What are those puzzle-looking things anyway? It seems as though QR Codes are a brand new invention from the increased frequency that we see them. Those funky symbols, arranged in a square pattern on a white background, are codes with embedded information, much like a bar code, but with far more power. When read with a barcode scanner, QR codes can launch websites, files, photos videos and even music.

QR Codes are in fact 17 years old, but there’s a simple reason why you are seeing them much more of late  - the explosion of smartphones. Droids, iPhones, BlackBerries and others are equipped with apps to scan QR Codes and launch their information. Since smartphones now significantly outsell traditional cell phones, the QR Code, though not new, has far more utility than it did even a few months ago.

The QR Code, short for Quick Response, comes from Japan where a Toyota subsidiary introduced it in 1994. These codes are commonplace in Japan and appear in magazines, billboards, business cards, windows, apparel and more. Even McDonalds uses the QR Code on the burger wrappers directing  consumers to a page with the burger's nutritional information.

The question for marketers is whether this is just an interesting gimmick, or do these codes have real marketing value? We feel there is value,  which will only increase over time as smartphones quickly overtake the traditional cell phone and become more important in the business we conduct every day.

How do smart marketers put these codes to work? In many potential ways:

1. Business cards—Pretty basic, but increasing the number of prospective customers who access a web site, information piece, or an offer of some sort clearly has value.

2. In store materials—Menus, windows, and point of sale materials can promote sales and engage customers.

3. QR specific promotions—If your target audience is more technologically advanced , the use of QR codes for special QR only promotions is smart way to reward and recognize your customers.

4. Packaging—The actually packaging can provide more information, how-tos, and instructional videos.

5. Presentation materials—It’s easy to add the code to presentation materials with links to additional information, services, materials.  At a minimum it shows that you’re tech-savvy.

6. Within ads themselves— QR codes within out of home executions, print ads, printed materials etc. are all designed to engage the customer while providing helpful and interesting information.

In the end QR Codes are an excellent way to engage, inform and entertain. As always, the content of what you provide once you do engage the customer is always paramount.

We’re curious about your thoughts and ways you think QR Codes can be used. Feedback is always appreciated.