Personal technology will revolutionize merchandising and marketing

by Keith Nunes
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The ubiquitous nature of personal technology devices such as laptop computers, tablet computers and especially smart-phones will significantly alter how food and beverage products are marketed and merchandised to consumers. Never before have marketers had so many opportunities to identify and reach individual consumers as well as specified groups in an effort to sway purchasing decisions.

Yet equal to the positive benefits these technologies may offer marketers, they also enhance the consumers’ ability to be more informed about and selective in choosing which products to buy and which companies to support. Some consumers may place a priority on paying the lowest price for a product while others may place a priority on nutrition quality or strive only to purchase products they deem to be environmentally friendly.

The emergence of companies with unique business models such as Groupon, which is a web site that works with local suppliers to market value-based offers to subscribers in a specified community, highlights how the value trend has taken hold. But web sites such as Groupon are only the beginning. Applications for smart-phones are currently being developed that allow suppliers to offer coupons to consumers while they shop.

One such company is Point Inside, which is developing a mobile technology that will allow suppliers to locate subscribers while engaged in shopping and offer them a coupon based upon their location within the store. Such targeted marketing has the potential to allow companies to offer consumers better values at the point of selection in an effort to not lose a sale to a competitor.

For consumers who place a priority on nutrition or environmental issues, web sites and smart-phone applications such as the Good Guide already exist to assist consumers in making appropriate choices. The Good Guide system rates consumer goods products based on health, environmental and social impact. To develop the health score, the company analyzes a food product’s baseline nutrition information by using a ratio of recommended to restricted nutrients used to make the product. The environmental score assesses the overall impact of a product’s lifecycle and includes data such as where the food was grown, processed, manufactured and its final use phases, such as whether the packaging is recyclable or goes to a land fill.

Consumers who have smart-phones with the ability to scan bar codes may scan a product as they shop in order to review the product’s score. The higher a product’s score, the higher its rating within the Good Guide system.

It would be wishful thinking to believe the emergence of such web sites and smart-phone applications will lead to any degree of conformity among consumers. On the contrary, such technologies stand to further fragment the marketplace with the introduction of new business models such as those developed by Groupon or being developed by Point Inside.

In the same manner that technology has affected the gathering and dissemination of information and led to the fragmentation of the news media, it will have a similar impact on the marketing of consumer goods. Traditional forms of media such as print, broadcast and the Internet will remain viable options for marketing campaigns targeting a mass audience, but the emergence of tablet computers and smart-phones will provide significant opportunities for marketers to develop more personal relationships with consumers.

In the course of a decade, laptop computers have evolved into computer tablets, and cell phones have transitioned into far more powerful communication devices. There is no reason to believe this evolution will slow in the future, and the greatest challenge facing consumer goods marketers in this environment will be keeping pace with the changes to come.

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