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part two: qr codes

Wine producer Paul Bosc of Chateau des Charmes photographed with netted grapes at his winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Dec. 20/2009.Kevin Van Paassen

Michèle Bosc, the marketing director of the Chateau des Charmes vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., touts an interesting axiom about wine retailing: 60 per cent of the time that someone picks a wine bottle off the shelf, he or she will buy it.

Labels are something into which Ms. Bosc (like so many others) puts a lot of thought.

All kinds of information needs to fit onto a label, from product details to corporate information to legalese.

What's more, once information has been printed on a label, it's quite literally stuck there for the shelf life of the product.

With these limitations in mind, Chateau des Charmes started to put QR codes on its labels three years ago, long before the codes became commonplace in North America – making it, by its own reckoning, the first winemaker on the continent to do so.

The uptake was slow at first, but now Ms. Bosc has visitors coming into the winery waving smart phones that bear redemption vouchers they got by scanning codes.

"You can't turn around without seeing a QR code these days," she says. "The hits on our codes are going up exponentially."

The codes allow the winery to offer dynamic labels that can be changed as new information becomes available. It also gives it a chance to engage more directly with its clientele.

And after years in the QR code business, its experience has yielded some worthwhile lessons:

Stay current, not static

QR codes have to provide some kind of value to customers; if they don't, customers will be left wondering why they spent a minute of their lives scanning a label to little effect.

Simply linking to a homepage, for instance, offers no value at all. Whatever Web page the code links to needs to be specific to the product, endowed with information that's interesting rather than self-evident, and kept up to date.

In the winemaking world, this means that a consumer who scans a bottle on a shelf will see the latest reviews of that wine, excerpted from magazines, or news about awards, or charity functions where the wine has been poured – or even celebrity or royal endorsements. All of these can become selling points, when presented in the right context.

Make it worthwhile

Information is one form of value. But you can incentivize users more directly with contests and redemption codes.

"You've got to give people an incentive to become engaged, and reward them for doing it," she says.

Ms. Bosc has offered complimentary tours and tastings at the winery, which draws in clients, and uses the QR codes to direct purchasers toward information that's of interest to connoisseurs more than the general public, like which kinds of glass should be paired with which wine. (For the curious: The shape of the glass determines how the aerates and the scent escapes.)

Moreover, she makes sure that the information on the printed labels, the company's main website, and its QR code-linked site is distinct, offering those who take the time to scan an "exclusive" of sorts.

Press the advantage

To keep the site up-to-date, Chateau des Charmes uses a Drupal-based content management system, into which its developers integrated a QR code generator, which uses a free hosted service run by a third party.

By Ms. Bosc's own admission, return on investment is difficult to measure. But since the codes can be generated for free, the process of creating them is largely automated rather than labour-intensive, and the software infrastructure to create them is a sunk cost, and they provide the company (and its one-person marketing team) with the flexibility to connect customers with incentives at will, even long after the bottle has shipped.

If customers come to expect something worthwhile hiding behind the code, they can be convinced to pick it up and scan it. And getting a bottle into their hands is a good first step.

The series continues next Monday.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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