Quick Response or QR Codes are second-generation barcodes. Whereas barcodes carry only one dimension worth of data (with the bars running vertically), QR codes carry data both vertically and horizontally. They are of interest in marketing because the data they contain is easily decoded with many different types of mobile phones using the phone’s camera. A QR decoder is included in the OS of Google’s Android and Nokia’s Symbian phones, and there are dozens of apps to turn an iPhone or Blackberry into a QR scanner as well.

If you’ve never used one and you have a mobile phone that works as a QR scanner, try it now. (You may need to install an app, but if you have an iPhone or Blackberry you already know how to do that anyway – plenty of free ones are avaialable.) Activate the QR reader in your phone and simply point your phone’s camera at this code:

rmQRIf everything is working, that code takes you straight to the homepage of Real Magnet’s site. You can also generate QR codes that deliver a short block of copy to the scanning device, automatically dial a phone number, or fire off a text message. Kaywa.com is a popular site for generating QR codes, though there are many others.

So that’s what QR codes do and how they do it. Let’s look now at why they’re useful for event marketing. There are two distinct applications – Audience Development and On-Site Experience. Today we will look at Audience Development. I’ll come back to QR Codes for On-Site Experience next time.

QR Codes for Audience Development

Some say Audience Development, others say Butts in Seats, but all of us in event marketing have the same job – to fill the room. QR codes are useful principally as a way of bridging printed media and online. (Hyperlinks already do an admirable job of moving someone from one part of the internet to another, so there’s little reason to distribute QR codes online.) Here are some ways to use QR codes to make your next show SRO:

Direct Mail: OK, I didn’t have to rack my brain to come up with this one. You already include a URL on your event brochures and postcards – why not add a QR code as well? The important point to remember is that the people following the link in your QR code are going to be on a mobile device, so sending them to the main event site – particularly if does not render differently for mobile browsers – will yield limited benefits. Instead, use your QR code to send people to an email signup form, preferably on a page designed expressly for mobile viewers. Getting prospects to register from your direct mail would be great, but a strong Plan B that at least captures the rest of the interest your direct mail generates is also recommended. QR codes can be that Plan B.

Printable Flyers to Ambassadors: Many shows have “regulars” – those people who show up year after year and act as the champions of the show within their respective organizations. You can identify them based on previous attendance records, and can also have a good idea of who your most engaged email users are through your recipient level tracking. Most conferences appeal to more than one person in a company, so a campaign that reaches the most engaged person within a company and then fans out through his or her department can be very effective. For the next show you want to mobilize your most loyal fans, try emailing a link to a downloadable and printable flyer designed with a QR code. Ask your ambassador to print out a copy to hang on his/her door, or to print out several copies to distribute throughout the department. (If you use fax marketing for your events, QR codes are a direct hit here as well.)

At your other events and meetings: Think of all the instances you have a real-world presence in advance of the bigger show you are marketing. At each of these, you are probably in the presence of prospective attendees, and they probably have their mobile phones with them. A postcard or even a business card designed with a QR code promoting the event is an ideal take-along. Put a stack in every staffer’s pocket before regional dinners, committee meetings, speaking engagements at other conferences or any other instance where you are tete-a-tete with prospective attendees.

Next time I’ll look at some of the ways you can use QR codes at the event itself, to improve the experience for attendees, and make marketing next year’s event even easier.