I know that this is probably shocking to you, but the wine industry is not the most agile market for adoption of new technologies. That said, there is a tendency within the industry to latch onto marketing fads with the wild abandon of a rabid honey badger. Although the initial reaction to some of these efforts is to applaud wineries for trying something new, the fact is that adoption without a plan is almost as bad (and can be worse) than no adoption at all. For an example of what I’m talking about, you need look no further than the nearest QR code.

The last few years have seen a rash of QR codes adorning wine bottles, with more and more wineries gradually reworking their labels to incorporate the codes in one way or another. The overall approach in regards to QR codes seems somewhere in the neighborhood of the Put a Bird On It sketch from Portlandia, with the solution to all of a wineries marketing needs is to put a QR code on it. The question is, what do all of these QR codes actually do? In reality, usually the answer is a resounding, “Not much.”

An article in a recent post on the eMarketer Digital Intelligence blog states that QR codes are not really giving consumers what they want. Not surprisingly, consumers are most interested in discounts, coupons, or free items when they scan a QR code. At very least, it seems that they want more than a link to the company website. Go figure.

To be fair, most wineries are going beyond just supplying a link to their website from a QR code. A common practice is to link to tasting notes for the wines, which is a step in the right direction, but I keep thinking that we can do better. If you are going to do tasting notes, include a cool video of the winemaker sharing something besides the normal, “cigar box aromas with a palate of ripe red berries” type thing. Maybe use the QR code to get more eyes on a piece of content that will help reinforce your branding in some way. Or you could always give the people what they want and use it to allow people to get something free or a discount on their next purchase. There are a lot of directions that you could go with this, but the key element that is missing in many cases is a plan. Like Stephen Covey says, you have to “begin with the end in mind.” What are your goals for having a QR code on the bottle? Is it just to make you look cool and up to date? There can be some limited PR value in that, but if the content that is being linked to with the QR code is worthless, your inclusion of the code is pretty much worthless as well.

Oh, and another thing; if you are going to use QR codes, you should make sure that the page that your code links to is viewable on mobile devices. This is one case where you can be absolutely certain that your visits will be coming from a mobile device, so linking to a Flash page that all iPhone users will be left out in the cold on or a page that is unreadable on a mobile screen makes no sense at all.

As with most elements of marketing, the key is to actually think about your goals and come up with ideas that will help you achieve those goals. If you are trying to get people to sign up to your email list or Facebook followers, maybe you can try hosting a contest that requires people to submit their email address (make sure to give people the option of whether they receive emails later if you go this direction) or that requires them to “Like” your Facebook page. If you are trying to generate online sales, maybe you offer a discount or free shipping on a customer’s next order of six bottles or more.

QR codes can be an effective tool for a winery to use, but only if they offer consumers something of value when they scan. I’m a firm believer that the wine world is ripe for wineries to take a leadership role and establish themselves as innovators. A survey of the industry as a whole will reveal a lot of repetition on the same themes. Whether you are talking about your social media efforts or using QR codes, don’t skimp on the planning phase. Let everyone else put a bird on their bottles while you are doing something that will really have an impact on your business.