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Use QR Codes so You Don't Get Thrown Away After Tradeshows

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Three ways to incorporate QR codes at tradeshows
  • Five important things to consider before using QR codes

If you've attended a tradeshow, you've probably left with a bag packed full of promotional products, business cards, and sales collateral.

We all have the best intentions when we add something to our swag bags, but the reality of our busy lives sets in the second we walk out of the tradeshow and get into our cars. Materials collected at a tradeshow often get thrown out immediately or discarded after sitting in a corner of our office for months.

If your company uses tradeshows as a marketing tactic, QR (quick response) codes can help you avoid the inevitable doom of the tradeshow-bag black hole. QR codes are the square-shaped, (usually) black-and-white barcodes that we've all seen popping up on billboards, in magazines, and in commercials. When a QR code is scanned by a smartphone, it typically opens an informational Web page or video.

QR codes are catching on quickly in the US now that more than 35% of American adults own smartphones. In fact, QR code usage shot up 4,549% in Q1 of 2011 alone, with 9 out of 10 scans being done to find more information about a product or service.

So, how can QR codes help you make an impact at a tradeshow?


1. Skip the business card

A QR code can store your contact information so that scanning it with a smartphone creates an entry in the smartphone's address book. Stick your personal QR code on your tradeshow name badge (print it on a label), and encourage new business contacts to scan it to ensure your business card doesn't get lost in the shuffle. It will also help your new contact recognize your name when you make a follow-up call after the tradeshow.

2. Stop wasting paper on marketing collateral

Companies love decorating their tradeshow tables with dozens of flyers created by the marketing team to promote each product or service. When new potential business leads scoop-up flyers and add them to their overflowing swag bags, we get excited about possibly scoring a new lead. But how can we know what the passerby does with our flyer? Does she read it? Share it? Store it? Throw it away?

Instead of distributing hard copies of marketing materials, you can distribute electronic copies via email. Simply create a QR code that triggers an automatic email when it is scanned by a smartphone. The email can contain a preformatted message from your company along with links to your sales materials.

QR codes are a great solution for marketers because your materials will escape the clutter of the tradeshow bag and make their way into your prospects' email inboxes, all the while helping you cut down on the cost of printing and transporting sales sheets.

Depending on your in-house technology capabilities, you could do one of the following:

  1. Contact a QR code hosting company and ask about all-in-one solutions.
  2. Link your QR code to a data-capture landing page linked to your email marketing software. Include a few simple fields for the user to complete—such as name, phone number, and email address—and sync the form with a subscriber list that automatically sends a welcome email.

3. Don't force people to visit your table

You don't need to limit your use of QR codes to your table display. You can include your QR code in your tradeshow directory ad, or print it next to your logo on the event signage. That is particularly effective if you are sponsoring a luncheon table and get to put signage in the centerpiece. You will have a captive audience at the table who might be curious about your QR code.

Before you use a QR code, you should keep a few key things in mind.

  1. QR codes should be generated using a shortened URL. The longer the URL, the denser the QR code. The denser the QR code, the harder it is for a scanning app to read it.
  2. QR codes don't always scan the same way across every smartphone platform, so make sure to test it on an iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry before you launch.
  3. When you are testing, take into account the distance that most users will be scanning your code from. Is it going to appear on an event banner? The back of your booth? On your table-top display? The farther away the user, the larger the code needs to be.
  4. QR codes don't need to appear in black and white, but darker colors definitely work better. Steer clear of pale colors, such as yellow and pink.
  5. Not everyone knows what a QR code is, so you might consider adding a line of instructions and a recommended QR-code scanner.

Consider contacting a QR code hosting company that can create and test your code across multiple smartphone platforms and recommend the size needed based on your intended usage. By using a hosting company, you can access detailed usage statistics and guarantee the QR code will continue working as expected throughout the life of your campaign.

Free QR code generators are popping up online and can be tempting to use—especially if you are on a budget—but if your QR code doesn't work the first time someone tries to scan it, the effectiveness of your campaign will start to decrease.


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Sarah Baker is a blogger, nonprofit social media consultant, and director of communications/marketing for a national insurance company.

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  • by Sally Schmidt Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    I have also found that the amount of lighting available also affects how easy it is to scan QR codes. If your sign will be in a low-light area, a bigger code is better.

    Sally Schmidt, Avastone Technologies

  • by Carol Robinson Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    When using QR Codes, keep in mind that most users scanning the code with a smartphone. If the QR Code sends the user to a landing page, that page should be optimized for mobile phones.

    I recently scanned a QR Code with my iPhone at a tech trade show to download a white paper. The landing page contained a form that was so tiny that I abandoned the page because it was too difficult to complete. It also made me question the company's credibility.

    It is far more engaging for the mobile user if they don't have to zoom in and search for information on a web page that was originally intended for a larger desktop screen.

    Carol Robinson, Milestone50 Productions

  • by Vickie Siculiano Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    We in incorporated QR code into our recent trade show exhibit and it was fascinating to watch how people became engaged with the brand on their cell phones.

    Our art department enlarged the QR code to a 12 x 12 size, laminated it and used velcro to put on front of the counter, while there was also one on a stand on top of the counter.

    I created this QR code for a survey form to enter a contest. On a phone, the survey form was pretty small, but it was saved for entry at the event, and also at the attendee's convenience.

    When I analyzed the stats after the event, the website hits were about the same, but having both gave people more of a choice as to how they wanted to scan it. Rather than one size fits all solution, it gave people more choice, and ad a very hectic trade show event, options are always great.

    QR codes are here to stay, it's just up to creativity, a little strategy, and thought into the end user's interaction.

    Great post - thanks!

    Vickie SIculiano, Marketing Manager
    ExhibitCraft
    http://exhibitcraftnj.com

  • by Bob Ragsdale Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    Be sure to have your landing page linked to content that is optimized for a smart phone. While this should be obvious, I have seen several organizations jump on the QR code bandwagon and point users to pages that don't display well on mobile devices (which completely defeats the purpose of using a QR code).

  • by Cvlynk Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    Good points. You're right, the problems that come with QR codes shouldn't be ignored. While this technology may seem simple to some, placing a QR code on your resume can complicate information sharing. Your resume might stand out, but in this job market, job seekers don’t want to create information sharing confusion with hiring managers and recruiters. Instead of using a QR code, you should try using a Personal Digital Index (PDI). PDI’s are accessible to all employers without the additional steps associated with QR codes.

    Job seekers and career professionals need to be certain that their contacts are accessing their information. For this to happen, individuals can use websites like Cvlynk. Cvlynk is a free web service that makes a direct connection between an individual’s Personal Digital Index and their personal brand.

  • by Cody Pitchford Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    Great pointers! We have found great success in using Business card stickers (sometimes customized for that particular trade show/conference), QR Code Tshirts and the ever popular QR Code Temporary Tattoos found at http://www.StickerScan.com

  • by Bryan Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    Reiterating many previous comments, be sure your landing page and lead capture process is compatible with all major smart phones. I received a direct mail piece and promptly scanned it with my iPhone -- which led me to a page with a Flash-based video.

  • by Rodney Brooks Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    QR codes are not the only game in town. speakEZ offers a Mobile Direct Response service without the limitations of QR codes. Call a number; Say a phrase; Get a message on your mobile device. It could be a a white paper, video, datasheet, you name it. Talk about engaging your customers, how about having them say your company name as the phrase.

    speakEZ is a easy and simple way of engaging customer, offering information and gathering information. What are you afraid of...try speakEZ. Call from your mobile phone 1-877-450-8899 and Say "Q R This" and experience a different type of Mobile Direct Response.

  • by Paolo Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    QRs on Stickers or on Business Cards are, in my opinion, really useful, because they let you exploit the "power" of the Web without having to digit chars and numbers on your smartphone.
    But... think about avoiding Business Cards at all, showing your personal QR code directly on your smartphone, linked to your unique account that groups all your contact data (Social Networks aliases too): what do you think of it?
    It's just an experimental service, but please try Identity: http://hereqr.it/en
    http://hereqr.it/?rgsten
    Thanks!

  • by Jennifer Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    If you QR code will be printed in any book, directory, magazine, etc. ensure that it is not too close to the spine To understand what I mean, flip open any magazine... see how the page close to the spine of the magazine curves? This makes it hard for your smartphone's QR code reader to take a clear shot. Avoid this by ensuring your QR code is positioned near the outside edge of the page.

  • by Judy Hamilton Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    Great tips Sarah! I would add to this the value of ensuring that your QR codes are 'relinkable' (the ability to change the target web page, video, contact info etc...after creation or printing).

    This way you can extend the life of your tradeshow materials by changing the content after the event to keep your customers engaged. Imagine a product brochure that always shows your latest product video or a travel mug that displays a weekly mobile newsletter or a contact card that always has a valid account rep regardless of internal company changeover...

    Also, you can think about how to use QR codes to engage event goers while they are there by doing things like encouraging them to visit partner booths to collect a set of codes to win a prize or get them to interact with each other by providing sponsored QR code nametags and a display a simple leader board at your booth that shows who has been scanned the most! The possibilities are endless if you think beyond a static target and get creative!

  • by Allen Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    We agree that adding color and personality to qr codes is valuable. We created a lot of colorful unique 3D designs that anyone can use off-the-shelf at QR-codeworld.com.

  • by Paolo Tue Dec 13, 2011 via web

    If you want to "play" with QR Codes, customizing them with icons and images, you can try here: http://hereqr.it/?qrcode

  • by Eitan Mon Dec 19, 2011 via web

    You might want to check these special QR codes developed by Pic2go - enabling event participants to automatically share their event photos to Facebook. That's a great way to increase on-line engagement for your events and trade show. http://www.pic2go.com/events

  • by bizTag Mon Dec 19, 2011 via web

    bizTag is a unique type of QR Code tagged with a keyword. Don't worry about the size of your QR Code, the lighting, if it even scans, bizTag has created a new way for potential customers to get access to your bizTag mobile website, web 2.0 internet site and all your current and relevant information with one simple keyword. bizTag delivers the end user to a mobile friendly interface where they can then contact you, purchase your goods and services, get coupons and find out what others are saying about your business.

    bizTag will be available to the general business public on January 1st, 2011 at biztag.com

    The most dynamic and interactive QR Codes in the world!

    bizTag - Turnkey Mobile-Web Business Solution!

  • by Optify Tue Dec 20, 2011 via web

    At Optify we have found success in using QR codes at trade shows as well. After Optify was announced as a DMA 2011 Early Stage Innovation Award Semi-Finalist in June 2011, a week before the DMA ALL FOR ONE Summit, we decided to pass out double sided business cards. On each side of the card was a different QR code. One QR code allowed attendees to scan and automatically send a SMS to a short code and vote for Optify for the DMA Innovation Awards. A second code encouraged attendees to scan and check out Optify’s Twitter for Business Guide. Read more about the results in our blog!

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