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QR Codes and the Digital Citizen Gap – three insider tips

Digital natives and digital immigrants

Back in 2001, Marc Prensky coined the phrases “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” with regard to education. His work drew an analogy from students who grew up with digital tools (basically those born after 1987) and their teachers who did not,  to a country’s natives and immigrants.  For a country’s natives, the local religion, language, and folkways are natural and indigenous – it’s immigrants are expected to adapt and begin to adopt the region’s customs, language, and lifestyle.

There has been much debate since Prensky coined the term as to whether age was the only factor or even a primary one when it came to being a ‘digital native.’  But whatever the actual factors are? It’s true that there is a very obvious that there’s a generation of consumers  who grew up with the convenience and power of the internet, mobile phones, and multiple information streams – and several that have to adopt and adapt as each new technology comes along.

As a life-long geek, I’ve always been in love with technology.  If there was something new and useful on the horizon? I was right there learning about it and figuring out where it did or didn’t fit in my own life.  As a digital immigrant Mom to a digital native (8 1/2 y.o.) daughter,  I started looking at things differently.  The first time I had to explain to her why we couldn’t pause the television in a hotel room in monosyllables? I realized that I needed to understand more than just “how some new tech worked for me” — I needed to find out how someone who grew up with it uses it and how that impacts her.  Along the way, I pick up a lot of information that turns out useful for marketers, business folks, and those looking for insight into tomorrow’s consumers.

If we’re going to stick with the analogy, I learned not just the language, but the slang and what it means, and not just the habits and rituals, but why they exist and what that means for future trends.  Just as someone born before (or after!) the record and radio era in music would be lost at the phrase “see you on the flip side” – there’s a whole slew of things that look and sound mysterious from the other side of the digital citizen divide that make sense when you get where the other guys come from.

Current and future digital trends in business

So then, let’s look at what’s trending or on the horizon in digital (internet, mobile, and social) when it comes to business.  But to make it useful? I’m going to give you some framework to work with.  We’ll start with a topic.  I’ll tell you what it is, why it’s interesting, and give you a good start on learning more about it.  Then I’ll give you the Digital Immigrant viewpoint, the Digital Native viewpoint, and the large business (or enterprise) takeaways and the small business takeaways. Plus a couple of insider tips.

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Let’s not get too bogged down with the back-story though, instead let’s give it a whirl with a pretty solid example and you’ll see how quickly it goes!

Let’s talk about QR codes:

QR Codes – why those little squares you see everywhere are worth a deeper look. If you’ve been keeping your eyes out, you’ve probably seen these things popping up all over the place – from Heinz Ketchup Bottles to airport billboards to people’s business cards. But unless you’re the early-adopter type or it was also accompanied with a “download a QR reader here” message? You might have done the same thing most of us do when we see a barcode and thought “Yeah, that probably doesn’t concern me.”

Here’s the quick definition: The QR is short for “Quick Reader” – invented by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave in Japan (back in 1994!) they were originally designed to keep track of vehicles during manufacture, it’s allows the contents to be decoded at high speed.  Think of it like a 2-dimensional barcode, only instead of just numbers, you can send words, links, and messages.

Why it’s interesting: Done right, a QR code can get your target audience a lot of information, really quickly, on the go. You don’t have to worry about crowding a lot of information in a little space or wondering if your customer gave up trying to type a URL into her phone.  If you get innovative? You’ll also be reaching more potential customers in places they aren’t usually looking for you.

The Digital Native viewpoint: Smartphones aren’t just phones for the D.N. set. They are rolodexes, news sources, libraries, instant communication devices (text or voice), cameras, notebooks, hand-held computers and pretty much their ‘absolutely must have’ device. In their mobile lifestyle, making it fast and easy to get the information they are looking for puts you ahead of the game.

The Digital Immigrant viewpoint: After a while, keeping up with the stream of “download this app” gets to be a bit much and finding the right one to use after that can put D.I.s into app overload.  Just like their D.N. counterparts, making it fast and easy makes it more likely that you’ll get and keep their attention.  But make sure that you aren’t just putting the same information in the QR code as you did where they found it – a sure fire way to make them ignore any QR codes they see in the future!

Big business: QR codes give you a fast way to connect your mobile marketing into someone’s pocket.  Instantly direct customers to your mobile content, apps, contests, or even online or retail purchase points. Embed tracking codes in your referrals and you’ll know when and where your customer started actively engaging with your brand.  Real-time interaction (the scan) can also end up in more in-depth interaction (saved links) and the ROI is highly measurable. Since the use of QR codes is free of any license (Denso Wave owns the patent rights, but has chosen not to exercise them) there’s no barrier to entry. Unlike a lot of competing technology, the QR code is clearly defined and published as an ISO standard. It works just as well on an iPhone as it does on a Blackberry, or a phone running Android or Microsoft.

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Small business: It takes a few minutes to find a QR code generator, put in your information, click generate and save a picture of your own QR code. There’s no expensive outlay to make them or for your customers to use them.  As a small business, social media marketing requires dedicated time and effort and digital marketing usually requires paying someone to make a site or app for you. The creative use of QR codes can automate some of the process for you.  Adding a 1″ square code to just about any surface that takes directs your customer to information that drives sales is kind of a no-brainer.  If I told you there was a magic button that could drive sales leads to you and create new customers in places you already had spent on traditional advertising, how much would you pay for it? Now I’m telling you it’s free.  Why are you still reading this?

3 pieces of insider advice:

1) Test some different QR readers and makers. Find one you like and consistently recommend it – if your target is mainly D.I.s, you might want to put a recommendation near it like “Don’t have a reader? We suggest using ——– available in your app store.”  I downloaded 16 different QR readers to field test on my iPhone at South by Southwest last March. Only 2 survived the cut – i-nigma by 3GVision and RedLaser. For speed and functionality in low-light settings, i-nigma lives on my home screen. RedLaser has added functionality (price-comparison and product ratings) and asks me before opening a URL (pretty soon, we’ll see viruses and scams snaring the unwary – it’s an added layer of protection.) When you look for a site or app to generate your code? You might want one that doesn’t redirect through their own URL or you might like the built-in analytics of those kind.  Weigh which is better for your content.

2) Get Creative. Don’t put a QR code on your business card that has the exact same information as your business card. One or the other is useless and redundant. But a QR code linking someone to your mobile-optimized website? That means a momentary scan takes someone to your site instead of having to type the URL in while looking at the card. (Try scanning the QR code above, even though it goes to a non-optimized site? It will still surprise you how fast it gets there.) Put it on your to-go cups. Stick one in the back window of your car or on the back of your own phone. The most creative use I’ve seen lately was the 2 foot square yard sign on a house for sale that took me to a virtual tour of the house.

3) Get Interactive. Get your customers to download QR readers by having one on the back of your register that takes them to a 10% off discount they can redeem immediately.  Once they’ve downloaded a reader and seen how fast it works? You’ll be able to get them scan again for other reasons.  Direct them to your Facebook page to Like it.  Send them to your online store.  Link them to your downloadable app.  Give them more than a passive experience.

So, are you ready for this? Let’s get digital.

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Written By

AGBeat columnist on digital marketing trends. Pruitt's computer obsession started back in '79 - a long time geek and early adopter, she's an ex-programmer & CIS professor, and a Social Media Devotee. Previously known on many social networks as an early-adopter by the handle of "GeekMommy" – Lucretia was on the Forbes 50 Power Moms list as a Tech Mom, she was one of the original Walmart Elevenmoms & has been dedicating herself to the field of Social Media full-time for several years now. She works with small businesses and F100 clients alike.



  1. Ed Neuhaus

    October 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Since the QR code space is confusing and littered with readers that don't work with certain codes and new QR ideas coming in the market daily like Digimarc, how do we know the triditional QR codes are where it is at? Digimarc embeds a digital watermark into photos that allow their free reader to scan the photo itself and get the multimedia content. No need for a little square in your flyer for a black and white image that others wise means nothing.. Just wondering if we should be pushing the point of the traditional QR code or something else? Henry Ford was not the first car marker but he was the ine that made it work on a large scale.

  2. Lori Lavender Luz

    October 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    OK, you[ve convinced me that a QR code would be good on my next iteration of business cards. But I'd like to incorporate my logo into it, also, and have it widely readable. I would love to know if you do a future post on this!

    And thanks for the recommendation of i-nigma and RedLaser. Both are on my phone now. Is this like VHS vs Betamax, where not all QR readers will survive the long haul?

  3. Chrissy

    October 12, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Thanks for directing me here Lucretia.. I have a few clients that have been asking me about QR codes and I know how to use um but not how to help them with their biz.. awesome post!

  4. Barb

    October 12, 2011 at 9:37 am

    I have seen QR codes showing up in some unusual places lately but I love the idea of having it on business cards. Good idea Lori to incorporate your logo as well.

  5. Joshua Jarvis - GA Realtor

    November 8, 2011 at 8:57 am

    It must be a regional thing, as QR Codes are a colossal FAIL in Georgia. In addition, if it doesn't capture the customer's information, then it doesn't move my business forward.

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