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By now most marketers who have experimented with QR codes realize that these 2D barcodes are not going to be the "next big thing" that sends consumers running to scan everything in sight. To be sure, the novelty of QR codes has largely worn off, and that's a good thing. Now QR codes are simply another tool in our marketing toolbox -- and like all tools, they can be used for good or evil.

All too often, QR codes are integrated hastily into a marketing campaign as an afterthought, with little planning or knowledge of QR code best practices. Ultimately this approach delivers poor results for marketers, and an unsatisfying experience for users. However, when implemented properly, a QR code can serve as an effective means to easily bridge offline and online media, and easily engage target audiences, wherever they may be.

By implementing QR codes with some fundamental best practices in mind, you can reach prospects in a new ways, drive them toward interaction that can help you capture leads and build lists, and create a positive user experience and favorable brand identity.

Context
Virtually anything that can be printed can become interactive with a QR code, including displays, advertisements, posters, packaging, brochures, business cards, etc. But that doesn't mean you should just slap a QR code on anything within reach. First think: what is the purpose of the code in this context, and what is the action we're trying to facilitate? Does it fit, does it make sense?

In a nutshell, a QR code is simply a means to make it easy for users to get from offline to online. So ideally, the QR code will send users to a landing page or online resource that is complementary to the printed piece where it appears. For example, a QR code that points to a coupon for 15% off your dinner bill in return for an email list signup makes perfect sense on a restaurant menu. A QR code that inexplicably links to the restaurant's homepage does not.

Call to action
Once you've confirmed that you have a use case scenario where a QR code makes sense, your next task is the call to action. Every QR code should have a clear call to action located nearby, something that lets users know why it's there and why they might want to scan it. For example, is your pitch a special offer, a video demonstration, an app download, a registration, or a simple request for information?

Whatever the use-case, include a clear call to action in the form of "scan here to [insert reason or incentive]." This will not only make it more likely that a user will interact with your code, but will also set expectations for a better post-scan user experience.

A mobile optimized landing page is a must
When someone scans a QR code you already know they are on a smartphone, so it just makes sense that your landing page should be optimized for viewing on a handheld device. If you send users to a "regular" page formatted for standard desktop viewing it not only creates a negative user-experience, but it also reflects poorly upon your brand.

Even if you already have a responsive site that scales to a smaller size for handheld viewing, consider whether the amount of content being displayed on your landing page is truly optimized for a handheld-specific experience. If not, you may want to craft a special landing page or microsite, if the campaign warrants it.

If the goal is lead capture or list building, it's important to build the landing page with a mobile-friendly experience in mind. This means keeping things simple with your input forms, and using a nice touch-friendly layout.

The QR code itself
You'll of course also want to make sure the code itself is of sufficient quality to be easily scanned and managed. This means ensuring that the code is not packed with too much data, and is of an appropriate size and placement for the anticipated distance of the user.

A good rule of thumb is to assume a 1:10 size-to-distance ratio, under ideal conditions. So if the code size is one inch, the user can be up to 10 inches away when the code is scanned. If you anticipate a scenario where users will be standing at a further distance, you will need to increase the size of the code accordingly. Of course you will also want to take into account lighting conditions, materials, as well as the amount of data the code holds. In short, it's a good idea to always run some draft tests before printing your final production materials.

In most cases, you will want to use a dynamic QR code rather than a static code. Static QR codes are created with the landing page URL embedded directly into the code, whereas a dynamic code (also known as a "hosted code") uses a tracking URL that redirects to the landing page. The benefit of the dynamic code is that it provides the flexibility to change the destination URL/landing page, even after the code has been printed and published. If you want to change the URL of a static code after it's been printed you're out of luck. Dynamic codes also tend to allow for shorter URLs, meaning the code needs to hold less data and can therefore scan more reliably at smaller sizes.

Tracking and reporting
Finally, you will want to make sure that you have some method to measure how your QR code is performing over time in order to gauge your campaign's success. QR codes that tie in with an analytics and tracking system will allow you to view the activity of your code, including number of unique and total scans, location and device data, similar to standard web analytics.

Collecting this type of data on your code's performance will allow you to make informed decisions about what is working, and what isn't.

In summary
With a little planning and preparation, QR codes can be an effective means to drive your offline prospects toward online interactions. The key, as with anything, is to make sure you have the right tools for the job, that you are using the codes in a way that is clear and compelling, and that the campaign meets the needs of your users as much as (if not more than) your own.

It's also worth noting that many these same principles apply to other engagement technologies. Near field communication (NFC), short URLs, augmented reality, and whatever comes along tomorrow can also be utilized in the same way to create a truly connected media experience that reaches your target audiences in new ways.

Jason Summerfield is the principal and co-founder of Qfuse. With over fourteen years of hands-on interactive marketing and web development experience, Jason has applied this knowledge toward the evolution of today's connected-media.

Qfuse is a HubExchange partner and mobile engagement platform that helps marketers effectively create and manage dynamic QR codes, NFC tags, and custom mobile landing pages. Their HubExchange app Qfuse QR Code and Mobile Page Generator make it easy to manage all of your campaigns from a central dashboard, and track their performance with robust reporting and analytics. Check out the app now!