From QR to NFC: How Connected Experiences are Enabling Brands’ Sustainable Futures

From QR to NFC: How Connected Experiences are Enabling Brands’ Sustainable Futures

Posted 1 March by Katie Kubrak

When it comes to marketing, there are no longer many blind spots. It’s no secret that the data generated by interactions with digital touchpoints allow brands to build detailed pictures of their customers, their journey and their behaviours, in real time.

And yet, for all the resources brands have invested in driving awareness and affinity online, there is still one period when the customer goes ‘dark’. The period between a purchase, and a customer re-engaging with a brand, presents a challenge: How can brands measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, in a way that generates more organic, reliable data and allows them to make better decisions in the future?

Like all challenges, this break in the chain also presents a huge opportunity. What if products, primary or secondary packaging could be endowed with the technology to connect brands’ physical and digital offerings, and provide similar data on audiences’ engagement and behaviour?

What if, in other words, brands could enable a connected experience?

In an age when return-on-investment is religiously monitored by brands across their digital channels, connected experiences remove an element of the unknown from physical marketing and communications. User data from connected products, packaging or collateral can be logged and tracked in real time, giving brands a never-before-seen insight into how customers are behaving and engaging with the tactile aspects of their campaigns.

Then there’s the customer to consider. Connected experiences offer exciting new possibilities for brands looking to engage with audiences through pre-purchase, purchase, post-purchase and, in some cases, the entire lifecycle of a product. Done well, these interactions can deepen the relationship between a brand and its customers, cement brand loyalty and drive repeat purchases.

Most importantly, though, connected experiences provide a new lens through which brands can approach the issue of sustainability.

Consumer and investor confidence is increasingly dictated by brands’ approach to Environmental and Social Governance (ESG). The connection of physical products and marketing to digital platforms allows brands to tell stories, and deliver data, that demonstrate a transparent commitment to reducing their impact on the planet, while having a positive effect across vulnerable communities.

What follows are three ways in which brands can leverage connected experiences to their advantage: (1) to enable transparency and authenticity; (2) to deliver an enhanced customer experience; and (3) as a driver of new business models and behaviour change.

You’re probably familiar with some of technologies behind these mechanisms – QR and barcodes, for example, have been around for years. Others, like Near-Field Communication (NFC), are newer to the industry.

Below, you’ll find real-world examples of brands bridging the gap between physical and digital, and the mechanisms that enable them to convey their own sustainable stories.

1. Connected experiences as an enabler of brand transparency and authenticity

Transparency is fast becoming one of the most important factors by which customers make their purchasing decisions.

Brands can put themselves at a long-term strategic and commercial advantage by providing up-to-date, transparent data around their supply chains, energy use, social responsibility and overarching sustainable development goals. But it’s simply not practical, or desirable, to include all that information in a physical form.

Placed on a product, primary or secondary packaging, QR codes can serve as a gateway to unravel some of this important information.

We showed exactly how this can be done at our ‘Sustainable Stories’ exhibition, part of the 2019 London Design Festival, when we brought radical transparency to a fictitious milk brand. By scanning a QR code on the glass bottle, the customer was invited onto a digital platform to explore the brand’s supply chain, production process and animal welfare standards in more detail.

Source: The Milkman Had It Right. ‘Sustainable Stories’ Exhibition by Nirvana CPH, part of the 2019 London Design Festival

Many premium brands struggle with the issue of counterfeiting. Applying unique QR codes to products and packaging allows customers to authenticate products through a custom verification tool.

Diesel was one of the early adopters of this approach. The brand incorporated a wearable authenticity tool into its five pocket jeans, enabled by a QR code applied to the product label. Data revealed that the authentication platform was used by consumers from 70 countries, with 64% of them using it post-purchase. Since then, other premium brands, like Milan-based Stone Island, have adopted a similar approach.

Diesel, QR, QR code, Sustainability, Authenticity, Authentication Tool, Authentication App, Sustainable Technology, IoT
Image: Diesel’s label with QR code (Image courtesy of Diesel)

2. Connected experiences as a way to deliver an enhanced customer experience

Connecting the physical and digital worlds allows brands to deliver new and exciting pre- and post-purchase experiences for customers. Informative and engaging content provides an opportunity for further storytelling and data capture, and invites the customer to experience a product, and a brand, to its full potential.

Take wine, for example. It takes years of research, experience and training to understand the subtle differences between wine varieties, the production process, and the foods they should be paired with.

Recognising this, California-based winemaker Boën undertook the industry’s biggest roll-out of connected packaging. Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology was integrated into Boën’s patented bottle opening, which features a call-to-action inviting users to ‘Tap our Cap’.

By tapping the cap with a smartphone, users authenticate the bottle and are then transported to a virtual Californian farmhouse, where they can unlock further information about the wine, create and share content and build their own online wine cellar.

Boën, Boën Wines, SharpEnd, NFC, NFC tag, Sustainability, Connected Experience, Sustainable Technology, IoT
Image: An in-depth and interactive product experience (Image courtesy of SharpEnd and Boën Wines)

Sometimes, it’s about making things easy; and in 2019, UK-based cosmetics brand Lush delivered a suite of refillable primary packaging that did just that.

Lush’s range of refillable lipsticks made it simple for customers to transition from single-use to multi-use packaging, establishing an instant emotional connection around its environmental benefits, and the feeling that customers were part of something good.

Admiring Lush’s refillable solution, we asked ourselves how its story could be elevated through the use of technology. The result was our own pioneering take on the packaging, showcased at our 2019 ‘Sustainable Stories’ exhibition.

We applied a QR code directly to the primary packaging and built a re-ordering platform around it, which made it easy for customers to engage in hassle-free repeat purchasing. Read more about this case study here.

Source: Refillable packaging reorder platform proposition on Lush lipstick case study, ‘Sustainable Stories’ Exhibition by Nirvana CPH, as part of the 2019 London Design Festival

3. Connected experiences as a driver of new business models and consumer behaviour change

Such is the power of connected experiences, and the technologies that underpin them, that they are providing opportunities for brands to experiment with the very way they do business.

The same technologies used to capture data on customer engagement also enable brands to track individual products beyond the point of delivery. In effect, this makes the customer part of an extended supply chain, and offers brands a chance to break the traditional, linear cycle of production, consumption and disposal.

Rental business models, for example, allow for a more circular approach to consumption based on the sharing of resources. They have already proved successful in many sectors, including the fashion, jewellery, consumer electronics and automotive industries.

The environmental benefits of rental models are clear – they reduce the consumption of raw materials during manufacturing and cut down on the production of waste.

But they also come with a commercial incentive for businesses; brands can generate repeat profit from a single item, repaired and reused several times over, and establish strong bonds with their audience through repeat interactions.

GANNI Repeat, launched in 2019, was an innovative example of a rental model powered by a connected experience, executed by Nirvana CPH’s creative technology partner, SharpEnd.

The Danish womenswear brand teamed up with jeans giant Levi’s to launch a unique, rental-only partnership, in which the brands celebrated a new type of collection – ‘Worn by Many, Owned by None’ – and appealed to their like-minded community of conscious fashion lovers.

The collaboration incorporated connected products as a key activation point for ongoing engagement. By tapping the NFC-enabled back patch on the jeans, the user is taken to a digital content platform that adds a new dimension to the product.

Levi's, GANNI, GANNI Repeat, SharpEnd, NFC, NFC tag, Sustainability, Connected Experience, Sustainable Technology, IoT
Image: Levi’s x GANNI (photo courtesy of Levi’s, GANNI and SharpEnd)

Barcodes are usually the last thing a designer might want a brand’s audience to notice. However, given that consumers are often confused around waste disposal, some are now exploring how the humble barcode can be leveraged to offer clarity.

Our creative technology partner, SharpEnd, collaborated with the European Horizon 2020 Consortium to deliver a project targeting the UK’s recycling crisis. The collaboration aimed to give a new dimension to the barcodes that are already applied to primary or secondary packaging.

The result was an app, equipped with geolocation technology, that invited consumers to scan the barcode to access local recycling information, and take control of the onward journey of the packaging.

Horizon 2020, SharpEnd, Barcode, Barcodes, Sustainability, Sustainable Technology, IoT, Recycling app, Recycling
Image: Recycling made easy with barcodes (photo courtesy of SharpEnd and Horizon 2020)

If you’d like any more information on any of the examples, materials or technologies featured below, or want to understand how production and technology can be harnessed to tell your brand’s sustainable story, please contact us via