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Should every consumer product be able to communicate with a smartphone?

It started with home appliances, but this year has seen the idea of ?smart? consumer products extend to soccer balls and liquor bottles as the technology evolves and promises more seamless engagement opportunities for product marketers than was previously available.

As the Internet of Things gains steam, marketers are increasingly looking to integrate mobile directly into their products or onto to their packaging in ways that are more direct than QR codes and provide more value. The examples are just beginning to accumulate, from the Adidas MiCoach smart soccer ball whose embedded sensor interacts with a mobile application to help train athletes to Remy Martin?s use of NFC chips on its bottles to make it easy for consumers to know the product is authentic. 

?The potential of mobile enabled products and packaging is enormous - the days of running out of milk will soon be over as our refrigerators will soon be able to inventory and order - and it will be interesting to see which technology standards prove most useful,? said Nicholas Einstein, principal analyst at The Relevancy Group, http://www.relevancygroup.com/  

?NFC chip technology has proven extremely useful for early adopters and seems to be most appropriate for the requirements of today?s mobile marketer,? he said. ?Smart sensor technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that breakthroughs are to expected, and smart marketers will be allocating resources towards smart sensors in 2015 and beyond.

?We see 2015 as the year for early adopters and don?t expect a deluge of mobile enabled products and packaging to hit the market in 2015. As marketers test and learn, and the technology continues to develop, the deluge will come. 2016 will be a huge year for mobile enabled products and packaging, and going into 2017 we will see the deluge as the strategies and tactics mature, and business value is quantified.?

New opportunities
There have been several examples of brands experimenting with placing NFC chips on their out-of-home advertising and other touch points over the past couple of years.  

A number of marketers have also placed QR codes on their packaging. However, after some initial excitement around this strategy, it has settled into a way to provide additional nutritional and other product information rather than ongoing activation strategy. 

In 2015, the interest appears to be growing in leveraging next-generation mobile technology for deeper engagements directly from a product or its packaging. 


Several factors are driving the current interest in mobilizing products and packaging, including the growing adoption of NFC-enabled smartphones, a wider range of Bluetooth capabilities, the development of more effective and efficient sensors and the growing interest in and awareness of the Internet of Things. 

More marketers are expected to jump on board the trend to mobilize their products in the coming months, potentially opening up new opportunities to provide services for consumers and drive additional revenue. 

Smaller sensors
For example, the Adidas miCoach coaches users to kick like a pro using an embedded sensor that communicates with a mobile application. 

The use of sensor-based technology by product marketers could continue to grow as sensors get smaller, smarter and more capable, enabling smartphones to interact with products in ways they could not do before, according to Matt Murphy, president/CEO of Fusion92. 

?We will see a lot of development and unique engagements that takes it into the environment,? Mr. Murphy said. ?That thinking is dramatically different. 

?Product marketers are really thinking outside the box, leveraging and integrating technologies with experiences that happen in our physical worlds versus the digital world,? he said. ?It is really the hybrid of the two that is going to be interesting.? 


Contactless communications
Other possible uses include putting a NFC sticker on the packaging for a product, enabling consumers to tap their smartphone against it to access related digital services or products. 

At the recent Cannes Lions festival, contactless communications platform Tapit showed an example of what such an integration might look like. The company had a box of Legos mocked up with a Tapit sticker in one corner. By tapping a smartphone to the sticker, consumers would be able to purchase a mobile game related to the Legos they have purchased and have the cost show up on their phone bill. 

A key benefit of this type of engagement is that consumers are not required to download an app to make it work, something that is required for QR code engagements. 

?The idea is, with Lego having millions of physical boxes, all of a sudden there is an opportunity to have an experience with that brand above and beyond that physical experience that is easy to interact with,? said Andrew Davis, chief operating office and co-founder of Tapit. 

?We are making it much easier for the consumer to access and purchase the content,? he said. ?It is about instantaneous and impulse buys at the time that is most pertinent to the consumer."

App-free enagagements
Tapit?s stickers are controlled by a cloud platform so if a marketer wants to change the content experience, this can be accomplished remotely without the need to change the stickers. 

Marketers may want to avoid promoting products or services that are being offered by their retail partners. Instead, such on-pack engagements are more likely to focus on digital services or content that is not offered by the retailer. 

Focusing on digital services and content will also enable marketers to keep the price point under $10, which is where consumers will be most comfortable as they become familiar with the technology. 

Other possible uses for the technology include providing product instructions and warranties. 

By Christmas 2015, there could be more examples in the market, such as video game consoles offering games to buyers. 

?Most people expect an app to be in between the consumer and the brand,? Mr. Davis said. ?That is the thing they get really excited about ? you don?t have to download an app to get people to interact with these physical things.?

Final Take
?Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York