Engage in smart talk

17 December 2019

Everywhere you look today, the impact of digital connectivity is clear. This is why connecting that consumer to a brand through the packaging is such a game-changing and profitable market space, but one that has until recently been somewhat underserved. SharpEnd, the first IoT agency has been increasingly visible in this space as its innovations come to market. Matthew Rogerson talks to Cameron Worth, CEO and founder, to find out more about technical engagement.

“Most people don’t realise it, but the mobile phone remains the most important piece of technology consumers have,” says Cameron Worth, who knows about connecting consumers, as the founder and head of leading internet of things (IoT) agency SharpEnd. “Phone manufacturers are constantly developing connecting tech to engage consumers and products; through to the mid-term, these devices are powering the latest ways to engage, from AR to NFC and beyond.

“[At SharpEnd] we prefer to focus on creativity and innovation, rather than design. Packaging is a very analogue industry, and so we need to help find ways to steer it into digital so it can connect with consumers. The more we can connect products, companies and customers, the greater the value for all.”

Historic examples that may be familiar to readers include Malibu, where the UK saw 40,000 bottles launched that allowed NFC-enabled phones to access exclusive content, recipes, playlists and prizes at the ‘tap’ of a bottle. Another Malibu innovation was the Coco-nect cup, which disrupted the way that patrons could enjoy drinks in a bar or festival setting. Featuring IoT technology, the Coco-nect cups send signals to bar staff when a fresh drink is required. After the base of the cup has been twisted, the drinker’s exact location in the venue is triangulated, and then constantly tracked by bar staff. A light on the bottom changes colour when the drink is being prepared, which then starts flashing to help bar staff identify the right person when the drink is ready.

Targeting young consumers who look for convenient and easy-to-use packaging solutions, the Coco-nect cups attempt to abolish bar queues. “Traipsing to a crowded bar to face a lengthy queue for drinks can put a real dampener on many social get together,” explained Malibu global marketing brand manager, Deborah Nunez at the launch. “While our research shows that FOMO – or the ‘fear of missing out’ – can be a real frustration for young people who don’t want to miss out on the fun of the party.”


NFC technology
Delivering one of the world’s largest roll-outs, SharpEnd worked with Californian Böen, part of Copper Cane Wines & Provisions, as it became the first US wine brand to deploy NFC technology. NFC-connected bottles will be released across the US, offering consumers the ability to be taken to the home of the Böen farmhouse with a tap of Böen’s cap.

“By inviting users to ‘tap our cap’, consumers will have instant access to unparalleled information about the wine they are purchasing simply by tapping the bottle’s cap with their smartphone and taking them to the vineyards where the wines are made,” said Joseph Wagner, founder of Copper Cane Wines & Provisions, about the release. “Without ever downloading an app, a portal is opened that takes you to Böen’s farmhouse where consumers can be educated about where and how their wine was made, offering food pairings, and a central place for fans to share their own experiences with Böen within the platform and via social media.” 

Worth believes there is more potential still. “There is increasing consumer demand for connected packaging across a range of technologies,” he notes. “We know from experience that brands that leverage connected packaging to drive engagement can learn more about what their consumers want and keep up with emerging trends. A roll-out of this scale has been a long time coming, and SharpEnd is very proud to support this trailblazing commitment from Böen.”


Everything has a purpose
Brands need to ensure that the smart label technologies they are developing have a clearly defined purpose as Worth explains, “With an early-stage technology, such as NFC, brands should bear three key principles in mind. Firstly, defining the value proposition from smart packaging interactions – unless it provides real value don’t do it. Secondly, with any new technology, you need to make it really clear what the consumer needs to do, why they should do it and how. Lastly, brands need to make sure that before investing in any smart packaging programmes that all internal stakeholders are aligned on what the overall goal is, and the steps that need to be taken along this journey and associated deliverables.”

While the fastest adapters have so far been in the drinks space, and Pernod-Ricard has perhaps been the biggest user so far, Worth is clear that “we’re not just focused on the idea, but also on the data we are generating and how we’re using this to inform future work. While we still geek out on the latest technologies and platforms, we remain focused on how our clients can make the most of existing or underutilised assets – such as connected packaging or interactive retail.”

With Pernod, Worth continues, “We have launched connected bottles across key brands at real scale and using a range of technologies – AR, QR and NFC – in multiple markets. These programs have delivered new purchase insights, previously unavailable consumer data, driven sales uplift and increased brand loyalty. It shows that when you embrace the product itself as a media platform you can deliver positive business, brand and consumer outcomes.”

According to Worth, there are two ways to look at IoT. “First, there is the operational side, which seeks to make businesses smarter and more efficient by connecting stuff. The second is focused on consumer value and new touchpoints – creating new connections and building more value with consumers. What we do at SharpEnd is provide guidance to brands around the Iatter. What does IoT mean for your brand? What does it mean for your consumer? What are the things that you have licence to do as a brand in connected environments? Most importantly, how do you adopt robust and credible processes into your experimentation?

“So that’s really what we’re trying to do. We’re tooling the industry to be able to have more informed conversations and know what they really want out of IoT. It is not a website, it’s not a social media thing, but it’s actually an enormous opportunity to instrument the real world. So we see IoT as the next platform. “

A clear vision
As to what Worth’s vision is for IoT’s place in the retail experiential landscape, he is very positive, adding, “There’s certainly a lot that can be done in retail. With the brands we currently work with the two key areas are supermarkets and travel retail environments. The former requires quick, sharp engagements whereas travel retail can be a little more focused on overall experience.

“A supermarket is a very functional thing. You want to get your stuff and get out as quickly as possible. Realistically, you’re not going to stand there responding to beacons, scanning 5,000 products and sharing your fantastic aisle experience on Facebook. The overall ‘brand’ piece can be done after the purchase when they’re back at home but, in-store, it’s more about making people more incentivised to buy your stuff. So I think making the supermarket experience much more functional, much more frictionless is a good thing and I think IoT will definitely help in wayfinding, as well as accessing store-specific promotions. From an operational perspective, inventory management has already shown massive gains for businesses using the IoT.”


Driven by data
Quite a large portion of what SharpEnd does involves data. However, it is not simply about getting more reliable data about what’s happening to a product. Worth explains, “Lots of our work is around creating data strategies. If you look at the connected home, for example, it’s forecasted to generate a 150 million data points a day. Helping a brand figure out a) what the hell are these data points and b) what is important is key. If we’re looking at the ‘connected bar’, is it knowing what drinks do people prefer or is it how long do they spend in there? Or is it where are they going afterwards or is it what they drunk before they got there? That’s really what we start doing as well, which is why SharpEnd goes from strategic consulting – big picture stuff – to programme management of prototype, pilot and scale programmes.”

As with any data discussion, privacy creeps in, and Worth is clear that ‘use’ is the important qualifier. “No one left Facebook that I’m aware of after the Snowden revelations, and that was when they were being explicitly told their data was being misused,” he states’ “If the company uses and applies the data intelligently there should be no issue. That said, the brands have to be transparent about their data policies. This will only become more important as consumer engagement gets more personal at the individual mobile level. I think the key question to ask is ‘what’s the purpose of you getting this data from me’, and if that can be answered satisfactorily it’s not an invasion of privacy.”

But with so many organisations entering the field, who does Worth admire? “I have two, they might be obvious, but for different reasons. Amazon and its dash button. People focused on the button but the real innovation was the replenishment service, which can now be embedded into the appliance. People keep focusing on the tip of the spear Amazon throws, but it’s the back end, like the replenishment platform that provides the real wow factor, and weight to their impressive business. I constantly ask myself ‘why did I not see that coming’ with Amazon and am impressed by that.

“Nike is the other, from an IoT and brand perspective. By implanting a tiny device into its shoes, it has completely changed the way it engages with customers. Consumers now market Nike every time they track a run with ‘powered by Nike’. The passive branding efforts are incredibly effective to the mass market, and the data they can get from this is invaluable.”

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