If packages could listen like Siri

Packages are great at talking, but not great at listening, but this is going to change as soon as retailers and marketers adopt a technology that is part of the new iPhone 4s called Siri.

We hear their voices as we wander around the busy aisles of Stop & Shop or the hushed showrooms at Saks.

Some yelling free offers, some singing free range, some promising free radicals, and some whispering sugar free . . . they speak to us with a barrage of messages for beauty, convenience, comfort, flavor . . . all with one goal. Take me home.

And once home most continue to yell, and sing, and promise, and whisper from behind our pantry walls and vanity doors with the same level of intensity that they did in the retail environment. I have long thought it would be great if all packages could magically transform themselves into well-behaved family members when they get home, but that’s the subject of another post.

This post is about conversations, and conversations require both listening and talking. As we know packages, and the retail environments they occupy, are not great at listening . . . at least not yet.

My strong sense is that this is about to change, and change big time in the next couple years, and probably in two steps. Let me explain each of these and how they might occur.

Step One
The first step in the conversation will take place with your mobile device.

Apple just launched their iPhone 4s this week. And in David Pogue’s NY Times review he speaks passionately about Siri, the phone’s voice recognizing personal assistant by saying the following;

“You can say, “Wake me up at 7:35,” or “Change my 7:35 alarm to 8.” You can say, “What’s Gary’s work number?” Or, “How do I get to the airport?” Or, “Any good Thai restaurants around here?” Or, “Make a note to rent ‘Ishtar’ this weekend.” Or, “How many days until Valentine’s Day?” Or, “Play some Beatles.” Or, “When was Abraham Lincoln born?”

In each case, Siri thinks for a few seconds, displays a beautifully formatted response and speaks in a calm female voice. It’s mind-blowing how inexact your utterances can be. Siri understands everything from, “What’s the weather going to be like in Tucson this weekend?” to “Will I need an umbrella tonight?”

Now imagine if you could walk around a store and ask your phone questions like, “Do these chips have too much salt for me?”, or “What’s the best price for this camera?”, or “Will this cleanser scratch my granite counters?”.

We know that shoppers are increasingly using their mobile device while shopping, and research already suggests that people are pretty serious when they do. Today 70% of mobile queries turn into sales within an hour. So surely the same intelligence that Siri exhibits on an iPhone 4s will lead to more intelligent conversations about products and packages with your mobile device at retail, and very soon. Probably in the next year.

Step Two
The second step will bring this listening technology to individual products and packages.

As we know, retailers and brands like to control the conversation, or these days at least try and influence it. So once Step One is in place, these retailers and products will quickly want to influence the in-store conversation by both listening and talking. And they will do this by activating their stores and products, with the same “Siri like” intelligent ability to interact and answer our questions as we wander through the aisles.

I am not a technologist, so don’t ask me exactly what form this may take. But I can imagine kiosks at retail, or shipper displays, or even individual packages with built in technology that answer questions just the way Siri now does on an iPhone 4s.

And that’s a conversation that will happen sooner than you think!


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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