If you’ve wandered through a “hip” coffee shop or retail store – or visited top websites like Mashable, Facebook or even Big G itself – you’ve probably seen the web’s latest hot advertising strategy, the QR code. These odd geometric patterns don’t appear to mean much on the surface, but the powerful functionality they provide is getting plenty of attention in the marketing world.
So let’s take a look at what QR codes are and how exactly we can use them to grow our affiliate marketing businesses.
QR codes (short for “Quick Response” code) have been around since the early- to mid-1990s, when they were initially developed to help track the components used in vehicle manufacturing. They quickly became popular in Korea and Japan (where they can even be found on tombstones, offering more information about the deceased), but have only recently started gaining traction among US users, as smartphone penetration of the mobile market continues to increase.
Generally speaking, QR codes are a more evolved version of the standard line barcodes used on most commercial products. The biggest difference, though, is that QR codes can store significantly more information than the 10 digits that are included in line barcodes. In addition, because many of the smartphones sold today come with QR code readers pre-installed (and those that don’t can easily add apps for this purpose), more people are able to access the information stored in QR codes, compared with simple line barcodes.
So, just as standard line barcodes store 10-digit numbers that correspond to commercial products, each darkened area of a QR code represents a piece of information, which can be accessed by taking a picture of the code with a camera. What kinds of information? Really, the sky’s the limit, although the following list represents some of the most common types of information transmitted via QR code:
– Links to websites that provide more information about a product or business. For example, a local restaurant could use QR codes in their print advertising to immediately connect scanners with more information on their hours, menu or coupons.
– vCards. QR codes also allow business professionals to share contact information via vCard with a simple scan.
– Personal contact information, including telephone numbers, email addresses or physical street addresses.
– Maps, to direct scanners on how to visit the advertised location.
– YouTube videos (or other social media/networking site link) – possibly those that presell scanners on your affiliate product.
– Paypal “Buy Now” links to turn scanners into buyers right away.
So how can these seemingly random geometric shapes be used to grow an affiliate marketing business? Although there are some limitations to implementing qr codes on affiliate marketing websites, they do have a number of interesting applications to consider.
1. Forum and Chat Room Avatars – Forum advertising has long been recognized as a great way to build backlinks and drive traffic to affiliate websites. Unfortunately, there are plenty of great forums that are “off limits” to marketers, as they don’t allow links in sig files or on profile pages.
So here’s a smart marketing workaround – instead of uploading a picture of yourself for your avatar, upload a QR code that redirects to a certain page your affiliate website or to a special offer on your site. You’re still playing by the rules of the forum, but without missing out on the benefits of this type of advertising.
2. List Building – QR codes have two great applications when it comes to subscriber lists: SMS list building and email list building in the real world. SMS list building – and mobile marketing in general – is still in its infancy, and using QR codes to capture SMS subscribers in the real world and online through strategically-placed advertisements is something to think about.
QR codes can also be used to capture email list subscribers. For example, suppose you run an affiliate niche website promoting a dog training ebook. To take advantage of QR codes, you could print up flyers offering a free seven part email training course on training difficult dogs (or whatever your autoresponder sequence includes) and distribute them at dog shows or pet stores in your area.
3. Insider Discounts – There’s no denying that QR codes are still in the “early adoption” phase throughout most of the world. So even though including QR codes in your email marketing messages or on your affiliate sites could add an extra step to your sales process, using them can also help you take advantage of the “exclusivity” factor that makes people feel special for doing business with you.
To use this mentality in your business, consider offering your top buyers or most active blog/forum participants a special discount or free information that can only be accessed via QR code.
Of course, the obvious limitation to growing your affiliate marketing business with QR codes is that they’re generally better suited to print advertisements. Sending a QR code via email requires the user who accesses their email primarily via smartphone would have to have a second mobile device on hand in order to capture the code. Certainly some scanners will use both a laptop and a smartphone in conjunction with one another, but you will lose some potential clicks from those who are exclusively mobile.
What I don’t recommend is using QR codes to send people back to your main homepage (like they couldn’t find that on their own), or to a page that isn’t mobile optimized (most iPhone and iPad users will not be able to access flash based content since Apple doesn’t support flash). Take the time to create some exclusive content that can only be viewed through scanning the QR code and make sure it can be accessed by most users.
Yes, there are some limitations with QR codes, but overall, they sound pretty cool, right?! Perhaps the coolest part yet is that using QR codes is free and easy to do. A Google search for the term “QR code generator” turns up plenty of free services that will embed your desired information into a new QR code. You could use goqr.me or bit.ly for that. Google’s URL shortener also provides free QR code generator and will allow you to track stats for it too.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that once you’ve created your QR code, the information that’s stored in it can’t be changed. As with traditional line bar codes, every black square on your QR code represents a specific piece of information; so naturally, changing the information stored in your QR code will change the appearance of the code itself. Remember to double check the information you put into the generator and that your QR code is working correctly before releasing it to the world!
There is a huge potential when it comes to QR code marketing, and all surveys point to this trend continuing to increase in popularity. I am going to set up a test campaign soon to promote exclusive content that can only be accessed through a QR code. I wonder how well it could do promoting CPA offers in printed media 🙂