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Coca-Cola experiments with smart fridges to bridge in-store, mobile engagement

Coca-Cola?s tests with a line of interactive refrigerators integrated with augmented reality and mobile technology highlights the need for marketers to round out digital investments with physical assets to make the most of in-store experiences.

Coca-Cola Australia is testing a new type of interactive fridge that leverages augmented reality, facial recognition, social media and mobile to dole out relevant offers and content to specific consumers in-store. The soda giant?s initiative is the latest example of the growing momentum in mobile to extend the in-store shopping experience beyond smartphones and tablets into other types of devices.

?A solid omnichannel marketing strategy should be grounded on bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds,? said Julian Roca, group account director at Geometry Global North America, New York. 

?In order to do this, a physical presence continues to be a critical component of that strategy,? he said. ?The idea is to embed more sophisticated interactive tools from digital displays to interactive exhibits into the store layouts.?

Mr. Roca is not affiliated with Coca-Cola Australia. He commented based on his expertise on the subject.

Coca-Cola Australia did not respond to press inquiries. 

Smart appliances
According to an article in AdNews, 50 fridges have been tested in several markets, including Atlanta, Tokyo, London and Australia during the past year.

The appliances include digital screens and a camera. A box on the top of the machine uses Microsoft Kinect technology to power the digital activations to the fridge.

The technology lets marketers push out coupons, promotional material and games based on data that is gleamed from the appliance, such as a shopper?s emotion.

For example, Coca-Cola can theoretically push out different offers to consumers based on demographic information that the fridges? facial recognition features are picking up, such as age, gender or emotion.

The fridges also include touchscreens that let consumers swipe through and interact with content. The built-in camera feature can be leveraged as a virtual photo booth.

A location-based mobile component is considering being added that would map out directions to the kiosks from a smartphone. The data gleamed from this in-store data could then be used to make merchandising decisions around stores.

As brands and retailers tinker more with mobile and in-store engagement, the combination of mobile mapping tools with a physical digital presence could help marketers better understand how consumers want to interact with digital while shopping, per Tom Edwards, senior vice president of digital strategy and innovation at The Marketing Arm, Dallas, TX.

?For the time being, having a good mix of mobile-ready shopping experiences and physical elements is a sound strategy while many brands are still in the test and learn phase of mapping mobile shopping experiences,? Mr. Edwards said.

?In the Coca-Cola example and many other industry examples, the existing consumer behavior and association with the product are tied closely the kiosk or physical experience creating value around incremental innovation such as facial recognition [and] geolocation,? he said. ?For other brands, creating co-op mobile shopping programs with retailers may prove to add more value versus a physical presence.?

Mobile in-store heats up
As more retailers look to bridge digital and in-store, Coca-Cola?s campaign highlights the growing opportunities to leverage mobile with kiosks for a more comprehensive digital in-store experience. 

Mobile in particular is often seen as the main connector between digital and in-store experiences, highlighted by the significant growing interest around beacons and other types of shopper tracking technology.

A few CPG brands have already started working with retailers to capitalize on the promise from beacons to send out targeted offers.

In April, McCormick & Co.?s Zatarain?s claimed to be the first CPG brand to use beacon technology to interact with consumers inside retailers (see story).

Coca-Cola?s kiosk effort is significantly different from most in-store and retail mobile activations because the experience is linked to a physical kiosk that consumers can interact with while shopping.

These types of kiosk and mobile executions may also make more sense in larger retailers such as supermarkets where consumers have more time to spend versus a convenience store where shoppers want to get in and out as quickly as possible.

In addition to collecting more data about shoppers, the combination of physical assets such as kiosks with mobile components gives marketers the widest possible digital reach.

?A kiosk alone doesn?t change behavior,? said John Caron, vice president of marketing at Catalina, St. Petersburg, FL. ?Neither does knowing a shopper?s location, but when using these data points in conjunction with past-purchase behavior and preferences, it creates a unique opportunity to engage the shopper in a true one-to-one manner.? 

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York