scan on older-generation smart phones.
  • Indicate (when possible) where the code directs users, and the benefit they’ll receive by scanning it.
  • Send users to mobile-friendly destinations.

Entrepreneurs are known for being innovative. So, tap into your creativity – as well as your flexibility as a small business owner – to use QR codes in the most effective manner for your company.