Strategies & Insights

Mobile Matters

Posted: August 22, 2016 by
Keith Loria

A recent study by market intelligence agency Mintel reveals that 69% of U.S. adults shop online monthly, trading in the brick-and-mortar retailers for the more convenient e-tailers. And a great percentage of these sales are being done on mobile.

That’s why it’s important for designers and marketers to leverage the ever-growing mobile market to optimize their brand messaging, strengthen relationships with consumers, and grow sales.


“The smartphone continues to be an integral part of the shopping experience—it’s amazing to think about how nearly everyone has a personal shopping assistant in their pockets now,” says Laura DiSciullo, senior vice president of Solutions for GS1 US, which recently introduced a mobile scan for products. “As consumer dependency on mobile devices grows, package designers and marketers working with brands and retailers see a great opportunity to better share product information in a format that is both easy and convenient to help respond to the growing trend of consumers demanding product information transparency.”

Lorrie Frear, an associate professor in package design and packaging science at the Rochester Institute of Technology, shares that when communicating information about a brand, it is critical that brand managers and designers consider mobile as a key component of the entire brand strategy and not as an add-on.

“Consumers use devices in making buying decisions quickly, so be sure that information is easy to find on the packaging and not small or hidden,” she says. “The user experience is critical to acquiring return customers, so be sure that any interaction takes less than a few seconds to accomplish and that the destination is reached within three clicks.”

Packaging is a brand’s billboard in store and in mobile. Because mobile devices are increasingly used to take product pictures, packaging has become more important. Moreover, apps and packages are similar in design elements, making it synergistic for the consumer in terms of brand exposure and messaging.

Venky Shankar, Ph.D. and professor of marketing at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School notes a mobile screen is similar to a package—portable yet with limited real estate.

“Both need to be simple, intuitive, but catchy and colorful. So mobile app design ideas resonate with package design ideas,” he says. “Also, with smart labels in product packages, consumers can scan the label with a mobile device and access detailed information about the brands.”

A Scanning Transformation

Consumers want access to information that is consistent with their lifestyle and preferences. Recent studies show that more than 90% of shoppers use their smartphones while shopping in retail stores but they do not get all the information they need.

That’s why DiSciullo notes many brands are looking at the opportunity to enable physical packaging as a portal to dynamic and useful content for consumers when used in conjunction with mobile device scanning technology.

“This rich content can be accessed when the consumer scans the product with their smartphone,” she says. “Packaging will no longer just be a silent salesman, rather it becomes a direct connection to the brand.”

This information can include special offers, coupons, additional product attributes, instructional videos and additional shopping assistance.

Coca-Cola is adding QR codes to its cans so that consumers can learn more about its ingredients and product information; last year Frito-Lay’s Doritos brand added mobile-exclusive promotions for marketers by encouraging consumers to put on a free pair of 3-D glasses and scan a package of chips with a smartphone to unlock mobile videos featuring online celebrities; and Heinz ketchup has a 3-D recipe book that consumers can see on their mobile devices by scanning a bottle’s label.

The evolving world of mobile marketing is creating big opportunities for brands and design partners. For instance, augmented reality enables a consumer to capture a brand package through a handheld device and then the mobile application will superimpose computer-generated images that provide additional information about the product. These images may even show the unboxed product before opening the package.

Davor Sutija, CEO of Thin Film Electronics ASA, a company that makes smart labels (NFC tags) that feature connected printed sensors, notes bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds is somewhat of a new frontier, and the brands that do it effectively will be able to drive significant increases in dialogue, loyalty and revenue among consumers.

“In many respects, it’s all about making products ‘smart,’ so ‘intelligent’ packaging is key,” he says. “That means a lot of thought must go into how a particular technology is integrated into a product From there, it’s critical that you entice consumers to engage with products to get information, value, etc.”

Brands in Action

According to Google Analytics, people are using mobile for three critical moments in the shopping journey: to get ideas and inspiration, to learn more about a product and comparison shop, and finally, to purchase. It’s not enough to just cut and paste a picture of your package and post it online, and not every piece of information about the product needs to be put on the pack.

“Marketers need to think about designing an experience for the needs of each distinct moment of consumer engagement,” says Dustin Longstreth, branding strategist with CBX. “A mobile presence provides brands the opportunity to go deeper into ideas and inspiration on how the product can be used. It’s also a great platform to provide additional product info, for example ingredient sourcing, craftsmanship stories, consumer reviews, and rankings relative to competitive brands.”

Craig Besnoy, senior director, digital business at global technology consulting firm Mindtree  notes new age consumers use mobile devices to make buying decisions, ask questions and pay bills and to win the attention of these consumers, CPG companies need to deliver consistent brand experiences across mobile channels. 

“Mindtree has partnered with five of the top 10 global CPG enterprises to reshape their IT strategies, which has resulted in mobile site development, mobile app development, analytics, testing, maintenance, regional localization, content updates and master data management,” he says. “By focusing on the technology tools available, designers and marketers can leverage the mobile market to optimize their brand message.”

Hopsy is a San Francisco-based craft beer curation and delivery service that uses NFC OpenSense tags on their signature “growlettes” so when customers tap their phones to the label, they instantly access videos and other content with information about that specific beer, where it’s from, how it was made and more. 

The Tim Horton brand has a QR code on the sleeves of its coffee so when a consumer scans it with his or her mobile device, it links consumers to news feeds and information. Dr. Shankar says this is ideal for reaching a consumer in the morning.

“It’s all about thinking differently,” he says. “In the past, CPG brands used to shout to consumers through mass media advertising. Now, they need to engage consumers one-on-one through relevant messaging, packaging, and keep the brand as relevant to their daily life.”

Diageo recently partnered with Thin Film Electronics to create the Johnnie Walker Blue Label smart bottle, which leverages NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, a solution different from QR codes.

“Unlike a QR code that needs to be scanned using an app, NFC is already embedded into most smartphones,” Besnoy says. “Simply tapping a mobile device can activate NFC content. Consumer engagement is enhanced since this will allow the brand to send consumers personalized communication that can contain any type of marketing content.”

Specs for Mobile

Mobile has increased consumer engagement in the buying experience by providing on-the-spot information in a way that is enticing, informative and easily accessible. Consumers can make choices without the assistance of sales staff, so packaging must be increasingly informative and educational in ways that are easily read at small sizes.

Design considerations include simplicity of imagery, effective typographic hierarchy, bright colors and text that is visible, visual and written for visual scanning instead of reading. Catchy pictures, fonts and colors are all key packaging traits for attracting those using mobile. Also, designers should test the effectiveness of the packaging for viewing in both portrait and landscape modes, in small sizes, and in different lighting environments.

“When designing for any mobile device in a responsive design strategy, it is essential to consider the constantly changing compositional issues,” Frear says. “Typeface selection and application is critical to readability on digital devices. Logos must be simplified to be communicative and recognizable at small sizes. Color balance and contrast is also of great importance to viewing packaging information on a small screen.”

Designers and marketers must always consider these size and format limitations when creating new packaging that will inevitably be viewed on a digital device.

Longstreth says CPG brands need to think of it more like a creating a series of interactions and experiences designed to serve as the consumers’ personal help desk or shopping assistant.

“The pack may grab their attention, but the mobile experience is there to prime the pump and, in many cases, close the deal,” he says. “In designing for mobile, think of opportunities to expand the conversations you are having and the experiences you are able to deliver, rather than simply repeating the same message and posting the same design. This starts with establishing a deep understanding of the customer journey.”

Remember, the intention of mobile marketing is to help and include the consumer in telling a brand’s story, so any communication where the consumer feels like he or she is participating will be welcome and successful.