3/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
You’ve seen the black-and-white checkered squares on everything from food packages to the pages of Lancaster Farming. But what can quick response (QR) codes do for your ag operation? Quite a bit, as it turns out.
QR codes function like bar codes, only instead of a scan with a checker’s price gun revealing $2.89 for your favorite breakfast cereal, a smartphone scanning a QR code can recall up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters.
The QR code need not be all that close, either. Smartphone users can photograph a code on a billboard, for example.
QR codes don’t have to be black and white. They may be configured to include your logo, farm name and colors. Once you generate a QR code, you can change the information it gives smartphone users anytime you want so it can stay relevant to your business. Best of all, it’s free to obtain a QR code at numerous websites.
Many food importers now use QR codes to enhance food safety by improving its traceability. Consumers can know exactly where their produce originated. But QR codes can also become an important part of a farm’s marketing plan, since almost half of the cellphones owned by U.S. users are smartphones.
For an agritourism farm, such as Liberty View Farm in Highland, N.Y., a QR code can be used to offer more information at various points on the tour or at the farm stand. QR codes also help share information with people on the go.
“Visitors may not be able to stop at (our) booth at the county fair,” said farm owner Billiam van Roestenberg. “They can scan it quick and join my newsletter and send me an email. It’s been really great on the farm, too.”
QR codes can also offer recipes, coupons and more information in the gift shop. Printing them on flyers, business cards, brochures and signs can give browsers more information or discounts — and more motivation to buy.
As odd as it may sound, a QR code may be used on a website, too. Ben’s Sugar Shack in Temple, N.H., uses a QR code on its site to direct users to Google Maps directions to the farm. That way, the directions will be with them on their mobile device, turn by turn, as they drive out to the farm for a tour or to purchase syrup.
“Lots of people come here by using Google Maps, and this puts it right there on their phones,” said Ben Fisk, the farm owner.
QR codes can help an operation snag attention when used unconventionally, too.
In July 2012, Paul Milligan with the Daily Mail in the U.K. reported that a QR code painted on the sides of Lady Shamrock, a dairy cow at Southfields Farm in Sombergy, Leiscestershire, helped people access a webpage that shared information on the 100-head herd. The washable paint formed a large QR code to grab the curiosity of passersby and direct them to the farm’s site, www.thisisdairyfarming.com, which includes virtual tours, cow care, quizzes and more.
Last fall, Guinness World Records recognized Kraay Family Farms in Lacombe, Alberta, as creating the world’s largest functioning QR code in its 95,000-plus-square-foot corn maze design.
The QR code sent users to the Kraay Family Farm website. Though few visitors could actually use the QR code because of its size, the media attention the code garnered was definitely worth the effort.
As each of these farms illustrate, there are two keys to effectively using QR codes, according to Chena Tucker, business adviser with State University of New York Oswego School of Business Office of Business and Community Relations.
The first is to reward people for scanning them.
Initially, business owners employed QR codes to direct smartphone users to their websites. The strategy has shifted to offering users more. While it can still be helpful to link a QR code to a website, you should create a landing page that gives users something and be sure that the landing page is optimized for mobile web devices (most webmasters take care of this when creating web pages, but check anyway). Indicate what users will get if they scan the code.
When offered a desirable incentive, more consumers will scan the code. For example, a farm store’s brochure should state that scanning the code will get them a coupon, free-with-purchase item or easy recipes that include the farm’s products as an enticement for them to scan.
The other key to effectively using QR codes is to employ them in an unusual way, such as the above examples of painting them on a cow or carving them into the corn field. But be original and come up with your own ideas for using QR codes. When used in an innovative fashion, you don’t need to say what the code is about.
“The QR code increases people’s curiosity,” Tucker said. “There is no limit on what you can do with them for marketing.”
Like any technology, QR codes do have their drawbacks. People who do not use a smartphone may be left out. For this reason, it’s nice to also include a web address where your customers can access the same information.