Data collection gets innovative

Brands are looking at ever more innovative ways to collect consumer data – from QR codes attached to gravestones to vending machines that inform future fizzy drink flavours, but consumers are demanding a fair exchange for their information.

data harvest
Harvesting customer data: brands are finding innovative ways of collecting data from their consumers

Brands are looking at ever more innovative ways to collect data from consumers – from QR codes attached to gravestones to vending machines that inform future fizzy drink flavours, finds Steve Hemsley.

A funeral director in Dorset has become the first in the UK to place password-protected quick response (QR) codes on gravestones so friends and family can view photos, videos and read memorials of the deceased online.

Clients provide personal data to Poole-based Chester Pearce Associates to prove they own the grave and then create a login ID to start a memorial page on The company sets up the website and users can update it as often as they want to.

Chester Pearce managing director Stephen Nimmo says the idea demonstrates how, even in the most sensitive sectors for marketing, it is still possible to find innovative and relevant ways to collect data.

“The data we hold on people is very limited and we are very careful about how we use it, but the QR codes will help us to build long-term relationships with families,” says Nimmo. “We are also creating a B2B database of stonemasons and local authorities who are contacting us about using the codes.”

Digital vending

Cool: Unilever brand Wall’s has introduced an ice cream vending machine featuring a ‘smile-o-meter’

Consumers have become much more aware of the value of their personal information and are increasingly demanding something engaging and creative from brands before they agree to share it. Whatever the sector, digital technology in particular is enabling brands to be more innovative in how they collect data and to act on it much quicker.

Some large FMCG brand owners, for instance, are using interactive digital vending machines to attract the consumer’s attention and persuade him or her to willingly share personal information. This insight is proving immensely valuable to manufacturers and retailers.

Unilever’s ice cream brand Wall’s, for example, is rolling out a digital vending machine which uses face-reading technology. The 42ins ‘Share Happy’ machine has been developed with interactive marketing agency SapientNitro.

When a person gets close to the machine they are prompted to give a big smile, which is then analysed by a ‘smile-o-meter’ to determine how happy a person is. With permission, it takes a photo which is uploaded to Facebook. The user can then pick out an ice cream using the touchscreen.

Denser data

This digital vending machine is providing Unilever with a much denser set of data than it gets from its traditional machines, allowing it to gather simple facts such as the number of items sold, the type of ice cream and the time of day that sales take place as well as additional added-value data points. The face recognition software means the brand can record the user’s age bracket, gender and ethnicity. This in-the-field research is already being used for future product development, marketing and media buying activity.

Like Unilever, Coca-Cola has also ventured into the world of interactive vending machines. Its Freestyle drinks fountain dispenser lets users select more than 100 still and sparkling drinks from a mixture of flavours. The machine uses a touchscreen and transmits supply and demand data to Coca-Cola and to the machine owner, including which brands are sold and at what time of day. The machines have been trialled around Greater London since June in a partnership with Burger King UK.

“Freestyle’s data tracking technology gives us the ability to gather consumption data to optimise our product offering and assess where there are opportunities to create new retail brands,” a Coca-Cola spokesman tells Marketing Week. “These machines also help our trade customers to manage their beverage inventory more effectively so they have the right brands in stock.”

Personalised messages

In fact, this is the first trial of Coca-Cola Freestyle in Europe and the test will gauge the reaction of UK consumers to the technology, so providing Coke with a much better understanding of which drinks consumers prefer in different locations.

Not to be out-done, PepsiCo is poised for the UK launch of its own interactive vending machine, a ‘social vending system’. Consumers can buy drinks remotely for friends and family via Facebook by entering the recipient’s name, mobile number and a personalised text message on a touchscreen. It is an idea developed by PepsiCo’s Equipment Innovation Group in the US, formed in 2011.

Pepsi stores email addresses and phone numbers when consumers have given their permission. Collecting this data means that PepsiCo’s trade customers can manage their inventory levels and delivery schedules remotely and the brand can also update digital content online and change the messaging and media content as necessary.

Credit for data

People like to feel they are getting something in return for sharing their data and global brand owners including Carling, Unilever, Kellogg’s and Kimberley-Clark are offering consumers free mobile phone credit once they have answered a survey via voicemail. This is proving a particularly popular way to boost customer databases and brand awareness in developing countries.

Mobile marketing company Brandtone is working with manufacturers to put secure text codes on the side of packs of these manufacturers’ products that consumers use to redeem a mobile top up.

When they send a text to the promotional number they receive a recorded voice message asking them a number of questions in return for the free phone credit, such as their gender, whether they have children and how often they buy the brand. People are asked if the brand can store and use the data and engagement levels are generally high because the consumer has initiated the interaction by sending the code.

In South Africa, Carling Black Label has used these mobile codes to target a younger male demographic than usually drinks the beer – although currently only 16 per cent of phones in the country are smartphones.

Digital community

Drinks firm Diageo is also looking at how it can collect data in innovative ways. It is using TV advertising for its Captain Morgan’s Spiced rum brand to buy a bottle and drive people to its Facebook page where they can register for a free tankard or win a prize, once they’ve typed in a code that features on the bottle.

Absolut Vodka
Absolut: label codes will provide data to the brand

“The consumer engagement mechanic for the campaign is very simple,” says marketing manager Violeta Andreeva. “By driving consumers to our Facbeook page, the brand benefits from growing its digital community. Also, by offering rewards to our community we spark conversations that increase our overall engagement rates.”

Pernod Ricard is another drinks brand owner thinking seriously about how it can find new ways to collect data.

It has created 4m unique bottle designs for a new version of Absolut vodka with every one featuring a one-off design of splashes and patterns and a numbered label. Marketing manager Adam Boita says the brand is aware that these label codes will offer a massive data collection opportunity when the main trade launch begins in the spring. However, he is unsure yet how exactly it will work.

“What we do know is consumers will not provide personal information or tick the ‘opt in to future communications’ box unless you can provide something in return – a real experience,” he says.

He acknowledges that any offer around the special Absolut vodka bottles must be innovative and congruent with the brand if consumers are to engage in a mutually-beneficial value exchange. “Someone will genuinely want to hear from your brand on an on-going basis if the communication is relevant to whatever experience triggered the handing over of the data in the first place.”

Value exchange

Pete Markey, chief marketing officer at insurance business RSA Group, says his sector must also look at more creative ways to engage with consumers. He is convinced data collection will increase in profile and importance as businesses fight their way out of the recession. “The keys to customer loyalty are vital to any recovery and data is at the heart of this,” he says. “Innovation will be crucial because consumers are much savvier and unfortunately thousands of pointless spam emails through the years hasn’t helped marketers.”

Markey says he is working on a number of ideas for his brands that include More Th>n and he agrees companies must create a true ‘value exchange’ in customer data capture so people receive real value in return. “This could include increased engagement through helping with research or the design of new products,” he says. “Clever brands will create ‘value moments’ where data capture is freely given in exchange for real value. Social media is a good example of this when it is done well.”

For smaller brands targeting niche markets, it is vital they find new ways to gather data. When independent designer shoe retailer Daniel Footwear wanted to create a database of potential brides needing wedding shoes, it ran a competition with Wedding magazine offering readers the chance to win footwear worth £200. The competition generated more than 4,000 email addresses which have been integrated into the brand’s social media marketing plan.

“The competition was tweeted extensively and we obtained data on a real mixture of consumers from different demographics which is helping us to devise our marketing strategy specifically around wedding shoes,” says marketing manager Jessica Hodkinson. “We can now personalise the content of our weekly email shots with news about shoe trends so people get more involved in the brand.”

During the recession, loyalty has been crucial and many consumers want a deeper level of engagement with brands. If they are offered experiences that underpin the relationship they already have they will be more willing to share their data and become brand ambassadors. The challenge for brand owners is to keep finding innovative ways to meet the consumer’s expectations.

Case study

Lionsgate UK and The Hunger Games

hunger games
Hunger jury: Fans of The Hunger Games were asked to a shared online event

Lionsgate UK generated a vast amount of data from the Shared View event it created for fans of the movie The Hunger Games.

Consumers were encouraged to log in via Facebook or Twitter to on the evening of 3 September, the day the DVD, Blue-ray and digital download were released.

The film has more than 350,000 fans across Facebook and Twitter in the UK and Lionsgate wanted to find out who are the most passionate fans so it can develop longer-term relationships with them.

Lionsgate worked with new media agency Riot Digital to collect social media data from more than 4,400 of the film’s most active and loyal UK fans. The Shared View discovered where in the UK these ‘super fans’ lived, which device they were using to take part in the online event and even their sentiment towards different characters.

Some 6,900 fans also took part in the event directly via the official website and they posted more than 19,500 updates on the site on September 3. There were more than 10,500 hashtag uses for #theukwillbewatching on the launch day and the event had an estimated social reach of about 3m people.

Lionsgate UK’s senior product manager Sarah Sanders says the data collected means the brand now knows which fans are likely to become brand ambassadors prior to the release of the second and third parts of the franchise, called The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

“For the first film in the franchise it was important to create loyalty with consumers from the start. These fans will be with us all the way along this incredible journey, consuming vast amounts of content and information. Creating an online event such as this allowed our huge fan base to interact with one-another in a way they have never done before.”

Sanders adds: “Crucially, news of the Shared View also helped encourage pre-orders and day one purchases. The day one sales data informs retailers buying decisions and chart positions for the following weeks, so it was vital to secure high sales volumes right from the start.”

The activity also allowed Lionsgate UK and Riot Digital to gather more insight into consumer home entertainment viewing.


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