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Link Direct Mail to Mobile with QR Codes and Save

As cousins from opposite sides of the marketing family, direct mail and mobile marketing haven’t had much in common.  That is until now, thanks to the folks who deliver our snail-mail, the good old U.S. Postal Service.  USPS will soon launch a “Mobile Barcode Promotion” program to boost the value of direct mail by integrating it with QR codes (also see The Power of QR Codes for Small Business).  Those quirky little pixilated squares are popping up in lots of places lately – in magazines, on products and in mail as well. Mobile barcodes provide a connection between print and the digital world.

QR codes are also called “2-dimentional” (2-D) barcodes because they store information both vertically and horizontally, while traditional 1-D bar codes are only read horizontally.  They can be read by smart phones that have a 2-D barcode application/reader. When scanned, these mobile barcodes can motivate an otherwise passive consumer to take immediate action: make a purchase, register for an event, or download a coupon.

The idea is that QR codes can make your mail pieces work harder for less. When you add a mobile barcode to your mailings, you add value. And during July and August 2011, the Postal Service is offering business mailers an upfront 3% discount on First-Class and Standard Mail letters and flats that include a mobile barcode – either inside or on the envelope itself. Here are the rules: 

  • Mobile barcodes must be two-dimensional and readable by a mobile smart phone. One-dimensional barcodes do NOT qualify.
  • Mailing documentation must be submitted electronically, and mail must be sent with postage paid through a permit imprint. Current methods include: Mail.XML, Mail.dat, and Postal Wizard. (Mailings submitted via Postal Wizard cannot exceed 9,999 pieces.)
  • Business mailers must certify that each mail piece contains a mobile barcode either within the contents or on the outside of the mail piece.
  • The objective of the QR code on eligible mail pieces must be to initiate interaction with consumers via mobile smart phones to market, promote or educate them in some way. Two-dimensional barcodes used for other purposes – such as internal corporate operational processes or postage evidencing – are not eligible for the discount.
  • Nonprofit mail is not eligible for the discount.

For more info email: mobilebarcode@usps.gov

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The Power of QR Codes for Small Business

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. The last thing you need is another new high-tech doodad to figure out. Fortunately, quick response (QR) codes aren’t all that complicated, and the payoff for putting these handy (and free!) devices to work for your business could be powerful indeed.

Actually, QR codes aren’t all that new —just new to catch on in the U.S.  They’ve been common in Europe, Japan and elsewhere for a while. A QR code is like a barcode on steroids. It’s a scanable, computer-generated code that can contain all kinds of different information that you specify, such as text, images, a web link, email address, contact information, a menu, Facebook link, coupons, specials or any kind of promotion. Best of all, you can easily create QR codes yourself for free online in seconds (see BizBest’s top picks for where to do this below).

The scanning device used to read the code is a simple smart phone that most of your customers already have.  Most newer phones come with a QR code reader; older devices can use a free download.

QR codes have literally thousands of possible uses, and innovative business owners are coming up with new ones all the time (we list more in “tips” below). But one of the biggest is using QR codes in printed materials – including print ads in newspapers, yellow pages, magazines, posters, postcards, direct mail, and even flyers. Putting a QR code into a print ad is like turning it into a live link. Biz owners are putting QR codes on everything from business cards, receipts, invoices and newsletters, to coffee mugs, t-shirts, billboards and window signage. (The QR code on this page contains BizBest’s web address. When someone scans it on a smart phone they’ll be brought here.)

QR code usage is skyrocketing.  Big companies use them, and so do solo business owners and freelancers.  The technology is free, and the cost to put QR codes into use is a pittance. Small and local businesses and professionals of all types are turning to QR codes, including real estate agents, spas, salons, fitness centers, bars, dry cleaners, dentists, retail stores, restaurants, coffee houses, jewelers, attorneys, car dealers, auto repair shops, wedding planners, print shops, venues, grocery stores, wine shops, and dozens more.

A critical advantage that QR codes hold over barcodes is their ability to hold vastly more information. Thus, QR codes are far more versatile.  You can, for example, create a code that will automatically dial your business phone number, point to your new video, event calendar or location details, deliver a product booklet, and much more.  Best Buy now puts QR codes on information tags attached to the products it carries.  A customer can scan the code and be instantly directed to online reviews or other info.

Enterprising local businesses are putting QR codes on “Closed” signs they hang in a door or window.  Customers scanning it can see a message from the business owner, be directed to a website or online store, or be given a way to leave a message or send an email.  Before long, a growing segment of customers will expect QR codes, and businesses that don’t have them will be left behind.

QR code tips, tactics and uses: 

  • Put only valuable, useful information on the QR code. Anything less will be a turnoff to customers.
  • Since people scan QR codes on a mobile device, any websites you send them too must be mobile friendly.
  • Use QR codes on “For Sale” signs, packages, clothing tags, fliers, in bar restrooms (for taxi service, for example), bumper stickers, promotional items, trade show booths, wrapping paper, paper coffee cups, window decals, business cards.  Just use your imagination.  

Where to Create QR Codes:  Below are BizBest’s top picks of services where you can generate free QR codes. Some offer custom QR code designs that add colors and graphics to the codes themselves to make them more interesting and fun. Not all QR code generators support the same types of information, so keep looking if you don’t immediately see what you need.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.