When it comes to social media influencers, the best people for brands to engage probably aren’t the ones with 100,000 followers on Twitter. In fact, it’s the people with closer to 1,000 followers that will likely be more helpful.

That’s according to a new report from Tetra Pak, which just released its Tetra Pak 2017 Index. The research focuses on “super leaders,” a newly-defined digital community of early adopters and brand amplifiers. And it encourages brands to focus their digital strategies, including packaging, on engaging this new generation of influencers.

Alexandre Carvalho, director marketing services at Tetra Pak, says about 7 percent of connected consumers could be considered “super leaders.”

“It’s a segment that really wants to connect with brands,” he explains. “They are willing to have this active presence online. They are vocal, they really do a lot of product and service reviews and they have high expectations about how brands interacts — they expect those brands to reply.”

The study showed that super leaders differ from social media influencers, who typically have huge social media numbers and often create sponsored content. By contrast, super leaders tend to have smaller followings, but those followers are usually people the super leaders know will take their opinions seriously because they value independent feedback.

“If you look at someone with 1,000 followers, they are really giving an independent opinion,” Carvalho explains.

However, that can be a daunting task for brands, because it means being able to hold online conversations with thousands of people. It’s quite the change from the days of simply buying ads on a major network.

Carvalho says technology can help with that, acting as a filter for online posts. And, normally, super leaders will tag brands, which also helps companies stay aware of what’s being posted online.

“Start having those conversations with them, because they value these a lot,” he says. “The perception of the brand will increase more when you have this two-way communication.”

The role of packaging

Of course, packaging plays an important role in all of this.

“It can become a gateway to generate interaction,” Carvalho says.

For example, digital codes printed on packages can improve transparency of traceability, allowing consumers to access information about the product right down to the source.

The package can also be transformed into a conduit for two-way communication where brands can capture specific, valuable data about their consumers.

“We sell, globally, a year, 108 billion units of products. So can you imagine if every single unit has a unique ID and you can use this to interact with consumers and gather data? And this is already happening,” Carvalho says.

Digital packaging also allows companies to share more information about the product itself.

“The digital package gives brand owners a direct link to the consumer through an important communication channel — the product itself,” Carvalho says. “To make the most of this fully owned channel, Tetra Pak is piloting the use of augmented reality and other digital technology in our packaging to help our customers stay ahead.”

And, as consumers now look for personalized experiences from brands, unique digital packages, AR and custom printing provide new opportunities to engage and deepen relationships.

In fact, a new report from Deloitte, “The Grocery Digital Divide: How Consumer Products Companies Can Deliver on the New Digital Imperative,” highlights these changes.

Its data showed that mobile is driving the convergence of consumer and shopper behavior and expectations, with more than one-third (34 percent) saying they use a smartphone to help choose brands during a shopping trip.

However, the data also showed that food and beverage brands have a long way to go in this area. Despite its rising influence, only 31 percent of grocery shoppers indicate that digital makes grocery shopping easier, compared to 42 percent across other retail categories.

“Digital is expected to play an even bigger role in delivering the experiences shoppers’ desire,” says Rich Nanda, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and U.S. consumer products corporate strategy and growth leader. “However, many consumer products companies and their retail partners have yet to take full advantage of the opportunity, potentially leaving money on the table.”

For more information: TetraPak, www.tetrapak.com; Deloitte, www2.deloitte.com