Important directions for beer fans at the Oregon Brewers Festival

The Oregon Brewers Festival (OBF) was held in Portland on July 28-31 and, for the first year at the festival, attendees were able to utilize Microsoft Tag’s interactive software to unlock information about the 85 beers offered. Despite having limited pre-event promotion, the event’s 80,000 attendees produced 11,000 smart phone scans over a four-day period.

 The festival worked with GF Strategies and Microsoft Tag in order to implement the program, which associated a unique tag, or Quick Response (QR) code, for each beer offered at the festival. When scanned with a smartphone, the tags unlocked information about that particular brewery, the alcohol by volume content of the beer, style of beer, and the level of hoppiness. Users could also rate beers on a scale of one to five, as well as share their ratings on their Facebook pages.

 “We’re old guys, but we’re trying to keep up with the young people and their method of communication,” said Art Larrance, creator of the OBF. “We know that media has changed in the last three years and it’s going to change very rapidly.” Larrance has known and worked with Greg Flakus, president of GF Strategies for years, and Flakus approached Larrance about the Microsoft Tag program three weeks before the OBF. He pitched the idea of having tags at the 2012 OBF, but ultimately they opted to get the program started this year.

 While the tag program did not completely replace printed programs, Flakus feels that there is potential for QR codes to become a convenient, mobile alternative to printed sales and marketing materials at festivals and conventions. “You would just scan the tag and all that information would go to your smart phone or back to your computer at your home office so that you wouldn’t have to lug around a huge amount of sales materials,” said Flakus. Other uses for QR codes include utilizing them for customer service and surveys. For example, customers could scan codes to notify management that the water is not working in a certain restroom. Flakus also sees the program driving extra sales in the future.

“You could conceivably have a tag for each one of your merchandise items,” said Flakus. These tags would then direct customers to a site to immediately purchase items. Management could also use the program to add value for advertisers and corporate partners, as users could scan an advertisement and be taken to an online experience or promotional contest.

 Advertising was not a part of the OBF’s tag program this year, although Flakus does see a place for it in the future. Brian Fleisher, senior director, product management and business development for Microsoft Tag, explained that there are a number of ways that venues, events, and advertisers can benefit from a tag campaign, including making promotions more compelling through robust online and interactive experiences. However, compelling attendees to scan a code is the first, most important element to the program. “Delivering a lot of value behind the scan is job number one…But over time, as we see more compelling experiences come to the market, there are a number of ways that advertising revenue could be enhanced,” said Fleisher.

 Microsoft Tag is not the only software for QR code reading and generation in the market; however, it is the only software that offers the user the ability to fully customize their codes, according to Flakus. The OBF had a codes for each beer at the festival, which were customized to represent those brands through colors and images rather than having a black and white code made up of random dots or pixels. Flakus decided to use Microsoft Tag also because of the software’s reporting functionality. Through the software, managers can go online and see which tags are being scanned, what time they are being scanned and how many times. Microsoft Tag also offers a heat map feature which shows which areas at the Brewfest generate the most scans.

 Microsoft Tag provides basic elements, including the downloadable software for smartphones to scan QR codes, the ability to create basic or custom tags, and reporting tools, at no cost. The cost of OBF’s program, which was funded by Flakus, was $7,000. The added cost comes from the necessary coding to add additional features. “It can be done for probably as little as $3,000 and as much as $60,000, depending on the complexity that you want your code writers to do,” said Flakus.

Fleisher explained that Microsoft Tag has built extensibilities into the back end of the program so that it can be accessed and functionalities can be modified through third party tools or services. “There’s a tremendous opportunity for these third parties to really build custom solutions that leverage the power of a Microsoft Tag in a way that is appropriate for each event and venue,” said Fleisher. The software platform now has almost 200,000 individual accounts.

One of the challenges in implementing the program at the OBF included educating festival attendees in a very short time period. Flakus feels that they will improve this next year since they will have more preparation time prior to the event, and place more educational booths and signage around the festival in order to show that the program was available and how to use it. Also, the program is entirely reliant on smartphones and their carrier dependability, which can be problematic. 

“If we go to [scan a tag] for the first time and it doesn’t immediately catch, we’re probably not likely to do it again unless we have some patience, so it really has to take the first time they scan it. It’s really important,” said Flakus. Next year, Flakus plans to also change the locations of the tags. At this year’s event, they placed tags near the points of purchase, which Flakus felt wasn’t effective because “once people get to that point when they’re ready to purchase, they probably don’t want to take the step to get information.”

Flakus estimated that about 40 percent of the festival’s attendees probably had smartphones, although not all smartphones are capable of running the Microsoft Tag application. “We were hoping for a 5 percent take-up out of the total that attended, and we got much better than that,” said Flakus. Although the program exceeded expectations, Flakus explained the three-week preparation period was shorter than he would have liked, and an ideal timeline would span six to eight weeks. 

The OBF plans to use Microsoft Tag again for at least the next two years. “Crawl before you walk, walk before you run,” said Flakus. “Now that we’ve crawled, we can walk.” But Flakus also has plans to bring it to other venues and events as a turnkey program, so that clients will not have to contract a code writer, set up the tags, and get promotion going all on their own.

“If you can bring it to them as a one stop shop, I think there’s potential there,” said Flakus. “They could certainly do this themselves, but I can share with you that it’s quite a lot of work.”

Interviewed for this story: Greg Flakus, (503) 407-8938; Art Larrance, (503) 887-6617; Brian Fleisher, (503) 452-6400