Coca-Cola coolers get an extra dose of “cool,” thanks to IoT

In the hotly competitive beverage industry, capturing customer attention — and creating brand loyalty — is the Holy Grail. Extending far beyond the products themselves, marketing efforts aim to enhance the beverage experience using signs, promotional gifts and events — effective, but expensive.

Enter Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA), a leading beverage manufacturer in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. CCA wanted to design an innovative new way to market beverages to consumers, and create an appealing — even addictive — new way for consumers to interact with their brand. They teamed up with global creative agency TKM9 (specializing in cutting-edge immersive technologies) and Microsoft to create a solution that capitalizes on the Internet of Things (IoT) by utilizing interactive digital signage installed on beverage coolers — those large refrigerator-like vending machines. These digital signs can collect data on sales and customer interaction, and share content with customers at the point of sale — such as discount offers and weather reports. They also draw consumers into an interactive multimedia and social-media experience, via the coolers and the consumers’ own devices, offering games, contests, Facebook posts and more.

In a limited trial run of 50 machines, this Internet of CCA’s Things, built on TKM9 and Microsoft technologies, is already transforming the way the company thinks about customer service and brand loyalty in the beverage industry. It’s also boosting beverage sales — from 12 percent up to 20 percent, depending on the channel and outlet.

Built on existing devices

Retailers don’t have to rip and replace existing devices to take advantage of the solution; it builds on existing beverage coolers, equipping them with Windows Embedded-powered touch screens and Kinect for Windows technology to provide immersive content experiences for customers. By linking to rich analytics in the cloud, the solution is also capable of mining a wealth of data to help CCA continually refine and target how the coolers interact with consumers.

According to Stuart Port, manager of Frozen Beverages Strategy at CCA, the company wanted to give existing machines at various locations a digital upgrade that could capture the attention of mobile consumers in a social media world.

“We do spend a lot of money creating customized material for point-of-sale locations all across the marketplace,” explains Port. “We wanted to be less reliant on having a field team execute marketing everywhere, so we needed a more scalable, digital solution that could deliver content remotely.”

According to Mark Hodgens, chief executive officer of TKM9, “Interacting with the coolers using touch, gestures, augmented reality and their own mobile phones, customers are provided with content and experiences that have already been shown to boost sales and brand loyalty. After snapping a photo with the cooler’s integrated webcam, for example, customers can use an app on the machine to alter their appearances with different hairstyles and outfits, set it to music, and then log into Facebook to share.”

“These interactive coolers based on Microsoft technology are a great way to represent your brand right at the point of purchase,” says Port. “If it engages people enough that they reach in and buy that Coke, it helps increase sales. But at the same time, it’s terrific for us that we’ve had a positive experience with the consumer.”

That approach appears to be effective: Beverage sales on a new digital cooler were found to be 12 percent higher than standard coolers in the grocery channel; one digital cooler in the off-premise licensed channel — displaying a beverage discount offer among its content — saw sales increase by 120 percent in a single month.

The modern hardware links up to an analytics application running in the cloud on the Microsoft Azure platform. On the back end, the solution considers multiple data streams, including geo-location and facial recognition technology, social media input, and weather services, to personalize the flow of content to individual customers in real time.

Personalized, targeted content

CCA now has the capacity to  deliver personalized, targeted content, as well as fine-tune the development and deployment of new coolers. “We didn’t want just a locked-down white box,” says Port. “We wanted an interactive interface from the consumer’s perspective. It’s not just about delivering digital content, it’s about doing it in a more targeted and relevant way.”

And TKM9 is evolving technologies that can enable new capabilities in the future. Says Hodgens, “Through the geo-location software on mobile phones, for example, im can track the route customers take through a store or shopping center to reach the cooler, and use the information to create “heat maps” that optimize cooler placement and the display of other store products.”

The solution is scalable and customizable; CCA and TKM9 can easily update the coolers globally to integrate new data sources, offer different types of experiences, or adjust the screens used to serve varying customer needs at different venues.

“Customers at a mall or theatre will interact with the machines very differently than customers at a quick-stop shop such as a petrol station,” Port says. “So we’re able to customize the content based on what a particular set of customers actually wants.”

Into the cloud, and back again

TKM9 had developed its content management software, called im, using Microsoft Visual Studio. Initially deploying its app only on Amazon Web Services, the company decided to load-balance the solution with Microsoft Azure to take advantage of platform-as-a-service offerings including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Azure Cloud Services, Microsoft Azure Mobile Services and Microsoft Azure SQL Database.

“The ability of Microsoft technologies to integrate across all points of the solution was a major consideration in making the move,” says Hodgens. “To take the coolers to market, it’s important that we have an end-to-end technology stack that extends from the hardware to the software and right up into the cloud and back again. Microsoft provides that.”

According to Port, with an innovative solution based on technology from TKM9 and Microsoft, Coca-Cola Amatil is gaining benefits including a stronger competitive advantage, better customer relationships and visions of a more scalable infrastructure.

“At the end of the day, the type of innovation that we’ve gained from Microsoft and TKM9’s im technology really does set us apart from the competitors,” Port says. “In terms of the digital landscape, this solution is the first of its kind in Australia and it’s a way for us to get ahead of the game globally.”

Read more about how Microsoft can enable the Internet of Your Things here, and read more about Microsoft’s vision for retail here.

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Microsoft News Center Staff