What is a QR code?

what is a QR code


Despite their seemingly recent rise in popularity, QR, or Quick Response codes have been around for a very long time. 

Fun fact: they were actually first designed and used by car manufacturers in the 1990s to help them track vehicles and parts. 

Once people realized how useful these codes were for transferring information, they began to experiment with how they could use them. Nowadays, you’re probably used to seeing them at bus stops, on posters, in magazines — pretty much everywhere. 

Which, let’s face it, is why you’re here. 

In this article, we’ll run through what exactly QR codes are, why they’re useful, and how you can get in on the action and use them too. 

What is a QR code? 

First, let’s start with the basics. 

A QR code is a two-dimensional version of a barcode. They’re square, black and white in color, and can be used to store machine-readable information. 

They have the ability to be customized, but more often than not, they look like this: 

QR code - what is a QR codeAnd the way they work is very similar to that of traditional barcodes. By simply scanning a QR code with your smartphone, you can unlock whatever information it contains. 

Now, that sounds very cryptic. But generally speaking, the information contained within a QR code would be a link to a website or an application. 

So I’m sorry to break it to you, but your chances of uncovering high profile government secrets hidden in a QR code are very unlikely. 

via GIPHY 

As car manufacturers (and a just a little while later, everyone else) discovered, these QR codes were far more efficient for transferring information than their traditional barcode counterparts. 

The other thing that noticed was that it was a seamless way to sync the online and offline worlds — which leads us to our next point. 

How to use QR codes in your marketing campaigns

It’s been a long time since marketers and advertisers have sat in a room and strategized their campaigns like we see them do on Mad Men (which honestly is a real shame, because it looks like a lot of fun). 

The main reason for this was the rise of digital, and the online advertising industry that came along with it. Physical, or offline marketing suddenly became a lot less measurable, and therefore a lot less justifiable as a paid marketing channel.

As we migrated as an industry towards online marketing, a few curious marketers began to try and tie their online and offline marketing efforts together in some way. 

There was a market for both, and where there was a will, there would always be a way. 

To bring them together, there would need to be the ability to track. And for the ability to track, there would need to be an asset that could exist both digitally and physically. 

Enter, the QR code. 

Given that a QR code is a barcode, it can be printed on physical posters, flyers, windows, walls — or anywhere else you can think of. On the flip side, it can also exist as a digital image, and regardless of its form, it can be scanned by smartphones. 

Take, for example, QR codes that feature in physical advertising campaigns:

what is a qr code

times qr code

qr code examples

These barcodes can be scanned by any passerby with a smartphone, at which point they could be directed to a video where they can find out more about the product, or even to a page where they can make a purchase. 

Depending on how you choose to create your QR code (which we’ll run through in just a minute), you’ll be able to get detailed analytics on things like the volume of people scanning your physical ads, where they’re scanning from, what times of the day are most popular, and more. 

How to create a QR code

So now that we’ve covered the what and the why, let’s jump in and see how we create a QR code. 

There are plenty of tools out there to help you create QR codes, but they all pose a similar problem — you create the code, point it to a specific destination, and that’s it. You can’t go back and change it, and you have to find somewhere to store it for your own records.

It’s all a bit messy, truth be told. 

What a lot of people don’t know is that you can use custom URL shorteners to create QR codes — even from links you’ve already created! Like we touched on in the previous section, the tool you choose will determine how much you actually get out of your QR code strategy. 

With Rebrandly, for example, you can create custom, branded links, and generate a QR code for each one of those links. By doing this, you’ll be able to see a whole host of analytics, which will ultimately help you justify your offline marketing spend (as long as your ads perform well, that is). 

Rebrandly analytics - what is a QR code

Bonus tip

With Rebrandly’s link retargeting feature, you can add any retargeting pixel ID (be it from Facebook, Google AdWords or LinkedIn) to your branded links. 

What that means is you can add anyone who clicks on those links to your retargeting audiences on your chosen platforms — even if they don’t land on your website! 

Pretty mind-blowing, eh?

Well, I have a better one for you. Because the QR codes you create using Rebrandly are generated from a branded link, by adding the retargeting pixel to your link, you’re also adding it to your QR code. 

So, you can add anyone who scans your QR code to your retargeting audiences. 


Wrapping up

So there you have it, the fundamentals of QR codes and how you can use them to sync your online and offline marketing efforts. 

Have you used QR codes in any of your marketing campaigns, and if so, did you find anything interesting in the data you collected? We’d love to hear how you got on in the comments! 

Further reading:

This article is about: 

  • What is a QR code?
  • How to use QR codes
  • How to create a QR code



Beth is a Marketing Manager at Rebrandly, the URL shortener and link management solution. When she’s not dreaming about generating leads you’ll find her wandering the streets of Dublin with her golden retriever (getting rained on, most likely), or curled up by the fire with a book and a cup of tea.