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exhibitor q & a


Send your tough
questions about
exhibiting to
Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitor

My boss just discovered Quick Response (QR) codes, and he's now insisting that I incorporate them into our exhibit. Is this a good idea? And if so, how do I effectively use the technology in my booth?

While QR codes have been very popular in Asia and parts of Europe for quite some time, they've only recently gone mainstream in the United States. And as such, there's definitely a cool factor associated with them, which can often rub off on your company or products and give them a tech-savvy flair. In fact, in some industries, the mere presence of a QR code in your exhibit can drive traffic into your booth - while disseminating information about your company or products at the same time.

But before you start cramming codes into every nook and cranny of your space you need to understand some QR-code basics and determine whether these codes are actually beneficial to your program, or just a waste of time and energy. So here's the least you need to know about QR codes, along with some suggestions for when, where, and how to use them.

Basic Operation

A QR code is simply a bar-code-like symbol that acts as a hyperlink when scanned by a smart phone. To create a code, just search the Internet for "free QR-code generator" to find a website that performs this operation. At the website, you'll simply input a URL of the Web page you want the code to link to (perhaps your company's home page, a PDF, a YouTube video, etc.), and the website will develop a unique QR code for that specific link. Then download the code and integrate it into artwork on print advertisements, brochures, business cards, exhibit graphics, etc.

However, everyone who wants to use your code (attendees included) needs a smart phone, along with an application that scans these codes. QR-code scanners are free and easily obtained from almost any app store, but few phones (if any) come with a code-scanning app already loaded onto them. That means if your attendees don't have a QR-code scanner on their smart phones, you'll need to help them download an app before they can access your code. And thus, you'll soon discover the main drawback of QR codes: Not everyone has a scanner app, and even if they do, they may not know how to use it.

So before you implement a QR code-related strategy, determine whether the show's attendees are adept enough to have already mastered the technology. If you're not sure whether your attendees are familiar with QR codes, test their readiness by incorporating a few codes into your next exhibit as a nonessential element of your strategy. For example, build a QR code into a one-page product handout, and link it to additional product information on your website. Then ask staffers to monitor the use of the code in the booth - and to query attendees about their ability to use the code on their own.

If most attendees have scanners in their phones, and they're able to use the technology without a lot of assistance, then you can probably use QR codes in your exhibit to relay info in a fast, fun, and not to mention Green manner. But if your attendees aren't code ready, you're probably better off without the technology. After all, you don't want staffers giving tech lessons; you want them talking to attendees about your products and services.

Suggested Uses

QR codes can relay endless info with a click of a button. What's more, this relay method (which is almost entirely electronic), offers a soft sell in your exhibit. That is, it allows tentative attendees who don't want to speak to a staffer to scan a code and walk away with product or company information.

Plus, such codes can be used in various ancillary exhibiting elements, both in and out of your booth. So to get your wheels turning on how to implement QR codes into your exhibit program, here's a list of potential uses.

 Graphics - Integrating QR codes into your graphics (on walls, floors, banners, etc.) allows you to offer tons of information, including electronic product brochures, videos, online presentations, entire product catalogs,
etc., without lugging audiovisual equipment and paper to your space.

 Business cards - Rather than been-there, done-that business cards with only your contact details and company Web address, include a QR code that links to product- or company- related info. The mere presence of the code will drive more people to the site than any URL could.

 T-shirts - Dress up branded T-shirts with QR codes and watch as curious attendees scan away both on and off the show floor.

 Ads - Integrate QR codes into your show-related advertising or out-of-exhibit promotions, such as ads within industry publications, taxi receipts, bus-headrest covers, etc. You'd be surprised how many people will scan a QR code when they have nothing better to do.

 Printed collateral - Any type of printed collateral, such as brochures, handouts, bag inserts, etc., offers a suitable medium to deliver QR codes. While your one-sheet handout might contain 100 words of text, your QR code can connect attendees to thousands of pages of information.

 Sponsorships - Almost any time you can include your logo on a sponsored item, you can probably include a QR code as well. This opens up countless opportunities to provide product and company information via a succinct, not to mention trendy, delivery medium.

Additional Suggestions

Based on the aforementioned information, you should have a decent idea whether QR codes are right for you, and you probably have some ideas on how you can best use them in your program. Before you actually implement your strategy, however, here are a few additional tips to ensure your QR-code campaign is as effective as possible.

Before you do anything else, make sure that the venue in which you plan to use QR codes has reliable Wi-Fi throughout. While your codes may work just fine at your exhibit house, sketchy Wi-Fi in the venue may render them useless. To remedy any Wi-Fi issues, link the codes to simple static Web pages, rather than videos, or better yet, link to pages that are optimized for mobile use.

Another necessary pre-show step is to set up your links so that each scan can be tracked. This simple maneuver will allow you to see whether the QR codes are being used by attendees - and which (if you're using more than one) are the most popular.

When incorporating the codes into your booth, remember that in order to scan your code, attendees must first notice it. So make sure attendees can easily locate and scan your codes.

Once booth visitors notice the codes, most attendees - except for the rare, curious few that will scan codes simply to find out where the links take them - need a reason to scan them. So offer a simple, text-based motivation near the code, such as "Scan to enter our contest," or "Get more product information by scanning this code."

QR codes are a trendy, relatively new tech tool in the exhibit-marketing arsenal. Assuming your target audience is knowledgeable enough to use them without a lot of hands-on instruction, they offer a cost-effective way to disseminate endless info on the trade show floor and beyond.

- Mike Thimmesch, director, lead generation and industry relations, Skyline Exhibits, St. Paul, MN

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