Yes! QR Codes Can Work for You

By Amy Bell

You've probably seen them on billboards, magazine ads, retail products, posters and even business cards. They usually appear as a small box of black lines and squares on a white background, although they are sometimes creatively designed with a pop of color. These tiny emblems may appear somewhat unassuming, but they are actually incredibly powerful marketing and education tools.

They’re called QR codes (short for Quick Response code), and they were first invented in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave to track the movement of vehicle parts. Although QR codes have been around for nearly 20 years now, the little boxes have taken the retail and advertising world by storm as smartphones continue to explode in popularity. With access to barcode-scanning apps, thousands of customers can quickly and easily access QR codes.

In fact, 24 percent of American smartphone users surveyed during the second quarter of 2012 reported that they had scanned a barcode or QR code in the previous 30 days, according to a Nielsen study. Many experts predict this figure will continue to grow in coming years—and QR code scanner usage is already mushrooming among young mobile users. Based on a Pitney Bowes survey, 27 percent of 18-34 year olds (1 in 4) reported scanning QR codes.

So, how exactly do QR codes work? The process is surprisingly simple. If a mobile phone user has a QR code app on her phone, she simply opens the app and holds her smartphone camera over the code graphic. When the app "reads" the code, the data may direct the phone to open a web page or a Google map, dial a phone number, send the user an automatic email or text message or even play a YouTube video.

QR codes are already making waves throughout the building and construction industry. Adding codes to ads, brochures and business cards, construction businesses are offering access to coupons, blogs, websites, surveys and newsletters. Many of these codes also link to URLs that provide installation instructions, product comparisons, project photos, product specs and manufacturers’ warranties.

Quite a few SPF professionals are already taking advantage of this innovative technology for both marketing and educational purposes. "We use QR codes on the outside packaging of our low-pressure spray polyurethane foam kits to allow users to gain access to the operational videos which we have posted on YouTube," explains Mark Wojtiuk, General Manager of RHH Foam Systems, Inc. "In advertising, we use QR codes to link directly to our Facebook page where people can visit and read additional information on the products we offer." He says the QR codes also provide the company’s toll free contact information so the user can contact them to discuss the application of their product.

There’s no question that QR codes are becoming in vogue in the building industry — but are they actually effective? Many SPF professionals answer that with a resounding yes, claiming the advantages to QR codes are virtually endless.

"We’ve seen increased activity on our video viewings and Facebook page where we currently have our QR codes linked to," says Katie Morgan Sales/Technical Representative with RHH Foam Systems, Inc. She goes on to explain that potential customers post questions and comments to RHH through social media outlets.

Better yet? QR codes are absolutely free to offer and use. "We don't really see a downside to using the QR code since it's a completely free way to reach out to customers," Morgan adds. "QR codes provide quick and easy access to our brand and there is no limit on the storage capacity."

However, many marketing experts say the QR code is not effective unless it serves an actual purpose. Before you slap a code on every ad, product label and brochure, make sure that it actually enhances the user experience. Instead of just directing customers to a random web page, consider offering a discount voucher, interesting information about the product or some other item of value.

For example, Wojtiuk says RHH Foam System, Inc.’s QR codes provide access to important information, including videos detailing the benefits and application of their Versi-Foam product, which safety equipment should be worn when using the product, shut-down, storage and reuse instructions as well as troubleshooting. "Any user with a smartphone and a QR scanner is able to access these videos when they are out on the job site," he adds. "This leads to proper education of personnel out in the field, which ultimately results in cost savings to the users."

When it comes to using QR codes in ads, Wojtiuk points out that readers are more likely to scan a QR reader with their smartphone and store this information with them "rather than hold onto a magazine for a long period of time."

Many mobile marketing experts say that QR codes are quickly being replaced by more advanced technology, including invisible ink and "augmented-reality" apps. With these cutting edge apps, users don't have to take a picture of the code, which then sends them to a website, video or document. Instead, users simply run their smartphone over the content and receive the enhanced features or information immediately.

One company called Layar claims to be at the forefront of the augmented reality (AR) movement. According to the Layar website, "AR is a way viewing digital information which has been superimposed – or augmented – onto a live view of the physical, real-world environment around you." With Layar products, publishers and advertisers can easily activate static print pages with digital experiences.

Another mobile app called Blippar allows users to instantly pull information, offers and augmented-reality 3D experiences from markers placed on newspapers, magazines, products and posters — no clicks required.

Touchcode, yet another emerging technology, is an invisible electronic code printed on paper, cardboard, film or labels. The user merely touches his smartphone or tablet to it to make mobile magic happen. For example, toys come to life, ads burst into song or users can quickly confirm the authenticity of a brand.

While technology continues to improve, one thing is certain: Mobile scanning apps are here to stay. Not only are QR codes effective marketing and educational tools for the SPF industry — they’re absolutely free. It’s a win-win.

There are multiple sites where you can create your own QR Codes, such as:,, and

There are other options to explore, as well, if you are looking to expand your digital reach, such as: