A version of this article originally appeared in WhichPLM on January 22nd, 2018.

Imagine, as a consumer packaged goods marketer: in just a few minutes you’re gathering data and insights on brand health across your organization from departments such as packaging, marketing, sales and design and also from key partners such as packaging manufacturers, logistics, retailers and even consumers. If you had access to all of that knowledge, how would that impact your overall decision making for the business?

For example, what if your marketers could:

  • Gather data from RFID chips or electronic inks in the packaging material,

  • Enable Augmented Reality (AR) for consumers,

  • Allow consumers to engage with the brands they love while providing insights back to the brand for future product development?

And what if your supply chain could:

  • Embed RFID chips or electronic inks in the packaging material,

  • Track consistency on critical brand elements such as logos, images and color, as the packaging is produced,

  • Share those insights with procurement, marketing and other internal stakeholders,

  • Provide those analytics for each and every supplier and

  • Do so on a consistent basis?

These capabilities would give your brand leaders the data to monitor the health of their whole supply chain, identifying ways to increase productivity, speed-to-market and reduce error.

With new technologies, the above is entirely possible; these types of insights allow everyone, from marketing to R&D to customer support, to directly interact with the latest information. This data allows consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retail, footwear and apparel companies to create a partnership that empowers every stakeholder to keep up with the latest trends and, more importantly, be able to execute on those insights.

Does this seem like a far-off future? Enter AoT

By now most people are aware of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technologies that connect everyday items to the internet such as fitness trackers. But many industries are taking this type of technology a step further and applying analytics.

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For example, The Array of Things (AoT) project in Chicago created a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that collect real-time data on the city’s environment, air quality, infrastructure and activity for research and public use. In many ways, the AoT serves as a “fitness tracker” for the city.

An open source project, AoT is published on GitHub for urban planners, residents and researchers. The site allows unrestricted access, demonstrating that the AoT and the city of Chicago aim to drive innovation at all levels, giving residents, researchers and policymakers an opportunity to collaborate. The key to AoT success lies in the accessing and sharing of data by many different parties.

You need to apply technology, insights and analytics to the data in order to understand what it means and how it can empower people in their decision-making process. Data might be King, but collaboration is Queen.

CPG and AoT

Consumer goods companies already have some of the pieces in place to support an AoT strategy. Companies use a variety of technologies to track the movement of products from the warehouse through dealers and wholesalers to the retailer (big box stores to boutiques) to the consumer. There are SKUs, bar codes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and QR codes. Each technology and sensor collects information.

Just like consumer wearables, the data gathered from these packaging wearables is useful only to the group or team that understands and has access to the information. Procurement might track one set of data while R&D tracks another. So cross-department collaboration is key in creating a similar, data-rich environment among supply chain partners, and even customers, to provide a holistic view of the brand’s health.

A holistic view means understanding how the physical product and digital marketing impact brand health. A recent study from the CMO Council found that over half (53 percent) of marketers admit that alignment across physical and digital touchpoints is an important focus of the consumer experience, however, only 6 percent say they have achieved integration and alignment between the key touchpoints.

Today’s digital marketing tools allow brand managers to gather insights from social media channels and react quickly. However, managing impact at the physical product level is done on with a rear-view mirror approach, looking back a month or even a quarter. But the many technologies available today allow brand owners to gather insights on their physical products with the speed and efficiency of digital. These types of tools provide statistical analysis that empowers marketing leaders to be more proactive and less reactive.

If you’re a CPG marketer looking to implement an AoT approach, I’d suggest the following:

  • Engage your supply chain management resources to identify the types of information that would add value

  • Discuss packaging specifications and current materials with designers and R&D. How can technology help to standardize and digitize the value chain?

  • Identify partners; this can be a software supplier, retailer or manufacturer of hardware

  • Review your process qualification program and compare it to benchmarks; determine how processes can be continually improved by analyzing the data

Because the technology and access to it are widely available, CPG brands can create an Array of Things within the supply chain and in retail (brick and mortar and online). All we need to do now is gather and analyze the data and use a collaborative approach to fully understand a brand’s health.

If the city of Chicago can do it, why can’t the consumer products giants of the world do it too?


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