I get excited when companies find new ways to (re)use existing technology. Take for example Quick Response (QR) codes—that’s that funny looking box on the redbox movies they call a barcode. Although initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, companies use them in a much broader context—from tracking applications to mobile tagging.

Let me explain a little bit more about what this means. They sometimes call this the 411.

Essentially, anyone can use a camera phone as a bar code reader. There are plenty of Smartphone applications on the market that scan code and return information; everything from online pricing to coupons, nutritional information, video, audio, pictures—you name it.

Now on to the cool part, a genuine case study on how
the wine industry utilizes it. Kendall-Jackson prints QR codes for their new vintages and uses a free smartphone bar code reader called ScanLife, which takes a snapshot of the QR code—a two-dimensional image that consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background.  Once you take a picture of the QR code,  the application captures the image, retrieves information and sends the data back to the Smartphone.

If you want to take this for a spin, start by downloading the free ScanLife application to your phone. Walk into a store and find a bottle of Kendall-Jackson. Hopefully, you will see a shelf talker tag hanging from the neck of the bottle—it looks like the picture to the left.

Open the ScanLife application and take a picture of the QR code—no need to focus and click because the application will automatically take a snapshot when it is clear enough for it to read the image. What appears on your screen after processing is the Kendall-Jackson page with tasting notes, accolades and a food pairing video with Chef Justin Wangler, who is often filmed by a friend of ours, the international dance sensation and revolutionary crunkster, aka Hardy Wallace of NPA and Dirty South Wine. Pretty cool, eh?

What happens if you cannot find a QR code on the bottle? Take a snapshot of the UPC code. It’s a far cry from the information you’d receive from the QR code but it will give you basic information about the retail price and (if you are lucky) reviews on the product. On the downside, most wine bottle UPC codes I tested lacked reviews, which made me wonder how one would add a review to the ScanLife application.

Now on to my 2011 prediction—I see QR codes exploding in the industry. It’s a marketing tool not fully being utilized in the wine business. It is the future of marketing, but it will take a considerable amount of effort for wineries and others to embrace it. Why would the industry want to use it? Because it’s much easier for consumers to take a snapshot of an image to get to a landing page than it is to Google a term or remember a brand name or a long URL.

My word of advice for anyone wanting to brand a product is to think outside of the box. Using QR codes on business cards would be a good start, but why not think big by plastering your code on the side of a building, a company car, a delivery truck or a bus? I bet Young’s Market, Southern Wines & Sprits or Columbia wine distributors would consider such an offer. …and how about adding your QR code to a magazine ad or an employee tee shirt? Go wild, get tattooed—but for that one you had better be in it for the long haul unless you live in Oakland.

~Pamela Heiligenthal