Connected packaging label with a QR code.

What Is Connected Packaging?

Connected packaging is being hailed as the next big thing in retail technology. What is this packaging, and what makes it so special? It bridges the gap between online and in-person experiences using barcodes, RFID tags and near-field communications. Done right, this improves the purchase experience while giving you access to new data about your customers. So, how can you implement it in your packaging?

What’s the Difference Between Smart, Connected and Intelligent Packaging?

These three types of packaging are often lumped together, but they have different uses and implementations. Smart and intelligent packaging refers to packages with some application outside of traditional labeling. This includes functions like inventory tracking and counterfeiting prevention. These don’t necessarily need to be digital. For example, specialty paper and holograms make it easier to authenticate a product. While intelligent packaging has been around for a while, we’re seeing new uses come to market. For example, NFC chips make it easy to identify the location of a container as it moves through your logistics system. The range of these chips allows detection and reading without being within the container’s line of sight, unlike barcodes.

A connected package design aids brand-to-consumer engagement using techniques outside of simple labeling. These containers use RFID tags, NFC chips and QR codes to link the user to the Internet. While a smart package can be built around specialized equipment, connected packaging needs to interface with the consumer’s smartphone. This leverages features built into these phones, like transmitters for contactless payment systems and digital cameras.

What Can You Do With Connected Packaging?

This packaging directs users to Internet experiences beyond what you can put on the label. Here are ways that these active packaging solutions can improve the user experience and help your brand awareness:

  • Show videos that demonstrate how to set up or use the product.
  • Provide recipes for food products.
  • Share stories about the product, including how it’s made, the history of the company and your company’s ecological efforts.
  • Offer credit for the item through a loyalty rewards program.
  • Provide augmented reality experiences (AR experiences) that give consumers more information on the product, exclusive content or add engagement.
  • Conduct customer satisfaction surveys.
  • Encourage social media activity and engagement.
  • Allow customers to order product replacements directly.

While this is a great way to connect with customers and create a deeper connection with your product, it’s also vital for learning more about your customer base. Normally, you can only track your product through the supply chain until it reaches a retailer.

When you get the customer to interact with a connected package, you can gather third-party data on the time and location of the engagement. From there, you can encourage the customer to share more information about their identity and buying habits, turning it into an opportunity to directly market to them for repeat purchases.

How Do I Create Connected Packaging?

Smart packaging brings together your information technology, marketing, graphic design and operating technology departments.

First, decide what information you want to gather from your packaging and what you want to offer clients when they use it.

Using in-house or third-party resources, you then build the experience you want to give to customers, along with the backend required to gather and organize data from package interactions.

Once your online experience is ready to go, your graphics department needs to modify the label to accommodate the point of interaction. You need to consider ways to draw the customer’s attention to the tag, chip or barcode on the package — and make it easy to use. For example, QR codes can be scaled to any size, but you can assume the customer will hold the package in one hand and their phone in the other hand. Over these short distances, a code that has a length and height of around 1.25 inches is easy to get into frame, while offering enough detail to be read.

Your production system needs to get the point of interaction on the container. For QR codes, this works in much the same way as adding other barcodes or lot numbers to containers. By connecting your operating technology system to a print-and-apply labeler, you can add a unique code to each container for easy tracking. If you want to use RFID or NFC, you need labels with embedded chips. These devices are small and flexible enough to be applied with little or no modification to your labeling system.

Connected Packaging in Practice: Case Studies of Successful Campaigns

Connected packaging has a range of uses, from fun engagement with consumers to improving product safety and guaranteeing the authenticity of consumer products. Here are a few examples of successful marketing campaigns utilizing connected packaging to increase brand experience.

Curry King

Curry King, a popular sausage brand in Germany, added connected packaging for data collection concerning customer buying habits. By scanning the package, customers could take a photo with the brand’s mascot and play games for a chance to win a microwave. During the three-month campaign, the company gathered customer data from over 400,000 buyers.

Ulta Beauty

In 2016, Ulta Beauty launched GLAMlab, an app that lets customers try on makeup virtually. Initially intended for online buyers, the company expanded its use to let shoppers scan items in stores. This put the company in the perfect position to deal with the pandemic; it all but eliminated the need for testers and improved the customer experience by allowing customers to try makeup in-store without removing their masks.

iOlive App

Counterfeiting is a major problem for the olive oil industry. To combat this, the iOlive app was set up to read NFC tags with product information embedded in oil bottle labels. These tags are nearly impossible to duplicate, and counterfeiters have no way to modify the database. When consumers check bottles with the app, they can be sure what they’re buying is authentic. This connected experience adds brand value to legitimate producers and increases brand loyalty for customers.

How Do I Get Connected Labels Onto My Product Packaging?

RFID and NFC pressure-sensitive labels are readily available and can use any standard label applicator. We offer a range of machines to fit every need, from applying multiple bottle labels to single labels that wrap around industrial pails.

Our print and apply label applicators can generate and print QR codes and other barcode formats. Connect it to your operating technology system, and you can send unique information to the printer for each label. We offer these labelers with print engines from Sato and Zebra, letting you select the printer that best fits your application.

Get Up to Speed With the Latest Labeling Technology

If you’re updating or expanding your labeling system, contact CTM Labeling Systems. We have local distributors that will work with you. They can set up a system that makes it easy to transition to connected packaging and add digital experiences without interrupting your production system.