SharpEnd Helps Brands Achieve Full Potential of IoT Technologies

After publishing an article about connected packaging in Big Picture magazine earlier this year, I was introduced to Cameron Worth, the founder of the SharpEnd “Agency of Things™” in London. The SharpEnd agency works directly with global brands to help them maximize the opportunity that emerging “Internet of Things” technologies can provide.

In addition to developing strategies, creative, prototyping, and pilot projects, SharpEnd can help brands scale up successful programs.

“Smart packaging is our bread-and-butter right now,” said Worth. SharpEnd also helps brands evaluate and test technologies for retailing, experiential marketing, and the connected home.

A New Type of ‘Agency’

When discussing SharpEnd, Cameron Worth hesitates to call it an agency. He doesn’t want SharpEnd  confused with a traditional advertising agency that plans campaigns, writes catchy slogans,and buys advertising space.

Cameron Worth, SharpEnd

SharpEnd helps brands choose emerging technologies that fit the technographics of their target market.

“We start with the consumer value proposition and why a brand would want to implement a certain technology in the first place,” says Worth. In the smart packaging space, Sharp End develops prototypes for several types of connected packaging that the brands can evaluate in private.

If a test program is successful, SharpEnd can help clients make the business case for converting a test project into a large-scale deployment.

“We can work with the brand’s existing providers to help them scale up,” says Worth. Working with packaging manufacturers and converters, SharpEnd employees can help test whether a certain technology concept fits in with existing manufacturing and shipping processes. For example, they have studied how the performance of an NFC chip is affected after it goes through a heat tunnel.


When SharpEnd was founded in 2014, it may have been the first company to promote itself as an IoT (Internet of Things) agency. Worth describes SharpEnd as “an activation partner” for the fast deployment of emerging marketing technologies.

“A massive transformation of opportunity is underway,” says Worth. “We have a responsibility to make sure that people are making the most of these opportunities.” He believes brands must understand the full possibilities of a new technology in order to get the most out of it creatively.

SharpEnd currently has offices in London and Stockholm and plans to open a U.S. office before the end of 2018. SharpEnd clients include Unilever, Pernod Ricard, British American Tobacco, Nestle, and Pepsi.

One connected packaging project SharpEnd is currently working on is a scale-up of a project for Malibu-brand rums and cocktails. Last summer, Malibu applied NFC chips to over 45,000 bottles distributed to 1600 Tesco stores. SharpEnd recommended “near-field-communications” technology because it doesn’t require the consumer to download an app to activate it. They used a printed neck-hanger on the bottle to encourage consumers to connect with the online content.

SharpEnd also demonstrates how “smart spaces” and “smart ordering” can create memorable brand experiences. For Malibu, SharpEnd created a virtual-reality experience for retailers that was much more engaging than a PowerPoint presentation. The immersive brand world contained ads, gifs, recipes, and even retail guidelines. The smart ordering project involved a connected coconut-shaped drink cup.

Sharp End shows brands how the Internet of Things can be used to create memorable brand experiences. For Malibu, they turned an empty cup into a connected marketing opportunity. Users of the connected Malibu coconut cup simply twisted the NFC-enabled base to order another a drink. Servers use the Coco-Nect app and Bluetooth Mesh networking to see where they should deliver the drink. (Photos: SharpEnd)

Malibu Coco-Nect app


In researching my article, “Connected Packaging as a Marketing Channel,” I learned that brands are curious but cautious about emerging technologies such as augmented reality, NFC, embedded smart codes, conductive inks, and printed electronics.

Early attempts to use QR codes to connect consumers to digital content failed because the “interactive experience” detracted from the consumer’s overall experience with the brand. Instead of connecting to content that was updated, useful, or engaging, the first QR codes often connected to static, boring websites that didn’t display properly on the consumers’ smartphones.

With the right combinations of technology and creative content, brands today can avoid those issues.

As SharpEnd demonstrates, packaging isn’t the only object that can be connected.  Perhaps other forms of Internet of Things connections can generate more immediate sales results (e.g. “smart ordering.”)

From what I have observed over the years, major new technologies (e.g. wide-format printing, the internet, cameraphones) didn’t really take off until some determined, creative people demonstrated killer applications that could achieve large-scale success.

For example, analysts have discussed the potential of “mass-customization” of consumer products for years. But it didn’t catch the attention of major consumer brands until HP and Coca-Cola teamed up to prove that packaging can be customized and personalized on a global scale.

Because SharpEnd can help brands with everything from strategy to creative execution and technology selection, the “Agency of Things” seems well positioned to help accelerate the adoption of connected packaging and other Internet of Things applications. Check out SharpEnd’s work by visiting


Survey Tracks Changing Relationships Between Marketers and Agencies

SoDA, the Global Society for Digital Marketing innovators, has released the 2014 edition of The SoDA Report. The report includes its annual Digital Marketing Outlook survey of the changes taking place within digital marketing agencies and their clients.

SoDAReportLogoThe findings reveal key shifts in marketer/agency relationships, weaknesses in advertiser expertise, and mismatches between what advertisers and agencies believe are most valuable to clients.

There are also startling perception differences over clients’ attempts to transform their businesses, and disconnects over why clients walk away from agencies.

The research also highlights steep learning curves inside agencies when it comes to acting on data insights, as well as using digital information to propel deeper personalization. As clients increase investment, agencies need to stay ahead in data, mobile and product innovation.

Conducted in partnership with Econsultancy, Digital Marketing Outlook is based on a global sample, evenly split between advertisers and agencies, which represent a total annual marketing spend of $25.4 billion. In total there were 736 respondents, the large majority being senior company decision-makers.Slightly more than one-third (36%) of the respondents were based in North America; 22% were in Europe, and 21% were based in Asia-Pacific nations. Executives with global responsibilities contributed 11% and the rest came from South America and Africa.

Key Findings

After years of dramatic growth, half the marketers surveyed are keeping digital marketing budgets level in 2014 (up from a third in 2013). However, there was a notable rise in spend on non-marketing related  initiatives, including data, mobile and product innovation, with one in three clients increasing budgets in these areas.

  • Nearly 70% of clients believe being seen as an early adopter is key or important to their brand position.
  • Clients are increasingly seeking specialized digital services from agencies rather than looking for the traditional agency of record (AOR) agreement. This is in part recognition of the amount of digital work now carried out in-house.
  • Agencies believe advertisers still lack digital talent, with 50% or more highlighting gaps in paid-, earned- and owned-media strategy and execution as well as user experience and product innovation.
  • User experience was identified as the biggest gap on the client side with 77% of agency respondents citing it as a weakness.
  • The number of advertisers working with zero agencies has risen for the second successive year, with 13% managing the process in-house (slightly up on 2013).
  • The number of agency leaders concerned about off-shoring jumped almost 10%, up from 22% in 2013 to 31% in 2014.
  • The number of agency leaders identifying commoditization of digital product work as a serious problem rose 9% on last year.
  • 86% of respondents said the best route to future growth was product and platform creation – up 3% on 2013.

Disparities – What Clients Want

While all agreed marketing creativity was most important, clients rated product and service innovation second, while agencies rated it fourth in importance. Agencies rated customer-centered marketing for clients third, while clients scored it fifth in terms of priority.

Over 60% of clients felt their digital agency was excellent or good at evaluating digital trends for practical use. However, nearly one in three agency respondents (29%) do not offer any training on current or emerging trends and technologies, a missed opportunity to increase revenue and for clients to capitalize on the changes.

Why Clients Leave

The number one reason for clients walking away was outgrowing their agency’s ability to deliver against their needs (27%). Agencies overwhelmingly pointed to new client management as the number one reason (39%). Agency respondents ranked failure to deliver for clients’ growing needs a distant fourth, a major discrepancy. The specific service areas clients cited the most for termination was dissatisfaction with strategy (11%). Few agencies (6%) viewed this as the root problem.

Positive Outlook

The outlook is bright for agencies that offer the services clients need. Successful agencies saw more buy-in from clients, with growth in retainer- based work (up 21%) and a significant rise in agency investments (up 28%). Agencies that have invested in incubators – 50% of respondents – reported great success with talent retention and new business wins both up.

Other Areas of Difference

Agencies are more pessimistic about the future of AOR relationships than clients. While 57% of agencies believe AOR relationships are disappearing, half (49%) of clients believe that is the case.

Chris Buettner, SoDA executive director and managing editor of The SoDA Report, said: “Clients are doing more digital in-house than ever. But increasing levels of sophistication and elaborate in-house digital teams do not have to translate into diminished revenue for digital agencies. The opportunity is in data, mobile and product innovation – areas of high demand.

“Digital agencies that provide the core value trinity: creative marketing, innovation, and expertise in emerging trends and opportunities, can more deeply embed themselves in internal client teams, build stronger digital expertise across marketing and customer experience, and continue to prosper in 2014 and 2015.”

The SoDA Report is one of the most widely-read publications in the digital marketing industry, with over 250,000 downloads in 2013.

In addition to the SoDA/Econsultancy Digital Marketing Outlook Survey, the report also includes original articles by the industry’s finest minds, exclusive interviews with thought leaders, as well as case studies of the world’s best digital marketing campaigns.


New SoDA Report Previews 2014 Trends in Digital Marketing

SODAReport2013-2.png-300For insights into where digital-marketing might be heading in 2014, download the 2H 2013 edition of “The SoDA Report: Digital Marketing Outlook.” Published by SoDA, the Global Society for Digital Marketing Innovators, the report has become a leading voice of digital agencies and production companies worldwide.

The 138-report includes 22 essays, 18 case studies, and interviews with luminaries such as predictive analytics guru Mike Kuniavsky of PARC Innovation Services. The content is designed to keep brands, agencies and consultants aware of issues that are likely to drive real business improvement in 2014.

“Keeping abreast of digital innovation is increasingly critical for marketers and agencies that want to be successful in 2014,” said Chris Buettner, SoDA executive director and managing editor of The SoDA Report. “This report gives not just a look at some of the most successful campaigns of 2013 but also key insights that will help readers ensure they don’t get left behind in this fast-changing business.”

This edition includes essays on how brands can:

  • speed up their innovation cycles:
  • cultivate smarter, more responsive online communities; and
  • use ethnographic research techniques to develop a stronger understanding of the motivations and behaviors of people

The SoDA Report is divided into five sections:

  • Industry Insider: Trends, issues, and best-in-class methods that are shaping the future of digital agencies and production companies worldwide.
  • Modern Marketer: Client-side innovations that are delivering a new generation of success stories in digital marketing.
  • People Power: Education and talent cultivation within the industry, including user-experience and the power of human understanding.
  • Tech Talk: Future technology developments and trends that are likely to have a powerful impact in 2014.
  • Advocacy: Communicating collective power and positions around key issues impacting digital agencies and production companies globally.

The case-study section includes projects executed by brands such as KLM, Google, Yamaha, Burberry, Philips, Lenovo, Adobe, Lynx and Gulfstream.

Some of the thought-provoking articles include:

  • The Digital Agency Paradox (teaching clients to do what we do) by David Maren, EffectiveUI
  • Brands: How to Get Agile with your Agency by Jack Skeels, AgencyAgile
  • Integrating Multiple Agencies into One Brand Team, by Stacie Hoffmeister
  • Simple and Valuable Recruiting Advice, by Matt Paddock, Grow Interactive
  • The Personalization of Everything, by Stephen Foxworthy, Reactive
  • Consumer Control: Coming to a Store Near You, by Alessandra Lariu, SheSays
  • A Call to (Legal) Action, by Brad Gross, SoDA

Now in its fifth year, the bi-annual SoDA Report trends publication is one of the most-read reports in the digital-marketing industry. The first edition of 2013, released in March, was viewed or downloaded by more than 150,000 people.


Slideshare: The SoDA Report: Digital Marketing Outlook

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