I love this time of year for many reasons. As the dark days of winter turn to glorious spring conference season also commences, and as a full-time speaker and writer in the print and packaging world it means the sun also rises on some fabulous innovations, which I get to see first-hand. Already this year I have travelled to a wide number of places and spoken at a lot of events in the USA and Europe and as I wander the exhibition halls, there seems to be a common thread developing: it’s time to get smarter with packaging.

Just this week I was fortunate to speak at an Industry Advisory Board event attended by five of the biggest brands in the world and the focus was all on packaging. One by one, the discussions kept came back to the same key points: How do we put packaging at the heart of what we offer our consumers? How can it be the message and not just the medium? How can we work closer with the convertors and printers to capture the imagination of a new generation of consumers, who are increasingly growing up in a smart world?

Of course, in our world, for every problem of yesterday there is already a solution for tomorrow but sometimes historical behaviour gets in the way of joining the dots. It’s not enough to just change the way you would like to work practically. You need to change the behaviour too. I actively encouraged the participants at the IAB to think like a start-up, not a legacy model, and then look again through that lens at the opportunities. Only with fresh eyes is it possible to see a way to get to the future of packaging. Ironically, once you start thinking in this way, you quickly wonder why you don’t do it more often!

Smart packaging with digital watermarks and invisible codes that can be scanned using smartphones by consumers (and retailers) are becoming widely available from a number of sources. The best I’ve seen so far this year come from some major industry players and also from disruptive start-ups but they all have something in common: they allow a world of direct to consumer interaction that has never been see before. From personalisation to gamification and from promotional to emotional – literally anything is possible. In addition, for the brand a key solution that they all need: a smart way to tackle counterfeiting. It was estimated that last year over EUR 450 billion was lost to the counterfeiters globally and a lovely consequence of using smart codes is you allow the consumers (and retailers) to instantly check the authenticity of a smart coded product.

Reaching your customers via digitised, coded products helps to create a deep connection. There are no limits to how you then engage with them. Ingredients, recipes, ideas, offers, tips, recommendations, loyalty rewards – it’s up to you. And what you supply to your consumers is dynamic. It can change depending on where they are, what they’ve also bought, the time and place of purchase, their social media use, even the current weather. You’re connecting your customers to the product, to the web and to the brand.

As is often the case, it turns out the future is already here. It’s my belief that smart codes will push packaging into this future. So my advice this spring: try be more like a start-up!