First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Ionut Vlad: It’s quite hard to say you’re doing fine during these challenging times, considering what is happening globally. But fortunately, my family and I are healthy, and that’s the most important thing right now. Thank you for asking!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Tokinomo
Ionut Vlad: I used to work in advertising and have more than 15 years of experience in agencies like Saatchi and Saatchi and working directly for CPG brands and retailers. While doing campaigns for clients, I realized that in-store advertising solutions are outdated, and it became quite frustrating for me, as an art director, not being able to get more creative when it came to in-store activations.
That’s when I came up with the idea of a solution that makes products interact with the shoppers and so the first Tokinomo prototype was born. We have come a long way since then. We didn’t have any technical skills at that time, so our dream seemed impossible for outsiders, even for our family and friends. But we made it happen, and now we have the only robotic solution for in-store promotions in the world.
How does Tokinomo innovate?
Ionut Vlad: As I mentioned before, in-store promotions haven’t changed for decades. If you walk through a supermarket, you’ll see shelf stoppers, wobblers, sampling campaigns, best-case scenarios, and digital signage. Tokinomo is different. Because it allows products to come to life, have a voice, and communicate with the shoppers.
Long story short, Tokinomo is a robot that uses a combination of sensors, movement, light, and sound to make the product a star at the shelf and get noticed instantly by shoppers. It is activated by a motion sensor, so as the shopper walks by the aisle, suddenly, a product pops out of the shelf and starts talking, singing, moving, or dancing to their delight.
Tokinomo is managed remotely via a cloud-based platform, so all campaign settings are done remotely in a matter of minutes. Imagine having a campaign in 300 stores, and you want to turn down the volume a bit or update the audio ad or change the device’s working hours during the night because some stores are closed and some work 24/7. You can do that by just pressing some buttons from your office.
Besides being the perfect tool for experiential marketing, Tokinomo is also a solution that provides insightful data for marketing professionals, like foot traffic and device activations, so they have a better understanding of what is happening at the point-of-sale and how to optimize campaigns based on that.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?
Ionut Vlad: When the pandemic hit, in late February, we were quite shaken up. Our main clients, retailers, and CPG brands stopped in-store promotions because they had to adapt to the crisis and the shoppers’ new requirements and needs. Their focus was different, and we had to understand that and cope with it. But after a while, we regained traction, mainly because brands needed to start advertising their products at the point of sale again, and they had to do it in a way that made their customers feel safe. So Tokinomo was the obvious answer. Sampling campaigns were forbidden in many countries, and consumers wanted to avoid human interaction as much as possible and so on. Tokinomo is the only solution that boosts sales and engages shoppers while complying with social distancing measures.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Ionut Vlad: Yes, I did. Especially in the beginning, when we had no idea what to expect next, I was faced with the difficult task of cutting down costs and making the best decisions for the future – which would impact the staff in the present. Fortunately, we have a team where the start-up vision is deeply rooted, so we were able to cope with these changes much easier. We are all on the same boat, rowing in the same direction.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety? How do you project yourself and Tokinomo in the future?
Ionut Vlad: Having a start-up is like being in a roller coaster of emotions. Right now, we have reached a stage where we have more stability, and I can plan more in advance without so much stress and anxiety. We already have a strong network of international partners in more than 30 countries on almost all continents. While we used to chase brands for campaigns in the beginning, now we are in the position of being chased after by brands. And that’s a really nice feeling.
We have big plans for Tokinomo in the future. We are working on several add-ons to make our device even more efficient, and we want to become the preferred in-store solution for the biggest players in the world: both CPG brands and retailers.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Ionut Vlad: With no intention to brag, we don’t have any direct competitors. We are the only robotic solution that interacts with the shoppers and makes products come to life. However, we are in the point-of-purchase marketing field; thus, we can consider all in-store activation tools as our competition in one way or another, such as display booths, digital signage, shelf stoppers, holograms, wobblers, and other cardboard displays.
We plan to stay ahead of the game by taking our device to a level where its already proven efficiency meets a deeper understanding of shopper behavior through the use of extensive data.
Your Final Thoughts
Ionut Vlad: Thank you for your interest in Tokinomo and the story behind it. Having a start-up is challenging and changes you in many different ways. It’s very nice that you’re taking the time to make the start-up stories available to the public.