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We’ve all been there, you’re out shopping and you tap a product with your smartphone to launch an experience in a brand’s digital realm. Whether it’s QR Codes, NFC or augmented reality, the experience from a packaged product has elevated the way that we shop … thanks to Cameron Worth’s global business SharpEnd.
SharpEnd works with brands in over 130 countries, making it easy for consumer brands to scale connected packaging, by making sure they have everything under one roof (experience, technology and data).
Cameron takes some time from his schedule to share his thoughts with Business Matters ..
What is the main problem you solve for your customers?
Professionally, we help brands scale connected products (via packaging mostly) as a new engagement platform that yields valuable customer data and insights. We do this via integrating QR Codes, NFC or Augmented Reality onto physical touchpoints such as product packaging (which tech we choose is generally guided by vertical focus). Simply put, consumers tap a product with their smartphone to launch an experience in a brand’s digital realm. Once we’ve created the ID’s they are then managed on our io.tt platform which is live in more than 130 countries and used by a lot of the world’s biggest brand owners.
This technology presents a real opportunity for brands to connect with their customers and adoption is picking up pace. Our Connected Experience Report, the first-ever definitive study on how and why consumers engage with connected products, showed that 86% of consumers who like NFC agree that the technology is exciting, and 55% are more likely to buy a connected product if it introduces them to a new product experience. This is where SharpEnd comes in, we’re supporting brands in rolling out this technology (many for the first time at scale) and it’s transforming the way consumers are shopping and engaging with brands.
Take our roll-out for Clinique (part of Estée Lauder Companies).In a beauty-industry first last year, we used the io.tt platform for NFC-enabled products across 35 countries giving consumers an experience-led gateway to exclusive content. From skin analysis to product recommendations, how-to tutorials, and loyalty rewards, there is a raft of content available for customers to access simply by tapping their smartphone on the NFC enabled packaging of the moisturiser. Emilia Clarke fronted the campaign which was the first time many consumers around the world would have been introduced to the concept of connected packaging and what it can give them. The campaign won several prestigious awards and it was an amazing shift in how beauty brands communicate (product to service).
What made you start your business – did you want to rock the status quo or was it a gap in the marketplace that you could fill?
My fascination started with QR codes on beer mats about 15 years ago and I’ve been obsessed with ‘physical to digital’ ever since. That then became called IoT, which then became connected experiences, and now it’s just sort of rested at physical to digital.
I started SharpEnd in 2015 at 25 years old to prove a point – that connected products need creativity as much as technology. At the time, other businesses were only focused on ‘how many QR codes or NFC tags can we put on products?’ while I was, and remain, laser-focused ‘but why would anyone engage in the first place?’ Without engagement there’s no success, without success there’s no scale, without scale there’s a very sales-intensive business that I’d never want to run.
If I was right, and creativity was the important thing, then I would have the world’s biggest brand owners as clients and have real leverage and insight to make some moves. That happened.
We then went on to build the infrastructure, called io.tt, that would power this connected future as it still didn’t exist (regardless of how many overly complex IoT businesses tell you it did). 10 trillion products coming online equals big data opportunities and challenges to address. So we did that too.
These days we’re an effective (and fast growing) team of about 50 people, across two continents and together, we support some of the world’s most ambitious brand owners in more than 130 countries, from Estée Lauder Companies, Compari, Levi’s and Balmain.
What are your brand values?
Communicating with honesty and integrity is important and trying to make decisions during calm moments is something I’ve learnt to be incredibly valuable.
Do your values define your decision making process?
Rarely am I in a situation where I can’t/don’t rely on my values to guide my decision, and I really get affected when I have to make decisions that can’t sit perfectly with my values. I set out to have my own company to enjoy that autonomy.
I also categorise where possible – to me there’s difficult decisions, straightforward decisions, fun decisions and heavy decisions. I try to give each decision their own credit and focus, and have done a lot of work to understand how my processes impact my decision making. Scenario planning is one of my biggest pleasures and heaviest burdens.I am comforted in the knowledge that my team around me is well composed. I see what I’m doing as a team effort and credit everyone equally to ensure I only feel proud and content behind closed doors.
Is team culture integral to your business?
I think so. I’ve told the team for the last few years that this is their business now, and my work is to look after the company. It creates the right amount of space where I’m not expected to dictate culture and gives the team a greater sense of ownership which is important.
We tripled during Covid to 30 people, and have kept growing ever since. After such a period of fast growth, we were totally unrecognisable as a business, so had to start again understanding who we are as a team and as an organisation. That for me was when the culture topic became fluid and evolving.
We do have one rule which I mandated called ‘Tribal Dynamics’ – it’s the appreciation that absolutely everything we do is based on the whole team doing their respective things, so we don’t call people out individually. No employees of the month, all that stuff.
In terms of your messaging do you think you talk directly to your consumers in a clear fashion?
We exist to help brands speak directly to their consumers through products they buy and use via technologies such as QR codes and NFC on packaging. So it’s an interesting process that requires clear communication along the chain.
I think what we offer to brands is very simple – Put X onto your products to unlock Y and receive Z. In a complex space like the IoT, clear communication is essential and one of the things I believe clients really like about what we’re doing here is that we make a confusing space easy to understand.
What’s your take on inflation and interest rates – are you going to pass that on to your customers or let your margins take a hit and reward customer loyalty in these tougher times?
Our platform business is saving clients a huge amount of money on acquiring customer data – which is a very clear business model. When you compare the cost of a scan of a QR on pack to that of a ‘click’ of a paid Instagram post or a PPC advert on search, you instantly see the huge media value (or saving).
One of the unique benefits of connected packaging is the ability to track and measure ROI in real time. This has been a limitation of analogue packaging. We’ve been building out a measurement methodology and ROI model over the past year which will allow packaging to be viewed on a level playing field against other media channels. The good news is that all of our programs indicate just how powerful this medium is. This includes engagement, conversion, sharing of first-party data, and transactions alongside the rich marketing intelligence that each connected product provides.
How often do you assess the data you pull in and address your KPIs and why?
Data protection is, and should be, a top priority for brands and technology providers such as ourselves. Particularly as we’re a global business we need to make sure we’re clean in all areas. For that reason we have a data protection officer that makes sure everything we do is compliant with regulations like GDPR and CCPA in the different regions. The platform has obtained several security certificates and we pride ourselves on security and compliance.
Brands own all the data they collect via our io.tt, and we’re very clear to them that we have no rights over/to it.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in business?
Don’t call yourself an entrepreneur, let others do it for you
Try to keep space between your work and home identities
Take pride at the right times, stay centred the rest
Ensure among the chaos and uncertainty that you maintain a creative outlet that nourishes your soul
What three things do you hope to have in place within the next 12 months?
We will be 65 people, with at least 10 in the US
I will have had an actual holiday of rest and reflection without checking mails
We have reached the 500bn product milestone on the io.tt platform