If you’re wondering about those bizarre two-dimensional barcode boxes you’re starting to see in magazines, they’re called QR (Quick Response) codes, and they can be your ticket to delivering information to the most tech-savvy of your clients.

10 Technologies: QR Codes

Developed in the 1990s, the open-source QR codes have an early foothold in broad usage, while Microsoft’s similar Mobi Tags offer more extensive branding customization options and are gaining ground in the fashion industry. Both technologies can hold a link taking the consumer directly to wherever the marketer chooses—from an informational video or a landing page listing the business’s hours, location and services to the company’s website homepage or “buy now” section.

Online, people can click on them, but they’re really designed to be read “on the go” by a code reader app easily downloaded onto a smart phone. Free from the shackles of the computer, consumers are receptive to this brave new mobile marketing world, where swiping a phone replaces bookmarking and memorizing URLs.

“This is advertising that’s free, and it’s easy to learn,” says hair designer and owner Sherri Jessee who markets her instructional videos to stylists and her Bristol, Virginia salon, Sherri’s Hair Salon, to consumers. “My QR codes take people directly to my website. From there, they can go to my blog, Facebook page or Twitter Pics, which all have the QR code. That’s how everything links in a circle. I sold a video within two hours of adding PayPal to the mix.”

Even if consumers do not use the codes, they talk about whatever’s new and different. “I call this a parlor trick,” says Sherry McGuire, owner of Alchemy Hair Studios & Spa in San Jose, California, who slaps a QR code onto business cards, Facebook, Twitter, a vinyl in the window and, especially, the client consultation cards that clients take home. “People who know what a QR reader is immediately love that we’re operating on the edge of technology. For people new to the technology, I guarantee that eventually a QR reader will come up in some conversation they’re having, and they’ll take out their smartphone and say to a friend, ‘Let me show you what my hairdresser does.’ That means they’re out there talking about our salon.”

At Pravana, Mobi Tags were key in launching the new Perfection hair smoothing system. “Stylists aren’t carrying around laptops and DVD players,” says Marketing Director Bethany Kirschner. “They work off smartphones. So we made it easy for them by applying this technology to our packaging and magazine ads. Just scan it on your phone, and the educational video will pop up. It’s a clean way to deliver information that stylists really need.”

The company already had been using Mobi Tags in ads to instantly take stylists to a site that connects them with stores carrying Pravana products. “Someone in Wichita takes a pic of the code with her phone, which works with the phone’s geolocation device to identify the closest store and provide a phone number,” explains company founder Steve Goddard.

This is the “window to the future,” Goddard predicts. “The best thing about this technology is that it’s fluid communication,” he says. “We could have a QR code on a bottle of Twist Fiber Paste that links consumers to a video about how that product can be cocktailed with different Pravana products for different results. But then we could change that link to run a contest inviting people to send in images using the product. These tags let you keep the message timely and relevant.”

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