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Jean Lloyd

Putting the Smart into Connected Packaging

Using Hirt & Carter’s SmartPack solution for interactivity

Aug 15, 2022 12:22:28 PM


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Smart packaging has been around for a long time—effectively as long as the concept of variable data printing has been a reality. Visionaries in the printing and packaging industry came up with the concept (referred to as “smart”, “connected”, or “innovative” packaging) long before the technology to make printing interactive had reached the necessary level of maturity. Throughout the development of interactive printing, the waters have become muddied with several different technologies, processes, or concepts that each claim to be smart packaging. It’s now becoming necessary to differentiate and categorize smart packaging according to the required process/function.


Smart packaging describes the packaging of products that enhance the interaction with the consumer. Secondly, it is also used to outwardly reflect the condition of the product inside the packaging. Thirdly, it has been used to describe packaging, which informs and educates the consumer about the life cycle of the contents of the package itself—from cradle to grave. All of these are forms of “smart packaging,” but some differentiation (even renaming) is required so that the various types of smart packaging can be separated from each other for the sake of understanding the parameters of each, and to ensure that each one is allowed to reach its full potential without being overshadowed by the others.


The Smart Process of SmartPack

The print service provider Hirt & Carter (Durban, South Africa) has developed a solution that should help understand these parameters. It is called SmartPack for the simple reason that it connects print and packaging with the consumer, the manufacturer, and the brand owner in a multi-directional way—all based around the intelligent use and implementation of the Evrythng Product Cloud and variable data printing linked with the interactivity of modern innovative mobile communications. Most importantly, the purpose of SmartPack is to help its clients with their sustainability strategies around plastics and packaging. This happens through behavior change via consumer engagement and value exchange, or via traceability of packaging end-to-end (brand integrity/supply chain). 


The process starts with a ramped-up version of a dynamic quick response (QR) code, which the company has trademarked as a SmartCode. The concept entails using the SmartCode to direct traffic from the consumer's smartphone to a brand’s dedicated website or a packaging-specific consumer experience the company has built through their SmartPack content management system. The SmartCode contains all the information of the specific product and its data, but simultaneously brings in a myriad of microservices  including geo-location data of the device user, issuing of product-specific coupons, gamification, lead generation, and dynamic hyper-local content. This means that marketing campaigns can be created for specific geographic locations for the individual product, consumer, or retailer. Different experiences can also be generated for each region using the same SmartCode. For example, based on current climatic conditions, Brand X of a hot drink can have a promotion running in one part of the country while a different promotion can be presented to clients as a cold drink for the weather they are experiencing.


According to Chantal Donnelly, General Manager of the Digital Solutions Business division of Hirt & Carter, it allows a distinguished approach to print and packaging. The focus is on the circular economy and how retailers and brands can deliver real initiatives which solve business problems; that is proven and that work while being fun and engaging at the same time.


It also allows brands to engage directly one-to-one with their consumer in real-time. Digital content, campaigns, and promotions can be turned on and off at will without updating the packaging. The aim for brands is to build brand awareness, brand loyalty, and drive brand integrity through packaging. Hirt & Carter can then prove the success of the circular economy ecosystem by implementing the technology at different points of the value chain and by using clever consumer marketing tactics to drive differentiated behavior. This can only take place through the collaboration of all players in the process.


From a brand marketing perspective, the company has achieved redemption rates of up to 66% on geo-location couponing. Meaning customers are enticed to scan SmartCodes on packaging or at the shelf to interact with the products in a more focused manner than simply viewing them in the store. It also provides the brands with an opportunity to engage at precision moments where consumer purchase consideration is happening at shelf.



Driving Transparency and Marketing Planning

Smart packaging offers more than the ability to promote and engage. Implementing connected packaging delivers new data that can be evolved into full traceability for any brand who is looking to drive product transparency as well as deliver precise, direct-to-consumer engagement and brand integrity.


For the brand owners, reputation is important. Smart packaging provides brand integrity and protection where there may be a counterfeiting issue; it can help to identify fake goods and reveal important supply chain insights. For consumers, it provides a level of surety that they are buying an authentic product. Simultaneously, it can reward them for engaging with the product. This process need not rely entirely on the end consumer but on the brand's marketing, merchandising, and channel teams.


Brands and retailers in South Africa can now say goodbye to decentralized product data. Hirt and Carter’s other subsidiary, Silo, offers data and content services of 1D barcoded products and will now offer a managed service of the 2D GS1 Digital Link along with the product data and enriched content as a service. This is a step change for their clients who want to scale connected packaging strategies, as well as enable digital links on their packaging with new pack updates to ensure they are producing packaging that is suitable for future plans. The sooner the retailers and brands do this, the more data they will have at their disposal to test, learn, pivot, and (ultimately) succeed.


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

The process of developing smart packaging is not an overnight phenomenon. It has taken time (and continues to take time) to educate the market, encourage brand owners to consider and buy into the concept, to realize that the extra costs associated with a project incorporating this technology can be recovered, and that there is so much more on offer than merely increased sales. The process also requires in-store and on-store education of clients and customers, but it is gaining traction. However, the lines of differentiation between varying technologies may need to be more defined.


Packaging—and, by extension, labels and all forms of packaging and variable data packaging—needs to be re-evaluated to consider the needs of all players. It is no longer just about the product and the brand. It is about the entire supply chain from start to finish. Smart packaging can add immense value to any manufacturer, brand, or retailer who is implementing purpose-led initiatives or sustainability models. It is our responsibility as an industry to make sure this happens.


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