How QR codes are emerging in the sign and print industries

Scanning the Code

One may not be aware, but the letters “Q” and “R” have more significance than simply following each other in the alphabet. When put together as a duo, “QR” stands for a specific type of code that has begun to gain value in the print and display industry. 

Use your PDA or smartphone’s camera or barcode scanner to take a photo of the above image. The image will direct you to a specific website. These images can easily be created and added to marketing material or signage.

It’s not that QR (Quick Response) codes are incredibly new; it’s more that the market is now ready to accommodate such technology. 

“The technology is about five or six years old,” says Lee Manevitch, Technical Support Director at Signs Now in Sarasota, Fla. “What’s happened is smart phones have finally caught up with the capability to use this technology.” And as media devices have progressed, QR codes have become much more relevant.  

Assuming many readers haven’t yet become familiarized with QR codes yet, picture this: An immediate and direct way of connecting to text of a particular product, service or web location through a quick, two-dimensional barcode-like scan using your personal handheld device. In the most simplistic terms, that’s the benefit of QR codes. However, there is obviously a more detailed explanation of how these codes can be used in the sign and graphics industry. 

WHAT IS THIS THING?

If one were to look at a QR code without any prior knowledge or what it is and what it does, one would most likely enter into a world of confusion. Certain questions might enter the brain such as: Is this a screenshot of a 1980s video game? Is there a hidden drawing in this black and white pattern? Where does this cruel maze begin?

 

QR codes give consumers an opportunity to use their cell phones or PDAs to instantly visit a website to gain more information about a product or service.

In actuality, the square-sized QR code doesn’t function as complexly as it looks, acting as a link between one party’s intended information and the party on the viewing end. The black matrix type pattern of a QR code stores information such as web addresses that can be tied into print ads, signage displays and more. Audiences exposed to the code are encouraged to scan the patterned square with a properly equipped smart phone in order to obtain and quickly access the stored information.

“In the old days you would write down the contact information, the address, a phone number, and then you would call that number or manually type in a website,” says Manevitch. “Now you have instant gratification, without having to find any old notes associated with that.”

Specific to the sign industry, some niches have caught on faster than others. That’s not to say that others won’t follow in using QR codes readily on signage and displays; however, Manevitch believes that these types of codes fit perfectly in one particular business.

“What we envision in the sign industry can be described in an example of one of our bread and butter clients,” he says. “The real estate industry is a prime example. One of the neat things about it is that every listed house has a dedicated website with a QR code right on the ‘for sale’ sign for that house. I can place a code on the sign and someone can snap a photo and be brought to the website to get more information.”

QR codes are much like bar codes in that the pattern of the image is what contains the necessary information that can be processed by a scanner, such as your cell phone’s camera. Expect to see more QR codes popping up in advertisements.

The code makes life simple for a prospective home buyer who wants to collect important information quickly while compiling data to make a crucial purchasing decision. Take this a few steps ahead and one might be able to see where these codes could become a valuable asset in more and more industries.

“Businesses are using QR codes now,” Manevitch continues. “While a specific store is closed, for example, they can still feature a sign on their window and have a code placed right on the sign. A customer can take a picture and go directly to the website to check out what he or she needs.”

Just as intended, the QR code simplifies the researching and buying process for an individual. By getting information into a person’s hands easily and quickly, there are advantages to all parties involved. So what does someone need to know when working with QR codes to make sure they are seen as effective tools in print or on a sign?

HOW IT WORKS BEST

Remembering that Quick Response codes are designed for exactly that—a fast way to get the viewer to the next step—there are always questions about how to use them properly. If one hasn’t used QR codes in the past, he or she will want to make sure the following steps are taken in incorporating the codes correctly in printed material. Manevitch offers up some suggestions. 

“What matters most in a QR code is the viewing distance and the size of the code,” he says. “An embedded camera on a phone is necessary (for the viewer) to snag a code. When creating the code, you should ask yourself: How far away will people be? What’s the distance they will be viewing from? You still have to get fairly close.”

Manevitch continues by saying there are some differences between how to place a QR code on a print ad versus a sign. He says the proper code size for a print ad is a 3/4 inch square; however, signs’ codes must cover a much larger area, spanning about four square inches.

Beyond the size of the code, advertisers and sign makers must also take readability of the code into consideration. Much like an eye chart, one wouldn’t see the letters as crisply with weaker lenses. With QR codes, the viewable area should not be seen as blurry either.

QR codes are making a splash in the printed visual communications field. They are easily added to printed material and are expected to have a bright future in the retail and real estate industries.

As far as the code itself, you need good contrast and you need reasonable clarity,” says Manevitch, explaining that fewer errors will occur when the code is at its sharpest level while being scanned. “The code itself has all kinds of error correction built in; still, you need decent clarity and contrast.”

On the viewer’s end, there are things to keep in mind as well. The type of phone being used to capture the code will play a large part in the process. Obviously, the party displaying the code has less to no control over this aspect; however, it is an important element to note when understanding these codes.

“As far as the phones,” Manevitch explains, “anything that’s been made in last three or four years are good devices. Palm and even Treos are OK. I can think of probably more than a dozen Android programs that would work. There are also a handful of Blackberry and iPhone programs. That right there probably captures 95 percent of the smart phone market. You’ll want to use the kind of phone you’d be surfing the web with.”

One more benefit of using a QR code is that, depending on how someone has the website and code set up, the number of hits through the phone can be tracked. That means if a person scans the code on a sign, it can be easily determined how the viewer is getting to the website from the code on the sign. And instead of doing a Google search for the name of a business, someone can go straight through the code, which presents a win-win situation for the displayer and the viewer.

PRINTING WITH QR TODAY

While reading about what goes into these codes and how they are being used, someone will almost certainly ask the question: How can a company initially get involved in using QR codes? For Signs Now, “the adoption of QR codes was an initiative brought about by our franchise members as a response from their customers,” says Manevitch. 

In the company’s first large anticipated 2011 marketing campaign, every direct mail piece printed will carry a custom QR code linking to the local center’s website. Plus, Signs Now has incorporated an aspect from Google to enhance the experience.

“By using Google’s URL-shortening and QR-code-generating service http://goo.gl, we can provide real-time analytics to our franchise members,” says Manevitch. “We can even see what operating system was used to view the web site, and because the QR codes are used exclusively for this direct mail campaign, we can gauge the effectiveness of the campaign itself by looking at the number of clickthroughs.”

And at the same time, Manevitch explains, this marketing effort sends a clear message to recipients that Signs Now is aware of this emerging technology and is capable of providing that technology to its customers. 

It’s no secret that companies must stay informed of the advances in the industry in order to succeed and grow properly. QR codes present yet another example of how businesses, even in the sign and graphics industry, can offer more service and options to the customer. 

In Manevitch’s opinion, these codes will only get more popular as time marches on. He says he “envisions the real estate and retail markets adopting QR codes quickly as another method to generate customer leads.” 

Perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg as QR codes gain popularity in the industry.