QR Codes drive charity donations

Not­-for­-profit organisations everywhere are discovering that QR codes can reach new donors and boost their donations.

It is very economical to create a QR Code that can be incorporated into everything from your website, to your newsletters, to your national advertising campaign. You can easily generate a QR Code online, and many services can produce codes free of charge.
The Salvation Army has pioneered the use of these codes to drive donations.
Knoxville Area Commander Major Don Vick explains, “We have found that people are more likely to have a smart phone in their pocket than loose change.
“In an age where credit and debit cards are a primary means of spending, we’ve had to experiment with alternative ways for those without cash or change on them to make a donation.
We feel the QR Code is the best option at this point.”

Salvation Army QR Code

There are several payment techniques that can be linked to a code:

Link to PayPal
When scanned, the code links to PayPal. The donor then enters their PayPal details to complete the donation.
Pro: PayPal is a quick, easy and secure way to donate, because donors don’t need to enter credit card information.
Con: The donor must already have an active PayPal account.

Link to a Merchant Account
A merchant account is a type of bank account that allows an organisation to accept payments by payment cards, typically debit or credit cards. After scanning the QR Code, the donor enters their credit card information.
Pro: Anyone with a credit card can make a donation.
Con: A donor may have to type in their credit card information every time they donate this way.

Link to text-­to-­give
This option charges the donation to a donor’s mobile phone account.
Pro: This is a very quick, easy and secure way to donate, and most mobile phone companies are familiar with the service.
Con: While plans vary, text-­to-­give is generally the most expensive option, which is a factor of consideration for not for profit organisations.

Link to a Cash or In­ Kind Donation
This method is particularly popular with businesses that want to publically support a charity. A code is usually displayed on their product along side text that explains how they will donate ‘X’ dollars to ‘X’ charity for every scan. They then keep track of the number of donor scans and donate corresponding cash or an in kind product to their nominated charity.
Pro: Some QR makers will offer an analysis service that tracks how many times the code is scanned. It may also provide you with other useful information, such as user demographics and locations.
Con: Because all the donor does is scan a code, there is a danger of customer dissatisfaction. To make sure that your donors receive the warm and fuzzy feeling of doing good, link the code to a ‘Thank you’ page that explains what has been achieved or donated on their behalf.

QR Code tips:
Include a call to action along side your code, e.g. “Scan here to donate $5”.

Be clear about where the QR Code will take people, e.g. “Scan here to donate $5. You’ll be taken to PayPal to complete your donation”.

Always link to a mobile ­friendly webpage. If people can’t easily use the donation webpage on their smart phone, they will simply give up and leave without donating.

If setting up an advertising campaign, check that the areas you plan advertise are covered by a mobile signal.

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Beer and QR Codes: It’s about the experience

It’s common to see QR Codes stuck on things in a disconnected way. Businesses go to the effort of finding a QR Code maker online and generating a QR Code…that just leads to the company website. Like people couldn’t google it. It’s as if using a code was a badge of proof that a company is ‘down’ and ‘hip’ with the digital age. 

This kind of misses the point of what a code really does. The point is that codes work best when they take people on a journey.

It’s a trigger. It opens a door to an experience that creates a relationship between people and product.

Here are some innovative examples of how breweries and bars have used QR Codes to interact with customers.

First we look at Budweiser, who put Happy Hour into the hands of their patrons.

Next, New Belgium Brewers used a code on 12-packs of their Pale Ale to link customers to an entertaining and exclusive mobile-optimised website. Features include a funny video,

a link to the local New Belgium facebook page, and the brewer’s recommendations for food, books and music that complement the beer. There are even links to the songs, so you can find out if the tunes really do work any magic on your beer experience.

Harry’s Bar in Singapore took a different approach, creating a QR Code to get patrons to socialise during Happy Hour. Tags with codes are hung on beer bottle necks. The code on the tag allows customers to embed a message in the code. They buy another beer, hang the activated tag on the neck and have it sent over anonymously to someone they want to chat to. When scanned, the message pops up along with the option of starting an online chat with the beer’s sender. The result? The bar was buzzing and men bought twice as much beer as usual during Happy Hour.

Massachusetts’ brewery 50 Back centres its brand around supporting American troops. Their tag line is “The Brew of the Brave” and 50 per cent of their proceeds go to military charities. 50 Back used a code as part of a novel campaign called “Buy a soldier a beer” to grow awareness and positive association with their brand. Scan the code and you’re taken to a site that allows you to buy a soldier a beer for US$1.99. Over 7,400 bottles of beer have been delivered to troops in this way. Those customers now associate 50 Back with military qualities such as valour and loyalty, as well as supporting military families, which is a particularly poignant issue in America right now.

If you’re reading all of this and thinking, “That’s quite cool, but I don’t sell beer,” look over the campaigns again and ask yourself if any of them actually sell you beer.

What they sell is an experience, whether that’s the small triumph of a free beverage, a fun game to play with friends, a chuckle-worthy video, or a low-risk chance to chat up a good-looking stranger.

If the experience is a positive one, people will both a) share it with their friends and, b) associate the product with having a good time.

The product doesn’t have to be beer….but let’s face it, it helps!

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What is that square thing?

It may seem that these squares of messy black and white pixels have simply popped up out of nowhere. Visually they don’t directly resemble anything we have seen before, however QR codes are actually another type of barcode.

Barcodes have been commercially successful since the 1970s, when Universal Product Code (UPC) began to be scanned at American supermarket checkouts.

QR4U Blog Barcode

Like the earlier generation of barcode, QR codes store data that is accessed when scanned. Where they differ is that QR codes can hold both more data and data of a more complex nature.

This is because UPC barcodes can only be scanned, or read, in one direction. These one dimensional codes are perfect for storing information such as a numeric product code, however this is generally the limit of their storage capacity.

Technological advances since the 1970s have seen more complex data used by companies, as well as exploration of the possibilities which have opened up since the advent of the internet.

In an attempt to keep up with demand, UPC barcodes began to get longer and longer. Multiple barcodes even began to be stacked up on each other to store more data (IKEA are fond of this method), however this kind of barcode technology is reaching the limits of its ability. Companies have started looking for new, more compact barcodes that hold larger quantities of complex information.

QR codes have emerged to fill this need. They can hold a lot more data because they are made up of lines of code which can be scanned in two dimensions; both vertically and horizontally. This means that QR codes are capable of holding hundreds of times the amount of data of an UPC code.

QR4U-Facebook Like

Now, a more complex code requires a more powerful scanner. This fact could have relegated the QR code to purely industrial uses, had it not been for the timely rise of the smart phone. The popularity of smart phones has had the effect of putting a scanning device in the pockets of a staggering number of people worldwide.

Naturally, marketing gurus quickly saw the potential to deliver advertising and products to customers in a simple, instantaneous scan. You can hear the marketing executives of the past positively salivating at the idea of literally delivering marketing products into the hands of consumers!

That’s not to suggest that the codes are only used for large-scale retail companies.  It’s very simple for anyone to go online and generate a QR code via a QR code maker. It is easy and very cheap to create a QR code and use it to connect people to information. Used strategically, these codes can be an effective tool not only for the retail sector, but also for any organisation that desires to connect people with information or services.

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Why are QR Codes so popular in Japan, but not in the west?

QR Codes were developed in 1994 for use in the Japanese automotive industry. From humble beginnings the codes have become widespread, almost commonplace, in Japan and throughout much of Asia. Uses include product tracking, item identification, time tracking, document management, as well as the marketing of commercial products.

While QR Codes and QR Code makers are beginning to pop up in markets outside of Asia, their popularity is not yet comparable. Yet the potential applications in Europe and the Americas are just as many as in Asia, so why might this be?

One important factor is public education. In the land of its creation, the country’s largest mobile phone carrier, DoCoMo, one of Japan’s largest, https://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/corporate/, ran a public education campaign to teach their customers how to use QR codes.

This is a video of a DoCoMo campaign ad, in Japanese, no subtitles but it’s easy to understand despite this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxFR6r-Dqk4

A similar approach might do wonders outside in the west to normalise the public practice of scanning QR Codes. It may also educate businesses on their practical and innovative uses. As DoCoMo recognised, it is in the common commercial interest to have customers who are QR Code literate.

Any marketing department can generate a QR Code using one of many online generators and stick it on a product. The problem is that without an educated public and an acceptance of public scanning, the benefit to the bottom line will be limited.

In Japan, of course, stopping in public to casually scan a QR Code is a normalised behavior, as we see here at an advert located in a busy Tokyo subway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myzLAXtqoa8

Here is the advert they were scanning; an adorable Disney poster, which creatively incorporates the eyes and noses of well ­loved characters.

Disney QR Codes

Virtual supermarkets are also quite common on the walls of public spaces in Japan and Korea. Wall decals display images of supermarket shelves laden with popular products. People passing by simply scan corresponding QR Codes to purchase items that are then delivered to their door.

QR Code Virtual Supermarket

An educated public means that anyone can create a QR Code for almost any practical purpose with the confidence that their audience will scan it.

We can see the rich diversity of purpose demonstrated particularly in Japan, where uses include everything from visa information

Visa QR Code

to magazines, which allow their readers download freebies like ring tones and games,

Building Guide QR Code

to building guides, and city maps,

Gravestone QR Code

even gravestones, where a QR Code allows you to access a prepared life story and images of the deceased.

Japanese QR Code Gravestone

The diversity of applications is truly impressive and exciting. It gives those of us living outside of Asia a taste of what QR Codes can do. While QR Code use may be in its infancy in the western world, once we have an educated public the possibilities are both wonderful and limited only by the imagination.

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Farming, food and QR Codes

One of the common misconceptions about QR Codes is that their natural partnership is with high tech gadgets and aspirational products. The simple truth is that QR Codes and smart phones are just other ways for customers to engage with your business.

One sphere that has a lot to gain from QR Codes is the food production and farming sector. Famers can create a QR Code and open a door to their customers, welcoming them into an added dimension of the product they are buying and at the same time create customer loyalty. Famers can easily use a QR Code generator to gain a code that can be used in almost any creative way, such as the Canadian farmer who created the world’s largest QR code http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/09/11/canadian-farm-builds-worlds-largest-qr-code/, or the English farmer who created the world’s strangest QR code (on the side of a cow!) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2173488/Digital-Daisy-Cows-hi-tech-makeover-milk-really-comes-from.html.

The Penn State University Ice Cream factory has demonstrated an excellent example of a practical use of QR Codes. Lines at their shop would often snake around the block, so they gave their waiting customers something to do. QR Codes were  displayed. By using the smart phones no doubt already been pulled out to pass the time, waiting customers were linked to a YouTube video that took them on the journey of Penn State Ice Cream “from cow to cone” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxYJHrvdLyU.


This kind of engagement is particularly important for food producers because it shows customers what is unique about their product. It says “Sure, you can get any old ice cream any old shop, but this is what makes Penn State Ice Cream so special that you’ll keep coming back.”

What is it that makes a food product special? It could be that the crop is farmed in a special way; or it could be that you can ‘meet’ the charming farmer and be taken on a virtual tour of the farm. It could be that an exotic traditional method is used, or that a high tech scientific process ensures a high quality product. It could even be a combination of all of the above!

The knitwear company Pure American Naturals does just this by Generating QR Codes and placing one on each garment, which when scanned provides an assurance of purity and quality by inviting you to inspect the origin of each garment, from the farm to the spinner to the store http://pureamericannaturals.com/fashion-design/farm-to-fashion-traceability/.

Be it a video, a blog, or a photo sharing site, there are many online tools that can show consumers ‘behind the scenes’ of a food product and a QR is an easy link to all of them. The best thing about a QR code is that it can be displayed at a farmer’s market or cellar door as easily as on a garment label.

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