The Total Package
Branding: It's Business 101, but for many businesses, it's hard to do it right. The simple explanation? Some marketers just aren't listening to their clients.
Take the packaging sector, for example. With companies fighting for control of retail shelves, it's easy to lose sight of what drives purchase intent. An uninformed vision can only lead to multiple variables (i.e., color, shapes, symbols and text) working against each other.
Now that print distributors double as marketing service providers, it's their job to understand the components of packaging design. This requires time, creative energy and a deliberate strategy. In other words, they're going to need a bigger box to hold their ideas.
"Some of the most important aspects to good packaging [are] a well-designed piece that has good functionality, a piece that communicates well, prompting an action or response," said Lance Wilson, vice president of sales and marketing for Labels West Inc., Woodinville, Wash. "If it's well-designed, it should be easy for the end-user/consumer to use and understand."
This is where labels can provide the assist to meet the needs of brand owners. But as Wilson pointed out, oftentimes, the label is the package.
"From a label manufacturer's perspective, we continue to see the envelope pushed in what is expected out of a label," he observed. "Look around, labels are so sophisticated now. You can have a 10- or 12-color label with HD Flexo, variable data, multiple ply of information or high-end foiling and embossing effects."
Pat Larson, marketing director of Repacorp Inc., Tipp City, Ohio, agreed and expanded on the label's growing responsibilities. "[Labels] need to convey brand recognition, information about the product, and grab the shopper's attention during the few seconds of the purchasing decision," she noted. "Straightforward designs that differentiate the brand and product from all of the other options on the shelf are critical.
"These designs are defined by researching the consumer's emotional, cultural and lifestyle drivers, and then finding where the brand intersects those drivers to develop packaging style guidelines for colors, shapes, symbols and text. These style guidelines will bring visual consistency for each product segment throughout the brand."
Wilson has seen a move toward HD Flexo and premium color fidelity, along with packaging that appeals to multiple senses. "There continues to be a push for [...] anything that adds dimension to the package, like a special effect varnish that has a pearl effect or high gloss and matte effects that give a tactile feel," he said. "We recently produced a label with a soft-touch varnish effect. It gave the package a very rich and premium feel."
Label converters are also getting creative with digital printing. As Wilson mentioned, digital printing isn't limited to four-color process on paper. "With digital printing, many converters are seeing the pressure of being able to add special effects like foil stamping and embossing to their digital lines," he commented.
Prior to digital printing, Repacorp relied on cold foil, hot stamp or metallic inks to enhance label design. But thanks to technological advancements, metallic materials and opaque white ink can be used on the company's digital presses for high-end results. Furthermore, laser cutting has allowed designers to craft memorable shapes.
"One example we produced is a metallic wine label with opaque white ink, cut in the shape of Ohio, where the wine is produced," Larson recalled.
Sophisticated, no doubt, but is digital a cost-effective option? All signs point to yes. Digital printing and laser cutting eliminate the added expense of plates and tooling, making digital short runs more affordable. According to Andy Heinl, manager, digital printing for Repacorp, distributors can leverage the real benefits of digital printing with multi-SKU marketing.
"Multi-SKU marketing is dividing a large quantity of packaged goods into smaller, more customized lots to boost retail sales," he explained. "Multi-SKU opportunities take a variety of forms, like creating versions of product labels in different languages, new designs for regional markets, limited edition seasonal packaging, private labeling and special cause-related labels (such as 'a portion of the proceeds go toward cancer research')."
Digital printing and laser cutting even help distributors sell to small businesses. Heinl offered several examples. Cupcake shops need branded labels to seal their boxes. Coffee shops, craft breweries, wineries, bakeries and candy shops need multi-SKU labels and tags for their product lines.
"And keep in mind area corporations or hotels that want those products with private labels for corporate gifts or to send as a 'thank you' to customers," Heinl continued. "As long as the label uses the same material and has the same shape, allowing for different print designs, you can add all versions together for a total print quantity."
Digital doesn't come without challenges. Heinl cited large runs and PMS color matches. "First, large runs are still cost effective printed flexo," he said. "Also, if you need an exact PMS color match, we can get very close to a PMS spot color by manipulating the artwork with a CMYK mix, but our digital presses are four-color process."
Heinl maintains an optimistic attitude, noting digital will soon offer wider web widths, more color channels and faster speeds to compete with flexo.
While sophisticated designs are nice to look at, packaging labels have to deliver on more than aesthetics. This is where distributors and their supplier partners can work together to solve customer challenges. Wilson believes one of the most important things a distributor can do for a label packaging project is to understand the end-use application.
"We work very hard to be certain that the distributor confirms the end-use application. Knowing the application keeps cost down and avoids embarrassing failures in the field," Wilson cautioned.
Heinl encouraged distributors to ask questions and know the supplier's capabilities and limitations. For instance, Repacorp's Wisconsin facility was recently certified by the American Institute of Bakers (AIB) for food contact packaging manufacturing. "Repacorp has worked for two-and-a-half years to be AIB Certified, so that our distributors can sell food product packaging that complies with government regulations and industry expectations for safe food," Larson added.
Through honesty and a willingness to learn, distributors can work faster toward a solution. Perhaps Wilson summed it up best. "When you treat your supplier like a 'quote machine,' that is all you get. Tapping your supplier's knowledge only comes with continuous dialogue and open communication," he said. "For Labels West, good relationships have brought good business."