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

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