If you’re like I am, you’re always looking for new QR Code marketing ideas to help grow your business. The problem is that many companies don’t leverage QR Codes properly. Instead of using them as a tool to drive real, tangible revenue, they use them as novelty items.

I’ve spent the past few months analyzing several hundred different uses of QR Codes across the globe. Some of them have been quite brilliant (as is the case with the Museum of Natural History’s Neanderthal exhibit, which will talk about in a second). Others have been … well, not so brilliant.

But before we take a look at how to leverage QR Codes for business, let’s take a quick look at how they got started.

A Brief History of QR Codes. QR Codes, also known as 2D Codes, are simply variations of bar codes, which have been used for more than 40 years to track information about products. In 1994, a subsidiary of Toyota called Denso-Wave introduced the first QR Code as a way to track car parts in vehicle manufacturing. Denso-Wave had a good deal of success with QR Codes, but they didn’t cross into mainstream business for more than a decade.

QR Code usage quadrupled last year, which means the potential QR Code user base is growing. Despite that, the average consumer doesn’t know how to engage with a Quick Response Code. Because of this, I’m recommending that businesses help consumers along by following the First Commandments of Using QR Codes for Business:

“Thou Shalt Assist Thy Consumer in the Use of QR Codes.”

Sometimes, this means putting a short caption underneath the QR Code that tells people where they can download a built-in QR Code scanner for their phones. Since the majority of smart phones still don’t have a reader, you’ll have to help your consumer along by instructing them to a website where they can install one.

In my experience, some of the best websites for QR Code reading devices include BeeTagg.com, i-nigma.com and ScanLife.com. But don’t just take my advice. A search for “QR Code Reader” will bring up plenty of excellent sites where people can download them into their smart phones.

QR Code Marketing Ideas Used by the Fortune 500. Companies ranging from American Airlines to Sports Illustrated have used QR Codes to promote their products or services.  Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the best examples:

  • American Airlines was one of the first to leverage QR Codes on outdoor boards in major airports to provide an immediate link to information for travelers on the go. Consumers who scanned the codes got real time flight status, gate information and access to a reservation portal
  • BestBuy has added QR Codes to their in-store fact tags to give consumers the opportunity to review information about their products. Consumers can also save the information to review at home later or to buy the product instantly via smart phone and have it delivered to their homes later
  • Barnes & Noble uses QR Codes in the back of its brochures to drive people through to the Andriod and iPhone App pages where they can download the NOOK app directly to their phones
  • Esquire Magazine was one of the first magazines to leverage QR Codes to give readers more information about fashion items featured in their magazine. Users can scan the code to get more information as well as a link to the designer’s website to place an order
  • Fox Broadcasting Company used QR Codes to promote their TV show called “Fringe.” People who scanned the code were given a top-secret message that was available only to people who engaged with the show using their smart phones
  • The New York Times Magazine took a photo of a QR Code made entirely of balloons. Users who scanned the QR Code were driven to a special mobile web page promoting their 10th Annual Year in Ideas issue
  • O, The Oprah Magazine incorporated QR Codes into a feature highlighting multiple products. Readers who were interested in getting more information about the products were able to scan the codes and were driven to mobile web pages
  • Sports Illustrated used a QR Code to allow readers of their annual swimsuit issue to watch bonus videos of some of their models directly on their smart phones
  • The Weather Channel used a QR Code on one of their weather reports to drive people through to a page where they could download The Weather Channel smart phone app

In virtually all of these cases, the QR Codes did something more than just drive people through to a standard mobile web page. Instead, they gave the user a reason to interact with the mobile web page and, in many cases, come back for more.

The Best Use of a QR Code So Far. Surprisingly, one of the best ways to leverage QR Codes was by none other than the Smithsonian Institution. Yes, a quasi-governmental, traditional institution kicked the private sector’s rear end when it came to the best use of a new and emerging technology.

If you visit the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, you’ll see an exhibit about Neanderthals on the main floor. Neanderthals were the “cavemen” who lived in Africa, the Middle East and Western Europe 30,000 to 50,000 years ago.

The Neanderthal Exhibit is pretty typical, except that they’ve placed a QR Code on it that says, “Scan here to be part of our Meanderthal exhibit.”

When visitors scan the QR Code, they’re driven to a website that allows them to take a picture of a friend or family member with their smart phone. Once they’ve done that, users can superimpose an image over the photograph that shows what that person would have looked like as a Neanderthal 30,000 to 50,000 years ago.

Surprisingly, my photo of what I looked like as a 30,000 year-old caveman was almost identical to my High School Yearbook photograph. But I digress.

The Smithsonian’s Meanderthal experience doesn’t end with the superimposed photograph. You can also put different Neanderthal overlays on your photograph and even upload photos to your Facebook page or email them to a friend.

The end result is that instead of spending, say, 2 or 3 minutes learning about Neanderthals, visitors with a QR Code reader on their phone will spend 5 or 10 minutes with the exhibit.

QR Code Marketing Ideas for Your Business. There are a lot of innovative ways to use QR Codes for business, and new ones are being added every day. What follows is a list of 10 QR Code marketing ideas you can use for your business right away.

  1. “Hello, My Name Is” Tags: You know those big red and white tags people wear at events with their names on them? If you put a QR Code in place of your name, you’ll engage people and easily be able to strike up conversations
  2. PowerPoint Slides: I’m a speaker at events and corporations around the globe. In many of my keynote presentations about mobile marketing, I’ll include a giant QR code on one of the slides. The first audience member to scan the code and send me a text (from the scan) gets a free copy of my book, Go Mobile
  3. Websites: Add a QR Code to the Contact Us page on your website so that visitors can download your contact information to their smart phones
  4. Business Cards: Add a QR Code to the front or back of your card so that people can instantly download your contact information
  5. Books, Articles and eBooks: I included a QR Code on the back cover of my book called How to Make Money with Social Media that drives people through to a social media glossary. Our intent was to engage people with a social/mobile tool while they were in the bookstore so they’d be more likely to buy the book. So far, it’s worked very well
  6. Webinars: Ready to make your webinars more engaging and fun? Then simply include a QR Code as part of your presentation. It’s a terrific way to keep the audience engaged and involved
  7. LinkedIn and Facebook Pages: Want another way to stand out from everyone else? Add a QR Code to your LinkedIn and Facebook pages. It’s one of the best ways you can position yourself as a forward, innovative thinker
  8. T-Shirts: Ready to promote your product or service in an innovative way? Then add a QR Code to a T-shirt that you give away to customers and prospects
  9. In-Store Posters with Coupons: Want to provide instant coupons to people while their shopping? Then add a QR Code that drives them through to a special discount that can be scanned at the register.
  10. Dial a Phone Number: Want to encourage people to dial your number so they can order your product? Then give them a QR Code to scan. If it’s set-up properly, it can instantly dial their phone and connect them with your sales center

The Bottom Line on QR Codes. QR Codes are being used by a growing number of consumers. Over time, QR Codes will change and evolved, but sophisticated businesses are already developing new and innovative ways to use them to connect with prospects and customers.

What are your favorite uses of QR Codes? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

Jamie Turner is the Founder of the 60 Second Marketer and co-author of “How to Make Money with Social Media” and “Go Mobile.He is also a popular marketing speaker at events, trade shows and corporations around the globe.