Small Company Figures Out QR Codes, and Sells BeerBy MELINDA F. EMERSON
Generating revenue along with the buzz.
About a year ago, Kimberly Rogers first read about QR codes or Quick Response Codes on a marketing blog. “I thought, this looks neat,” she said. “We should get one.”
Ms. Rogers, who founded 50 Back Brewing Company in 2010 along with Paige Haley, was attracted by the techie feel of QR codes and thought they might appeal to a younger crowd. She tried a Google search of QR code generator and found a Web site where she plugged in information about her company and was given a free code specific to 50 Back Brewing. Ms. Rogers said she downloaded the code to her desktop, and that was where it stayed for months. “It was like, ‘O.K., I have no idea what to do with this,” she said.
Occasionally, the QR code would come up in marketing meetings, where ideas such as putting it on T-shirts or hats would be kicked around. But nothing ever happened.
The main ways 50 Back promotes its business is by hosting celebrations for active duty soldiers and veterans on military bases. The company usesFacebook and Twitter to reach out to groups that support veterans and military families. “We also attend as many veterans functions as possible and donate product for fundraisers throughout the year to honor our nation’s heroes,” Ms. Haley said. The company was incorporated in Boston on Veterans Day 2009.
For every purchase of 50 Back American Lager, which they have dubbed “The Brew of the Brave,” the owners donate a percentage of the profits to charities committed to supporting veterans and active duty-service members and their families. “We started by wanting to say thank you to our own family members, friends, neighbors and all of those who have served,” Ms. Rogers said.
The idea of using the QR code campaign resurfaced when Ms. Rogers and Ms. Haley decided they wanted to find a way for people to do something for soldiers — even if they weren’t buying a beer for themselves. They brainstormed an idea to create a QR Code campaign that would allow people to buy a beer for a soldier. In March, hoping to generate buzz about the brand and promote its mission of supporting the troops, 50 Back Brewing introduced its Buy a Soldier a Beer program.
The program encourages smartphone users to scan the two-dimensional, black-and-white code that it places on all of their promotional materials — flyers, coasters, packaging, stickers, posters, point-of-sale displays — to reach their landing page. There, visitors are given three options: post a message on the 50 Back Facebook page, post a message on Twitter, or buy a soldier a beer.
All QR Code purchases are handled through Text2Pay. The visitor’s cellphone account is charged $1.99 — Text2Pay takes $.99 of every purchase as a processing fee — and the person has bought a soldier a beer. More than 75,000 people have scanned the QR code since March, and the company has given away more than 7,400 beers — all delivered to various military bases in the Boston area.
Still, the campaign is not really a revenue driver. “We did it to create brand awareness as much as anything,” Ms. Haley said.
“Our product orders did go up,” Ms. Rogers said, “our social media comments on Facebook and Twitter increased tenfold, which did trickle down to retail orders, but it’s hard to say just how many.”
The beer is currently available in more than 150 restaurants and retail outlets in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Maine and Texas, with plans for expansion throughout New England. The owners have been able to track their campaign statistics through qrcode.kaywa.com. “We’re a very small company,” Rogers admits. “We’ve had to learn everything by jumping in and trying things out.”
The overall goal is for 50 Back to establish a solid marketing model that will appeal to potential investors and lead to 50 Back becoming available nationwide.
Melinda Emerson is founder and chief executive of Quintessence Multimedia, a social media strategy and content development firm. You can follow her on Twitter.