Three months ago, Robert Nodes, governmental affairs director for the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, created his first Quick Reponse (QR for short) code. He fell upon the free generator, dooID.com, accidentally. He knew many real estate agents who were already using the scannable squares for contact information, websites and property flyers: "We've got a lot of early adopters."
But he tapped into the new technology for personal enjoyment, too. "I have an iPhone 4," explains Nodes, "I'm always looking for something to scan." This season, it's hip to be square. Icelandic pop stars are beading QR codes into dresses, Denver artists are displaying them in exhibitions, grocery stores in South Korean subway stations let you scan and purchase goods for home delivery.
Suddenly, you see QR codes on websites, posters, wine labels, anti-drunk driving posters and Fourth of July celebration directions. Radio Shack launched a clever new ad campaign featuring codes made of spare parts.
In 1994, a Toyota subsidiary invented QR codes to keep track of its spare parts. Unlike their barcode cousins, they can be scanned from top to bottom or sideways. Each is unique, like a snowflake. When camera-loaded smart phones, wireless Internet service and free scanner apps came along, a perfect storm of instantly compatible technologies swept the odd-looking four-sided doodad collages into the international mainstream.
By the end of 2011, about half of American adults will pocket a smart phone, according to marketing researchers at New York City-based Burson-Marsteller. About 22 percent of Fortune 500 companies use QR codes today. Far more doctors - 62 percent - use smart phones, says Lisa McCluskey, vice president for marketing communications at Memorial Healthcare System. "It's a computer in their hand."
So when Memorial launched a new Chattanooga Heart Institute website this spring, they knew QR codes had to be in the mix. A separate, mobile device friendly site was constructed. Original QR codes - freely generated and added to all print and online ads - led phone or iPad users instantaneously from scan to site. More than 40 percent of new visitors now come to Memorial's website through a mobile device. "QR codes are free, and they make it so much easier for people to find you," says McCluskey. "My only question is: 'Why wouldn't you?'"