Packaging Innovation
December 14, 2015

The Year Physical Packaging Digitizes for Disruption

by Udo Panenka

In this digital age with so many screens, so much tapping and clicking, more and more of our lives are woven into the digital landscape. Yet we still exist on a physical planet. As humans, we still sense. We see with our eyes and touch with our hands. We know how experiences make us feel, and it is very difficult to replicate that digitally.

Brands are realizing that their physical marketing channels are just as important as their digital counterparts. Particularly for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, the times when consumers are physically interacting with their packaged product, or digitally examining an image of the product packaging, are as important as ever.

The consumer only has one experience and does not categorize or distinguish between digital and physical channels. However, when these touchpoints are out of sync, marketers realize that the consumer experience suffers: a survey we recently conducted with the CMO Council found that two-thirds of marketers believe consumers are very or extremely sensitive to visible differences between the packaging images they see online and in-store.

There are many brands that are already keenly aware of the need to close the gap between physical and digital channels. They are developing and aligning their capabilities to deliver a cohesive experience, tying together physical packaging and digital marketing. Experiences that we used to think were dreams are quickly becoming reality.

Perhaps at its most literal, the use of physical packaging as a digital marketing vehicle can be observed in the rise of intelligent packaging. Intelligent packaging interacts with the consumer. This could be done via QR codes, printed electronics, NFC tags or other RFID devices (including holograms and embedded barcodes). Intelligent packaging is digitally driven, relying as much on physical technology as on digital information, infrastructure and the flow of data through connected systems.

Part of the problem with intelligent packaging has been that the devices consumers held in their hands have not been able to read intelligent packages. QR code readers still are not active and native in all smartphones in all markets. Though it has existed since 2002, NFC technology only very recently became readable by iPhones.

As smartphones increase in their ability to read codes and interact with tags, the blocks to adoption of intelligent packaging components will break down. That’s why I believe 2018 will see a surge of intelligent packaging uses and marketing innovations from FMCG brands as they put these technologies work to provide a converged physical and digital consumer experience.

Of course, it’s quite possible that the smartphone camera may render some intelligent packaging uses obsolete. When consumers can see an item they want to buy, snap a photo of it and instantly be presented with sizes, quantities, prices and ship-to-home options, intelligent packaging itself will be disrupted.

Just as marketing and consumer data needs to get organized in support of digital marketing efforts, packaging will need to organize product data and imagery, making them readily available to apps and APIs, and ensuring their veracity on-screen and on-pack. It’s time for brands to get their packaging functions digitized so they can be ready for whatever new technology presents itself next.

To learn more about the latest 2018 packaging trends, download our trends book