Interactive Packaging – solutions without a problem?

shampoo not required

(c) Smoke and Mirrors

There are lots of technologies to enable consumers to interact with packaging. So why don’t brands use it more widely? And would it be useful for you?

Early November I was at the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) World Congress in Amsterdam. On display were many amazing technologies to make packaging active and / or intelligent.

Active packaging tries to solve a clear problem: currently one third of all food produced is lost or wasted from farm to fork, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Intelligent packaging that tracks goods is also addressing a clear pain point, just ask any retailer where their goods actually are. Similarly authentication and anti-counterfeiting solutions, with the counterfeit goods market currently around $600 billion/yr, rising to nearly $1 trillion/yr by 2021. These solutions are largely used by retailers and brands themselves.

But when we get to the consumer end it is not so clear where the problem currently lies. Counterfeit formula milk or cosmetics masquerading as that of a trusted brand could be inferior and potentially harmful, and surely consumers would like to check authenticity. FMCG packaging that gives discounts, connects to fun games, useful or exclusive information, what is not to like? Content-wise you are only limited by your imagination because if it is digital you can link your packaging to it.

So why are brands not connecting their packaging en-masse to digital content? At the conference there were some interesting case studies of marketing campaigns using NFC-enabled spirit bottles, yogurt pots linked to games and packs of chocolates allowing you to win heart-stopping experiences, but no evidence that brands are falling over each other to make their packaging interactive for consumers.

Why not? Because there is no consumer demand for it yet.

There are two key reasons. Firstly, consumers are simply not aware that packaging can be interactive. Unless it has a very clear call-to-action consumers don’t expect there is more to packaging than meets the eye. Secondly, most importantly, the value consumers get from interacting is not sufficient. In the early days of QR codes in marketing they often linked to desktop sites, unreadable on a mobile phone. Often the company’s home page, as if that was the point of engaging with the pack! Augmented Reality (AR) pay-offs are definite improvements, as at first they always surprise, but there isn’t always a longer-term value for the consumer. Whilst this may not matter for the marketing campaign, it does matter for the consumer for whom the next purchasing decision is less swayed by another “wow” experience.

In the absence of consumers asking for interactive packaging brands cannot see a clear ROI. To be fair, marketing departments have had a lot of new technologies thrown at them over the past decade. They have to understand rapidly changing consumer buying behaviour, be able to engage with consumers 24/7 and be omni-present in new and old channels. Adding packaging as yet another consumer engagement channel with its own set of technologies may be a bit much.

But here is the crux of the matter. Packaging is a key consumer engagement channel, and quite a cheap one at that. It’s already out there, totally under the brand’s control. Once consumers have a pack in their hand, they are much more open to the brand’s messages, be they in-store or post-purchase. Digital interaction with packaging is much easier to measure than views of TV ads, impressions of Facebook ads, views of billboards. And it allows for a two-way conversation rather than a one-way monologue, as it is much easier for consumers to give feedback to a brand via an interactive pack than via traditional push advertising.

The key to getting consumers to interact with packaging is to offer them real value.

At the congress I ran an “idea hackathon” (or “workshop”) with a group of very knowledgable and enthusiastic participants. Together we arrived at a list of what kind of content could be of real value to consumers:

  • financial gain: discounts, loyalty schemes, prizes
  • convenience: connection to other (lifestyle) apps or services, how-to videos, instant re-purchase
  • security: product authentication, back story, information
  • (emotional) connections: social messaging, sharing, reviews
  • relevance to a person’s needs: personalisation, tailoring of services.

Let’s get back to the original question. Is interactive packaging a solution without a problem? No, it is not. Packaging is a key consumer engagement channel and brands that want to win customers have to use it strategically and offer real value.

What real value is depends on the market, the geography, the product, the brand itself. Therefore interactive packaging won’t be of strategic use to everybody! In our experience it is useful for your brand if you have

  • a story to tell (sustainability, heritage, origins)
  • a passionate audience (new parents, health, fitness, sport)
  • complex products (DIY, b2b, health)
  • multilingual markets
  • captive audiences (hospitality, airports)

So, do you know what you want your packaging to say? Do you want to test what works for you? Or just understand better what the options are? We can help you find out. After all, that is why we started Linkz.

Direct-to-consumer 2: why and how brands are making their packaging and print digitally connected


Part 1 of this 2-part article (“Why use connected packaging and print”) was published previously here.

What are the options for scanning?
  • QR codes

With the spreading of smartphones, QR codes became very popular in marketing and advertising about six years ago. But then it all seemed to come to a grinding halt, at least in the Western world. Why? One of the main reasons is that the experience people got when scanning a QR code was disappointing. The pay-offs were illegible (for example, a desktop site on a mobile screen), not relevant (for example, link to the company’s home page instead of detailed product information), out-of-date, hard-to-download (outdoor internet connection was poor in those days), etc. And marketers quickly decided that QR codes were ugly and that the public didn’t want them. Big caveat is that in Asia, especially in China, Korea and Japan, QR codes are still popular. This probably has to do with the fact that typing in a URL in their languages is a lot harder than when using the western alphabet. So QR codes are dead. Or are they?

Cadbury QR code

Cadbury “scan for joy” campaign, running since 2011

Anybody who has been to a trade show knows that these places are littered with QR codes. Cadbury has been running their “scan for joy” campaign for years now. And KitKat started a YouTube campaign promoting QR codes on the front of their packaging in spring 2016. Many more complex products (DIY, building trade) carry QR codes to help users. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in the US is working on their SmartLabel initiative, planning to add QR codes to packaging, which will deliver standardised expanded information about the product in hand.


  • barcodes (EAN, UPC and other “1D” codes)

These are already present on most retail products. Amazon, Ocado, John Lewis, the NHS Sugar Smart app, they all use the barcodes to deliver extra information to consumers. Retail brands use it to give price and stock information, specialist apps like Sugar Smart give focused information. Dedicated QR & barcode scanning apps use databases to give standardised non-branded information about many retail products, though most are currently restricted to US products.


NHS Sugar smart app

NHS Sugar Smart app


  • digitally watermarked images (Digimarc barcodes)

Not a name that easily trips off the tongue, but digital watermarks have been around for about 20 years. Developed by Digimarc in the US and currently promoted as a quicker way to pass products over the till, invisible digital watermarks are a great way to connect packaging without compromising the aesthetics of a brand.


  • image recognition

Apps like Blippar and Aurasma analyse the media to literally recognise a particular image and deliver an augmented reality experience on the smartphone. It is “probabilistic”, as opposed to the “deterministic” technology that underlies Digimarc barcodes. But it also means it can deliver a pay-off of the same brand icon irrespective of where it is – on a label, a magazine ad, a bill board.


  • physical triggers

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), NFC (Near Field Communication), Bluetooth beacons are all technologies for wireless communications. They require physical triggers in or on the product, which can be identified by a reader and connected to a pay-off (“what you see when you scan the trigger”). They each have their own advantages and applications.

Ideally you would use a single platform that can recognise many or all of these triggers. For example, the app is able to scan both barcodes and QR codes. Linkz is a platform that can use all the triggers listed above.


What do you get in return?

Direct-to-customer communication, that is all very nice – lots of ways to engage with your audience via printed materials, lots of extra value you could offer them. But what do you, the brand, get? This depends on the technology platform used, but most of them offer that all-important insight one way or another: understanding your customers’ behaviour and preferences. Some scanning options, like ordinary QR codes, will offer limited insights as by and large you can only measure what traffic you get to the pay-off (usually a website).

Other options, like Linkz, will give you detailed analytics of what was scanned, where and when and by which unique handset. As an example – a small, upcoming novelty drinks company used Linkz to activate its packaging. On the can it had a small call-to-action inviting people to scan and participate in a competition. This was a great way to encourage scanning and resulted in useful insights into the times and days their customers bought their product. They didn’t need to stand outside shops to interview customers, they could see it clearly in the data.

Linking your physical product or collateral to digital pay offs also means you can connect your social media campaigns with your products. You can measure which areas or stores are best at running certain campaigns, or what kind of triggers work best in what situation.

Linkz analytics dashboard

Linkz analytics options

How do you manage all this?

With so many different things to scan and with so many possible pay offs it is even more important to manage this channel closely and efficiently. It has to be quick and easy to update campaigns. If needed, you want pay offs to be changeable by the hour, like when you are running a social media campaign to encourage people to buy your product. All technologies mentioned above come with management platforms, some more developed than others. The best way is to choose platforms that allow you to test what works for your customers and that lets you compare campaigns that use different triggers. Now is the time to get involved with consumer scanning and learn how to operate in this field.


What to do?

You can see why connected packaging and print is taking off: being present along the whole customer journey requires usage of all media channels. Consumers increasingly want to control engagement with brands[1]. Brands need easy implementation and control over what the consumer sees related to their products. Start connecting your packaging and print now.

[1] note the increase in use of adblocking software. It is becoming the norm to interact with customers when they want to.


Direct-to-consumer 1: why and how brands are making their packaging and print digitally connected


Nathalie Muller, CEO, Linkz-IM
It is no longer just millennials that tweet, pin, chat, snap and scan. People are using their smartphones to interact with the world around them. Therefore it is important for brands to be present and consistent across more media channels than ever. Connected packaging and print is a powerful new channel. It means that people can use their smartphone to scan a trigger and in return receive digital content, which adds value to the customer experience. Brands are discovering this exciting new channel, which can also help them gain detailed insight into customer behaviour and preferences.

In this 2-part series we will look at
i. Why use connected packaging and print
ii. How to connect and how to manage connected packaging and print

Kitkat connected packaging

Kitkat connected packaging campaign Spring 2016


The world is moving fast and marketing is moving with it: omnichannel marketing
Since the introduction of the smartphone many media have crossed over or merged. We are constantly connected with friends and family, whether they are next door or many time zones away.

Brands need to make their messages heard and understood in this world with more media channels than ever. What are all these channels?

push pull marketing list
Source: Gerard Marketing Group

The traditional channels fall into the “Push” (Paid) category, where you use one-way messages to talk to your audience via print, TV, radio and outdoor. “Earned Media” work a bit slower, but have a higher conversion rate. “Owned Media” is where your audience actively engages with you because they want to. Needless to say it has an even higher conversion rate 2.

Which channels you use depends on your products and your audiences. But as you can see from the overview, managing all these channels and ensuring consistency and clarity is no mean feat!

Sometimes the channels are very new and brands find it hard to manage the messages. We all know examples of brands’ tweets that went wrong, or QR codes that linked to embarrassing websites. While it’s part of trying and learning and therefore definitely important, as marketers you don’t have a lot of room for error.

What do you need?

Omni-channel marketing therefore requires two things.

Firstly, a clear customer engagement strategy. Not only using the more traditional channels in the “Push” or “Paid” category, but also using more recent technologies, like social media and websites from the “Pull” category. Ensuring your brand has a holistic view of how you engage with your audience, and a single voice across all the channels.

Secondly, easy tools to manage the delivery of the strategy. With the rise of the new channels (social media, websites, YouTube, etc) there is also the rise of the marketing management systems. The choice is overwhelming and depending on the needs of your brand and audience you may have to try a few.

Connected packaging

Let’s focus on one of the more recent channels from the “Owned Media” category. Packaging is one of the most powerful channels a brand owns. The problem is that space is often at a premium. Instructions, ingredients, even in different languages if needed, it won’t all fit.

With the rise of smartphones and the improvement of the cameras on the phones it has become possible to make packaging digitally connected. This means that the consumer uses the camera on the phone to scan the packaging to obtain additional information. For example, a detailed list of ingredients and nutritional value. Or detailed instructions of how to use the product (e.g. DIY, or pharmaceutical, or motoring). Or detailed information about the product’s provenance, whether it is organic, ethically produced, local, etc.

But it doesn’t have to be just additional text that doesn’t fit on the label, or is hard to read on the instruction manual. It can also take the form of video – very handy for more complex products. And it doesn’t have to stop at information. Once the prospect has the product in their hands and is looking at it they are very open to a brand’s messages. This is the moment to deliver extra value to them, reasons to prefer your brand over others, because you make them feel valued, or happy, or both!

A study3 revealed that 64% of UK consumers are interested in everyday objects being connected to the internet, with connected packaging that delivers extra consumer value being deemed most appealing.

So what extra could you offer them?

Of course this depends on your products and brand value. If you are Cadbury and your brand value is around “joy” you can add extra joy to your packaging by linking it to amusing videos. If you are RedBull and your value is around “excitement” you can add extra excitement to a can by linking it to your TV channel with lots of terrifying videos of people throwing themselves off mountain tops.
If you are a company that manufactures commercial cleaning products you can add product information sheets in various languages and videos of your training programme to remind people which products can and can’t be used in conjunction.

You can help people purchase your product (again), especially useful if you don’t sell via supermarkets. Imagine – a customer is running out of their favourite posh chocolates, and all they need to do it scan the barcode, press “buy again”, and voila, next day their new stash is delivered!

Premiere Products connected packaging

Premiere Products connected packaging (source: Berkshire Labels)


You can also use your packaging to link to your loyalty scheme. Or to serve up discount vouchers. Or you can make it super-easy for people to share their experience of your product on social media, or get in touch with you with one click.

With some platforms you can connect your packaging and deliver personalised results. Pay-offs tailored to the end-user, so you show them quite how much you value them by delivering truly worthwhile content. 94% of senior-level executives believe delivering personalization is critical or important to reaching customers4 .
A recent “Digital IQ” survey by PwC5 showed that “60% of marketers say they are not effectively delivering personalized customer experiences today”. Packaging connecting to personalised content is the perfect solution here.

Connected “other”

But it doesn’t have to stop at packaging. In fact, brand owners can digitally activate anything printed. Catalogues, till receipts, posters, all collateral can be used. And it doesn’t have to be just printed either! Technologies like RFID, NFC or Bluetooth Beacons require physical triggers to be connected to the products, but they are also scannable!

At home: In store:
Flyer inside product packaging Bluetooth beacons
Existing EAN barcode on product NFC
Product labels RFID
Catalogue images Shelf edge
Direct mail Point of Sale
TV or audio trigger Barcode on product
Till receipt

Examples of items scannable by the consumer

For example, if one of your main sales channels is catalogues then linking the catalogue items to their digital representations makes it a tonne easier for people to buy.

In the second part we will look at ‘how’ you can connect print and packaging.



[1] Forbes:

[2] “Marketing in an omni-channel world”, Susan Gerard,

[3] Mindshare in association with Sharp End

[4] PwC at



The Economist covers the growing trend of SKU Marketing

Economist_Logo_175pxThe key observation is that in the “internet of things” brands need to learn to change and regain control of the connection with the customer. With distributors like Amazon increasingly taking more and more of the retailers’ market share, it is the distributors who are learning about, and communicating with, the consumer – not the brand.

With the unstoppable advances in technology the article talks about the possibility of placing sensors and microchips on products. Whilst these have their place, especially on high-end products, Linkz has an easier, cheaper and faster solution – to “activate” the product’s EAN/UPC barcode instead.

Take the example of the activ8 nutrition brand. The product’s barcode was activated giving the customer timely information and product after-care, in this case, support for their exercise regime. To activate the product took minutes – even after the product was on the shelf or in the consumer’s home. This gave activ8 a powerful way to engage with their customers but at minimal cost.

To embrace the technical revolution, manufacturers will need to completely change their cultures, argues the author, employing more IT specialists to crunch data, for example. In the example of Linkz, a full mobile marketing site for a specific product line or SKU can be built by anyone in minutes without the need for programming skills. This gives marketing teams the wealth of behavioural data and insight on the consumer that they need in order to help shape future NPD and marketing strategies.

In the “internet of things” manufacturers and brands will have to grapple with unfamiliar issues as privacy and cyber-security, stresses the author. A recent survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit of 561 executives worldwide suggested just how far the average business is from understanding any of this, with only 19% planning radical changes to harness the potential of smart things. The Safe Harbour ruling on data adds yet another layer of uncertainty.

One thing is clear. If manufacturers fail to embrace the change, they will be left behind as other types of businesses draw ever closer to customers. Linkz changes this paradigm – easily, quickly and at low cost. Contact us to learn how to change the conversation with your customers.

What is SKU Marketing?

SKU Marketing is the growing trend to talk to and engage with consumers by product (either by its SKU or barcode), or by product range.

Individual products talking to individual consumers where and when they want to engage – in shops, on the go or at home.

How Does it work?

Combined_SKUs_v02With certain apps (scan the barcode on the left with the Linkz Code Scanner) consumers can scan products to get real time, up to date, relevant multi-media experience. Brand owners set “triggers” on the packaging or label using a variety of options. These can include the UPC/EAN codes already on the product, QR codes (they’re making a comeback!) or invisible watermarks.

What are the benefits of SKU Marketing?

Consumers gain real-time relevant information about a product they have a genuine interest in while they have it in their hands. SKU Marketing helps consumers understand the product so they can make informed choices.

For the brand owner, “activating” or diverting barcodes is simple, fast and cheap. More importantly it enables the start of a powerful, direct relationship between a brand and consumer which is normally controlled by the retailer or distributor.

Which brands should use SKU Marketing?

– Do you have a story to tell and your consumers want to hear it? Why you do what you do and what’s unique.
– Are your consumers passionate about the cause or activity your product supports and would they like to learn more about it?
– Does your product support sustainability or environmental goals? Tell your consumers in detail what they want to know.
– Is your audience multi-lingual or do you sell into different countries and need local language support? All consumers want to know about your product – give them your story in their language.

If your product and consumer fits one or more the above, you should look into SKU Marketing.

Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)
Increase CLTV by informing your customers about the benefits of your products and your brand. Consumers buy brands but the product needs to live up to the brand promise – let your products engage the consumer so they can see the story behind the product.

In Summary
SKU Marketing can be as ephemeral as Snapchat or as persistent as your product itself. It’s about the right message at the right the moment. An individual message to an interested individual consumer – now, with the product, and your brand, in their hands.

AUTHOR: Ward Parsons, Linkz Product Manager

Un-safe Harbour?

Fingerprint-979598_1280Some years ago, I was asked by a relation, “Where’s all this data stored?” I said her question was not easy to answer. “It’s out there in the cloud somewhere. But don’t worry, it’s safe.”

Technically, her data may still be safe. She can call up her photos, her email, from computers all over the planet, and it will be quickly, reliably and correctly delivered to her. We know how to spread data across different stores so a fire or a flood won’t lose it. We know how to protect it with fancy mathematics so data errors will be found and fixed. It works well. We can cope with disasters.

But governments? That’s a harder problem.

One of the great benefits of the European Union for the private citizen has been quite strong EU law on privacy. This has been particularly driven by the experience of East Germany, where spying by the Stasi on its own citizens was wall-to-Berlin-wall, and universally hated. Now, our data can only be copied with our consent, except in very limited circumstances. Nations in the EU must enact laws to enforce this.

However, it’s hard to use data that’s stuck down a hole. If I’m in the UK trying to buy a widget from Germany, that can well all be in the EU, but the credit card data might have to go to the US, or maybe the delivery company is US-owned and using US servers to track the package. It makes for an easier life if that data can flow about as needed to deliver the goods. But we still need to maintain EU standards of privacy. So, Safe Harbour was invented, a contractual obligation for US companies to provide EU privacy standards for EU data that they needed to handle.

All very well in theory, but Safe Harbour has been looking increasingly Unsafe. The US legislature passed various laws requiring US companies to hand data over to government agencies like Homeland Security, more-or-less on demand. The US NSA has what seems to be carte blanche to subvert protections like encryption and hoover up enormous amounts of private data. This makes a mockery of Safe Harbour, but the fact has been swept under the carpet for a while, in the interests of good diplomacy and easy trade.

Enter Max Schrems, an Austrian student, and Facebook. He complained to the Irish Data Protection Authority (Facebook’s EU HQ is in Ireland) that Facebook was sending his data to the US. The DPA said it was OK, Safe Harbour was adequate. Schrems took the case to court. All the way to the European Court of Justice. The ECJ said that Safe Harbour wasn’t automatically OK, and that the DPA must consider the effect of US laws subverting Safe Harbour. It’s now apparent that US “security” law makes Safe Harbour unsafe, and we’re all just waiting for the DPA to make that formal. The European Court of Justice has stood up for the little man against the giant corporation, against mighty governments, and exposed all this for the sham that it is.

Everyone is scrabbling around for more sticky tape to patch up this data protection mess. One proposal is to have users specifically agree to a contract allowing the data transfer to the US, using “model clauses” and “Binding Corporate Rules” in Ts&Cs. However, one German court has already ruled that this isn’t good enough, and if the contract says things like “but the government can take your data and do whatever it wants with it”, many people just won’t do business. The US government could fix this by changing their law to provide EU standards of privacy for EU citizens – but they won’t. The sticky tape isn’t sticking.

For EU companies, it makes great sense to keep EU data inside the EU, on hardware on EU soil, run by EU companies. That way, one set of rules, one legal system and one concept of privacy covers everything. It might mean a business has to be more careful in its choices, but it certainly is possible.

For more information about Safe Harbour view the following articles:

Emrys Williams is Linkz Chief Technical Officer and has ensured that all Linkz servers are held within the EU.

Consumers get the right content, right now with SmartLinkz one-click install

SmartLinkziinfographicLinkz-IM, the intelligent mobile marketing technology, is set to help marketers further enhance the consumer engagement and conversion process with a new SmartLinkz feature, making it more convenient for consumers to get the right content straight away – either via a one-click install of the Linkz app or via the user’s browser. The new technology makes it easier for marketers to fully integrate mobile technology with social media and digital marketing campaigns to offer a more seamless brand experience.

Currently consumers are required to download the Linkz app from Google Play or iTunes before being able to see the content they’re after. The new functionality means that when consumers receive a SmartLinkz via a tweet, Facebook link, SMS or email they can go straight to the relevant content, only having to click “yes” once to automatically download the Linkz app. This takes away the common hassle when the desired content is not loaded with the app install. By making the process more convenient for the consumer, this increases the likelihood of participation in a special offer and social sharing.

Using the Linkz platform, marketers can simply and quickly set up mobile sites. These are ideal for products requiring frequently changing content such as short-term marketing and advertising promotions. Additional content, voucher downloads, video links and social media access can be added in minutes. A direct link to the finished content can be sent via any digital marketing or social media channel and the SmartLinkz technology automatically installs the app on the user’s phone following a one-click acceptance. Linkz technology provides brands with powerful tracking and attribution data such as clicks, links, installs and page views.

Tim Smith, CEO of Linkz said:
“Smart phones have taken over as the main communication device, but brands no longer can rely on banner ads as consumers increasingly embrace ad-blocking software. Linkz helps brands connect with consumers wherever they are, makes it easy to like, share and participate in promotions and helps the consumer conversion journey.”

Linkz and The Champion of Print

Matthew Parker in action at The Print Show

Matthew Parker in action at the Print Show

Linkz Intelliigent Marketing is supporting The Print Show taking place this week at the Birmingham NEC.

As consumers continue to migrate to smartphones, Linkz is a powerful tool for brand owners and printers to quickly create, manage and analyse interactive mobile campaigns that connect the physical and digital worlds. These are ideal to respond quickly, easily and cost effectively for short-term promotions or events.

Linkz has created a dedicated, interactive mobile marketing campaign for Matthew Parker who runs a leading print consultancy to support his presence at the show. Amongst specialist tips Matthew will be showing printers how easy it is to create interactive marketing campaigns and how to bring print materials to life using Linkz. To find out more pop along to the profitable print relationships stand P35.

The Print Show is an inaugural event celebrating all aspects of the UK print industry, which will be held on 13-15 October at the Birmingham NEC.

For more about The Print Show visit: