If it seems as if a day doesn’t go by when we don’t see an industry trade pub article or press release that has to do with digital innovation in packaging – you’re right, and for good reason. The buzz is constant covering topics from digital printing, laser die cutting, augmented reality, QR Codes, Near Field Communications (NFC), and more.
Packaging is the only print application that can’t be replaced by an online version; if anything, using it as an on-ramp to the Internet can only enhance the customer experience.
After 25 years of helping to lead companies like Xerox, Océ, and Ricoh into digital document production, I’ve spent the last 14 months IMMERSED in packaging, and I’m convinced it’s the next big thing where digital innovation will have a huge impact on many, many levels. Growth projections for digital printing, interactive packaging, and electronically enabled packaging into double digits, so it’s no wonder we hear so much as companies go after it.
Since I’ll be writing regularly about this topic, I thought I’d start at the beginning.
How did I get involved in packaging?
Well, like so many life decisions it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I was called by a large private equity company with 37 acquisitions and $4B in annual revenues in the packaging space, and was asked to develop a go to market strategy. What really interested me at that point was the private equity business, and why they would place such a large bet on packaging. So for the next six months I LIVED private equity, flexible packaging, folding cartons and rigid plastics, and spent time with converters in the US, Germany, and France, and their customers.
For starters, private equity is a terrific example of how our free enterprise system can work. Each firm has a model that drives what they invest in, they buy companies that fit the model, support them operationally to hit revenue and profit targets, invest for the future, know when to sell, and create shareholder value. They make decisions quickly and confidently. Private equity sees the opportunity in packaging, and the firm I worked with is aggressively going after it.
Digital printing can play a significant role in the packaging industry, but to take advantage of the opportunities out there, all companies need to understand the value chain, and what it will take to get into it. For companies in the digital print eco-system, I mean:
- Commercial printers can leverage investments in color digital presses for labels, short run test marketing for consumer product companies, and dimensional/promotional direct marketing campaigns. Web to print can also be put to use in offering customized packaging for local markets.
- Converters and contract packagers that produce labels, flexible and rigid packaging, folding cartons and corrugated packaging are high volume manufacturing plants. Micro-market targeting by CPC’s has driven run lengths down, and brand owners are demanding market-specific packages. This is an industry struggling with an old infrastructure and looking for solutions.
- Marketing agencies focused on brand development need awareness of new media consumer experience possibilities that can be enabled through digital printing and packaging innovation.
- Technology providers of hardware and software will find packaging to be a very different industry from what they are accustomed to. Terminology, metrics, and solutions must be tailored to a vastly different set of requirements. Selling into the packaging industry is not like selling to the document production industry.
In Caslon’s white paper on packaging, entitled Making Sense out the Opportunities in Digital Printing and Innovation in Packaging, we examine who the players are in the ecosystem and the what the business drivers are that will come into play as digital innovation gains a foothold in the packaging space.