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By now, you’ve probably seen or even used QR codes; but did you know they can be a powerful marketing and messaging tool to promote and better operate your self-storage business? Find out why and how you can use them to communicate with sales prospects and existing tenants.

Stacie Maxwell

January 25, 2024

7 Min Read

You’ve seen them everywhere—small, square-shaped groups of pixel bits, sometimes containing branding or custom colors, but mostly just black and white. They’re called QR (quick response) codes. If you’re unfamiliar with them, now’s the time to learn more!

A QR code is essentially a barcode readable by a mobile device. Think of it as a print-based hyperlink, creating a bridge between offline (printed items or signage) and online (website or other internet-based content). But unlike traditional barcodes with a set of vertical lines carrying data in one direction, QR codes store information horizontally and vertically, containing up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters.

As a self-storage operator, you can benefit from using this technology in many ways, particularly in your marketing, signage and communication with sales prospects and tenants. Let’s explore the evolution of QR codes and best practices for using them to promote your brand.

Advancement and Adoption

Adoption of QR codes in the U.S. has been slow compared to other countries. It wasn’t until the pandemic that their popularity increased and they became more widely accepted. This is in part due to the fact that some people have been reluctant to download a code reader or app to their phone. However, in 2020, all iOS and Android smartphones were updated to scan a QR code using the native camera, which made it easy for everyone to adopt the technology.

At the same time, touchless initiatives emerging from the pandemic have forced people to scan QR codes for access to everything, from menus to directions to shopping. Business owners rushed to create and use QR codes to keep customer activity alive. Now, the trend continues. In fact, QR code use is projected to experience constant growth, reaching more than 100 million users in the U.S. by 2025.

So, how are people using these codes? The applications seem endless. Here are some popular ones:

  • Inventory tracking

  • Ticketing for entertainment and transportation

  • Product/event/loyalty marketing

  • In-store product labeling

  • Sharing and storing personal/contact information

  • Receiving and composing text messages and email

  • Sharing URLs or wi-fi access

  • Geo tracking

Choose Your Version and Level

When creating a QR code for your self-storage business, it’s important to understand that there are many versions, each determined by the amount of data stored. Version 1 is a 21-by-21 array of pixels, or about 14 alphanumeric characters. Generally, it’s advisable to stick to version 4 or smaller (up to 62 alphanumeric characters) because most smartphones won’t be able to read more data than that.

Also, check to see if the QR-code generator you’re using will let you choose your error-correction level. In short, the higher this level, the more damage the code can sustain before it becomes unreadable. There are four levels from which to choose:

  • L: The least dense array of pixels, allowing for up to 7% damage before unreadability

  • M: Medium-low density, allowing up to 15% damage before unreadability

  • Q: Medium-high density, allowing up to 25% damage before unreadability

  • H: The densest array of pixels, allowing for up to 30% damage before unreadability

The higher the density, the more difficult it is to print the QR code with clarity, especially with promotional items that are screen-printed or laser-engraved. The less dense a code is, the bigger you can print it in signage and other materials. Levels L and M represent the best compromise between density and durability for general marketing purposes.

Doing It Right

You can create QR codes for your self-storage business for free, or upgrade to a paid account for designer/branded codes, analytics and dynamic codes. My two favorite generators are QRstuff.com and QR-code-generator.com. Simply enter the destination URL, add your logo, customize the appearance, choose your error-correction level, choose your file type (png and jpg are popular choices), then download your code. It’s a lot easier than you might think!

When preparing to put your new QR code to work, here are some important best practices:

Keep it short. Remember, the more characters you embed, the higher the QR code version, which can lead to printing and scanning issues. For this reason, it’s smart to use a URL shortener before creating your code. (A good code generator will include its own.)

Use dynamic codes. This typically requires a subscription, but it gives you the ability to change the QR code destination over time. For example, you might create a code today that leads to your website homepage, but a month from now, you may want it to direct people to your rates page instead. This type of modification is possible with a dynamic code.

Use designer codes. Including your logo and company colors in your QR code reinforces your brand authority and is more aesthetically pleasing. Again, a subscription is typically required for this functionality.

Use codes wisely! Consider where you’re placing your QR code in relation to where you’re pointing viewers. For example, don’t add a code that directs someone to your website on your website. Also, don’t put a code in digital media (like email or social media) where a simple link will work just as well or better.

Ensure the code is large enough. Never print QR codes smaller than .75 inches or 2 centimeters square, as the code elements may muddle together, ruining scannability. Smartphones and other scanners may not be able to read the information when a code is too small.

Create a buffer. Every QR code should contain some white space around all four sides. This “quiet zone” is there to ensure the scanner can properly interpret the information without interference from other imagery or textures.

Beware of glare. Always consider the surface on which you’re placing your QR code. Shiny, glossy and glassy surfaces tend to have a lot of glare, which will interfere with a scanner’s ability to read.

Watch colors. Avoid light QR code colors. You want high contrast. Also, placing your code on a dark or bright background can make it unreadable. Dark codes on white backgrounds are always best.

Choose a smart location. Always put your QR codes where there’s good cellphone or wi-fi coverage and be sure they can be easily seen and scanned. For example, a subway tunnel with poor signal will create a bad user experience. Similarly, don’t put codes above eye level or anywhere else where they may be difficult to reach or scan. Avoid “noise” and distractions that’ll interfere with  your code being noticed. Finally, remember that lighting is key to good scans!

Test, test, test. Then test again! Get your coworkers to use your code. Try it on several types of devices. Test the destination and make sure all components work like they should. Then and only then can you go to print.

Give a clear call to action. Make sure you tell your self-storage customers what they can expect to see or find when they scan your QR code. For example:

  • Scan to visit our website.

  • Scan for coupons.

  • Scan for directions.

  • Scan to watch a video.

  • Scan to like us on Facebook.

  • Scan to subscribe.

  • Scan to leave a review.

Get Creative

Now that we’ve covered how and where to create your QR codes and some best practices, let’s look at some popular ways to use them in self-storage. One of the best is to get customers to your website. By putting a QR code on your business cards, rack cards, brochures, postcards, fliers, display ads, posters and move-in truck, you can easily help people find you online.

QR codes can also help customers do business with you, even when your office is closed. Put one on your front door with a sign that reads, “Need to rent a unit or make a payment? Or just want more information? Scan here!” If you’re driving people to an online-rental system, make sure you have a process in place to provide them with facility and unit access once the transaction is complete.

QR codes can also be used to:

  • Invite customers to an event

  • Donate to a charity your company supports

  • Share helpful content, such as articles or videos on how to pack and store items

  • Provide coupons

  • Answer common questions

  • Refer someone to your business

  • Keep track of stored belongings

Now that you’ve read all about QR codes, I encourage you to get creative. This technology has been used for so many things and the list is ever-growing. If you aren’t already using this tool as part of your self-storage operation, it’s time to get on board because it’s here to stay!

Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training and a partner at Universal Storage Group, a provider of third-party management and consulting to the self-storage industry. She oversees the branding, design and marketing programs for the company and its portfolio of 70-plus facilities. With more than 22 years of experience in the storage industry, she works closely on the company’s facility-development and transition projects and has been instrumental in its growth. To reach her, call 770.801.1888 or visit her profile on LinkedIn.

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