The Internet of Packaging: The future for consumer brands

The Internet of Things is a hot topic at the moment. The idea that everything, from your refrigerator to your door lock, could be connected to the Internet and used to communicate with other devices sounds incredibly futuristic. Yet, it is already becoming commonplace. Machine to Machine (M2M) communications are a very real part of modern life.

Current estimates suggest that there are over 6.5 billion devices that are able to connect to the Internet, and this is just the beginning. That figure is expected to explode over the next few years, hitting anything from 20 billion to 50 billion by 2020.

Connected devices are becoming ubiquitous, and even the smallest or cheapest devices now include a microprocessor and often a communications option like WiFi, Bluetooth, or GSM-based cell-tower communications.

However, this is a different matter when it comes to packs – placing even the simplest and cheapest chip onto a regular consumer pack (such as a bag of crisps or a cereal box) is simply not feasible at this time. Yet, the need to connect with consumers through the pack is real, and increasingly expected by brands.

So what is the solution? Give the packs a unique identity and digitally connect them. Today, there are a number of options available to FMCG marketers to get millions, even billions, of packs ready to connect to the Internet – creating an Internet of packaging.

Creating the Internet of Packaging

At first glance, the solution is surprisingly simple -- mundane even. A simple 12-digit alphanumeric code, unique to each item of packaging printed alongside the best-before date or elsewhere. What is great about these codes is that they are straightforward in terms of functionality, whilst the technology behind them is incredibly advanced, ensuring originality and security in the codes.

Speaking of security, naturally one of the biggest consumer concerns at this time lies in whether their information is safe with brands. Since these codes are passive until the consumer chooses to activate them, they are more customer-friendly as they are not perceived as a ‘tracking’ effort on the brand’s part.

Using smart packs to get to know your customer

Brands can no longer expect to command consumers’ attention through their traditional media spend. They have to become increasingly inventive to find those 'magic moments' when consumers are receptive to brand engagement. Rather than relying on traditional ads to get a consumer’s attention, a better strategy is to align campaigns to existing customer behaviour.

By giving products their own unique identity, brands can leverage technology to go directly to consumers in real-time and link activity to sales – all while also gathering valuable data on their customers. Large drinks brand Charles Wells, for example, used codes on a cashback promotion to launch a new product; not only was the launch incredibly successful, but through the codes they discovered their customers were actually a decade younger than they thought. This is the kind of intelligence that can otherwise be incredibly expensive, if not entirely impossible, for brands to get from the supermarkets.

Connected packages can unlock subtle and surprising clues about a brand’s customers. The advantages are huge. By ‘pre-loading’ packs with codes which can be activated at any time, all brands have to do to run a promotion is to create a marketing campaign telling their target audience what they can win or what they can earn, where to find the codes on their packs and how to use them. For example, by going online and inputting them at a promotional microsite or submitting them by text.

The benefits to brands are clear

As with customers, for brands, the benefits are undeniable. As soon as a customer registers a code, the brand knows about it. Unique codes offer instant validation and verification compared with solutions such as receipt scanning. Better yet, brands that put codes on packs as part of the production process do not have to worry about the expense of printing special promotional packs.

In the Internet of Packaging, promotions can be run at any time. When codes are on every pack, the value-added promotions can become an integral part of a brand’s ecosystem. They are constantly available for marketing efforts, so instead of using them as a stop-start tactical sales booster, connected packages are a vital part of a brand’s marketing programme.

It is this marriage of technology and simplicity that will help brands connect with customers in unprecedented ways, when and how they want.

Jonathan Jackson, CEO, Hive