Label as Launch Pad

By Mark Stock

While 1994 belonged to names like Tonya Harding and Nirvana in the Pacific Northwest, a different name was introducing itself across the ocean in Japan. Toyota subsidiary and instrument manufacturer Denso Corporation was using two-dimensional “quick response” coding to instantly track vehicle parts. The small, pixelated bar codes enabled users to access additional information from a single scan, on the go. Nearly 20 years later, QR codes have wiggled into Oregon Wine Country.

Anyone who’s seen a shipment of wine has encountered a QR code. UPS uses the technology to track shipments and update customers on its website. Many real estate agencies now include the coding as part of their “For Sale” or “For Rent” signs, directing users to additional photos and specs. On business cards, it’s not uncommon to see the little black-and-white QR code box — which looks a lot like a screen pull from Tetris — that sends users straight to a company website or online store.

LynkSnap co-founder Jeff Lorton sees plenty of potential in the wine arena. His Portland-based advertising company began toying with QR coding in 2009, extending into wine just this year with the likes of R. Stuart.

“With so many smart phones out there, what you have are thousands of people walking around with mini televisions” said Lorton. This vast mobile viewership leads him to believe that these codes may serve as the “most powerful advertising tool since the printing press.”

At the moment, the necessary application (there are several) for translating these small puzzles into extensive tasting notes, wine reviews or video is free. In fact, most camera phones can process the information simply by taking a picture of the code. The technology is impressive, straight from a scene in Minority Report. But companies such as LynkSnap are still determining the extent of its power.

Lorton believes it to be about personalization. Shoppers can use their phones to access instant winemaker biographies, tasting notes or virtual cellar tours from the winery that produced the bottle in question. The coding is smart enough to dial the winery’s phone number directly or generate a pre-addressed e-mail. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s incredibly easy to use, provided your phone is relatively up to date.

Other applications of QR are being explored as well. Argyle is part of the Cellar Key project, a collection of international wineries that offer the coding on specialized neck ties that link users directly to a special website. In addition to putting you in touch with the winemaker of producers like Wither Hills of New Zealand and Argento of Argentina, Cellar Key offers pairing suggestions and reviews for each wine. Essentially, it’s like having a well-traveled wine steward in your back pocket.

The code’s design leaves some room for creativity. Lorton points out that the break in the center is large enough for a logo or something equally eye-catching. “The code needs to be really bold,” he adds, aware not only of its small size but customers’ general unfamiliarity.

A company called Scanlife is responsible for engineering the individual mobile bar codes. LynkSnap receives batches of them at a time before tailoring them specifically to each client. And while wine is a big focus of his at the present, Lorton has his eyes on local breweries and distilleries, too.

In California, wine tourism is welcoming the new technology. The Napa Wine Walk, a partnership of 21 tasting rooms in and around Napa, offers the coding on its website and printed materials, allowing users to access a GPS map loaded with all the sites on their phones. One wonders what service might be like for people trekking through some of Oregon’s notoriously signal-spotty wine country roads. However, Lorton indicates that the service uses mobile websites instead of traditional websites, meaning briefer, leaner content that requires little more than even a weak cell signal.

With R. Stuart, LynkSnap has employed QR codes to send tasters directly to social networking sites like Facebook. Here, fans are entered into contests or are able to discuss with others what flavors they’re picking up. In the tasting room, codes may appear on shelf talkers and launch passers-by into a more detailed, interactive background on the products.

Freshness will likely determine the code’s fate, especially in wine country. Listing a website has become the norm on labels and corks, but there’s no telling if the customer will invest in logging on when convenient.

“Our challenge is to make sure that when people do point and click, they experience something new, exciting and more interesting than, say, a paragraph of text about soil drainage,” said Lorton.


Going Mobile! QR Code Seminar

Location: BG Westgate Plaza
Address: 3800 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, No. 101, Beaverton
Date: Wednesday, May 4
Time: 8-10 a.m.
This seminar will explore QR codes and mobile marketing trends. Small businesses encouraged to atttend.   

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