Secret decoder ring not required

By Jill Sederstrom, special to Land Line

If you’ve flipped through a magazine or opened your mail lately, you’ve probably seen a symbol that looks a bit like hieroglyphics. But that little code (also known as a QR code) isn’t that tough to crack – and its secrets could be a valuable find.

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that, when scanned using a cellular phone, direct the user to a number of different destinations. Marketers use these QR codes to offer exclusive coupon deals, provide additional product information, show videos, or enter a consumer into a promotion or contest.

As Tammy Lewis, chief marketing officer for QR Media Group, puts it, a QR code “connects the physical world to the online world.”

The Home Depot, for example, used a QR code – with the assistance of Scanbuy, a company that provides mobile barcode solutions – to launch a new Martha Stewart product line. Customers who scanned the code were able to see how-to-videos, product demos, relevant accessories, buying guides and project guides or even buy products online.

To unlock a QR code, most users will need to download one of many free mobile QR reader applications for their smartphone. When the application is launched, the screen on your phone will look much like a camera. Simply hover the phone over the code.

“Depending upon what app it is, you usually don’t even need to press a button,” Lewis says. “It kind of latches on to it and then immediately takes your phone wherever that code has been programmed to take you.”

While most QR mobile applications require a smartphone, David Javitch, vice president of marketing for Scanbuy said his company offers an option for people who have camera phones that aren’t a smartphone. Through this “scan and send” option, non-smartphone users can simply take a photo of the QR code and text the image to a designated number.

Marketers aren’t the only ones who are embracing these high-tech images. The average consumer can also get in on the fun.

Lewis says her company, Skanz, which is affiliated with QR Media Group, allows people to create their own personal QR codes for free. These QR codes can act as a business card or could just be a social networking tool.

“You could put your picture, your name, your phone number, your email, links to Facebook, Twitter, top sites you like, photos. Sort of whatever you want to share you can house in your QR code,” she says. LL