Welcome to a brave new world of augmented reality in connecting packaging. By Caspar Thykier
Augmented reality (AR) is by no means a new technology. In fact, it’s been around for over 50 years. The technology moved to mobile around a decade ago, giving it a new impetus. The combination created a connection between the most important device in our daily lives and the world around us through print, packaging, places and even faces.
Last year AR made another leap through the availability of mobile WebAR. That means there is no longer the need for the download of a native app to deliver AR experiences available to anyone with a smartphone (currently 3.5bn, or 45 per cent of the world’s population) and access to the internet. The reduction in friction and ubiquity has huge implications for businesses and brand owners, specifically in the packaging and retail space.
In an age of consumers driving brands to tell a story about their authenticity and sustainability, companies are exploring how to show their social credentials. One solution is that the purpose can be served directly from the product, through scanning its packaging and accessing immersive content. AR is a facilitating camera function. It provides a new lens for digital discovery that can be for moments of surprise and delight in marketing activation. The same technology can also inform and instruct users, sales teams and internal staff alike. Ultimately, the big market opportunity is that it turns passive products and packaging into an always-on owned media channel. Your billions of products sitting idly on the shelf are transformed into a portal when scanned with your camera to learn more about its provenance, authenticity, tasting notes, reviews, serving suggestions and brand promise as well as a means to order more and learn about relevant products.
If I’m a CPG owner that’s just catapulted my packaging into my most valuable owned media channel creating a direct dialogue with my end users on the device that matters most to them in their lives: their smartphone. As a brand owner, I control this media channel. I can change the messaging on it whenever I like at two important moments of assistance: pre-purchase; and at point of consumption. Then, I can get real time data on what users are doing with the product through their interactions (in a GDPR compliant way of course); and then I can deliver more contextually relevant information to them based on their feedback and analysis of this data to better facilitate repurchase, advocacy and loyalty. The level of understanding, measurement and real-time action is unprecedented.
Users also tend to spend longer on these owned channels than any other type. Average dwell times are sixty seconds or more with each scan through AR on packaging and registration rates are commonly one in four users. That is a conversion and level of engagement that’s unprecedented through other owned media channels online but with no additional media fees, and has a positive impact on both the top and bottom-line.
We’re seeing large multinationals already taking the first steps in this process with the likes of Nestle, Unilever, Beiersdorf, Reckitt Benkiser, Kellogg’s all beginning to create the necessary framework and tools internally to make every single product in their portfolio scannable.
With all that said, there are important practical steps to get this right and a simple framework for success that we’ve identified over our last decade of learning in this field. The first thing is you need a C-level champion within the organisation that can align all the different stakeholders required to embrace the strategy. There’s some critical central infrastructure and ‘plumbing’ if you like required in order to make a connected pack and AR capability robust, scalable, efficient and affordable within the company that needs central budget sign off. This consists of the central CMS for allocating codes (QR typically but can be UPC, DMC etc.) to products and a digital identity linked to a data dashboard that can then monitor all the interactions related to that product or SKU throughout its entire lifetime. It sits alongside the AR content authoring and publishing platform for the experiences you’re going to make for each product. The system can then allow you to update content in real time to ensure the right experiences and messages are served to the right people at the right time. Separating out the central platform and license costs and building this platform capability across the organisation makes it easier for different brand and country managers to focus on the strategy and execution of the content, rather than worry about how the underlying system works and who is going to pay for it. The next step is execution. There’s a simple but tried-and-tested framework to apply. I call it the Five C’s for Success:
Context: Put yourselves in the shoes of your end user, at the moment you expect them to scan your pack. Do you have a hand free at that point? A good network connectivity and the dwell time right there and then? Be very critical. What you’re really asking is ‘Would I scan my pack right now?’
Control: How well can we control this context; the image itself being scanned (or size of code) and clarity of the CTA (see below); the distance of the user from the product; any obstacles, obstructions or likely occlusion; the acoustics; the lighting etc. The more control we have in that context the better the end user experience.
Call To Action: This is absolutely critical. Without a good and clear call to action your initiative will fail. Make sure the Call to Action clearly tells people HOW to scan and WHAT they are going to get for their efforts. Make sure the CTA is connected to the image or place you’re asking people to scan. The greater the distance from CTA to scanning moment the greater the drop off in activation.
Content: Make sure the content you are delivering is valuable to your users and could not have been more easily accessible by just going to your website or YouTube channel. Reward them for their participation with digital value add or real world value (sweeps, coupons etc.)
Communications: Make sure to leverage your other communications channels to tell people about this new camera capability (through social, PR, internal comms). This is a new behaviour for your audience so help them understand the benefit and how they can participate. Remember, your internal audience are your most powerful advocates for spreading the message. That’s even more critical at retail. Make sure your staff are well briefed to take advantage of this new feature.
Note that nothing about the five C’s is about the technology. It is all related to execution. Thinking about the moment of assistance; ensuring you have designed your call to action properly; and thinking about the benefit you are ultimately delivering are critical. But if you get these right you’ll get high levels of engagement and interaction and will start receiving rich data about your users that you’ve never had before. What does this all mean for a brand owner in 2020? Well I’d suggest it begs one important question for any leadership team I’d like to leave you with which is, ‘What’s my camera strategy?’ Think about what your brand could say or do in an age of spatial computing to drive penetration, sales and loyalty. Visual, camera enabled digital discovery is an inevitability. The camera-enhancement and instrumentation of product packaging in the internet of every single thing has started.
The last decade laid strong foundations in computer vision, AR and a camera-first arms race amongst mobile manufacturers, software businesses, search and social platforms. The next three years will see large corporations around the world start utilising these advances to better meet the needs of their consumers through direct conversations; delivering better data; and helping drive more efficient sales through DTC channels. As business leaders I’d strongly suggest that getting a head start on how you can use AR as a facilitating technology for your products and package to deliver better end user experiences will only bring short, medium and long term benefits to your business.
Caspar THYKIER is CEO and co-founder of Zappar, a leading global developer of Augmented Reality experiences and creative tools. He’s on a mission to get the technology into the hands of as many as possible: brands, the next generation of digital creators and consumers.