Print brings brands closer to customers

By Richard Stuart-Turner, Monday 18 July 2016

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Would you pay more than £10 for a personalised tube of muesli? Some of German retailer MyMuesli’s customers are willing to, which is why it invested in a Heidelberg Omnifire direct-to-shape 4D inkjet printing system to enable it to personalise muesli packaging in-house.


Personalised packaging enables printers and brands to add value to products and marketing campaigns and differentiate themselves from competition.

A recent Smithers Pira white paper commissioned by Konica Minolta, From innovation to implementation: emerging print for packaging technologies and how to apply them, found that personalised marketing delivers 31% greater profits compared to general marketing materials. In addition, the research found that customers become more loyal through personalisation.

“It’s amazing what people will pay for something that’s unique to them,” says Chris Tonge, owner and sales and marketing director at Grimsby-based Ultimate Digital, which has produced personalised packaging campaigns for brands including Walkers, Tesco and Waitrose. 

The personalisation and customisation of packaging and labels was a major trend at Packaging Innovations, held at Birmingham’s NEC in February, and the buzz was also felt in the air at Drupa, where the latest digital flexible packaging presses lined the halls in Düsseldorf. Digital technology has boosted the fortunes of personalised packaging because the demand for variable data and short runs continues to increase.

Building buzz

It has become especially popular with food and drinks brands, many of which have quickly recognised the ways in which personalised packaging, especially when combined with social media, can be used in novel or innovative ways to generate hype for new products or boost interest in existing products.

Heinz and Heineken are among the many brands that have used personalisation for successful mass-market campaigns or promotional purposes.

Last Christmas, Marmite teamed up with branding and design consultancy Hornall Anderson to launch two limitededition jars that consumers could personalise with either their name or somebody else’s. The pack aimed to divide the nation into those that had been naughty or nice.

Separately, whisky brand The Famous Grouse’s ‘Make Someone Famous’ campaign enabled a personalised photo label to be applied to a bottle ordered online.

Stockport-based Glossop Cartons, which prints a range of personalised cartons inhouse on its Xeikon 3500, launched a dedicated personalised pack service last year.

Sales director Jacky Sidebottom-Every said: “Personalised packaging is a great method for brands and creative marketers with a relatively modest budget to experiment with ideas with maximum novelty and impact. We have been using it and experimenting mainly with the gifting sector and food and beverage manufacturers.”

Bristol Labels, which operates an Epson SurePress L-4033AW inkjet label press, is getting more and more enquiries for personalised work, says sales and marketing manager Ben Stokes. “We produce work for a brewery whose customers sometimes design labels for events, for example a customer might want 500 personalised beer labels for a wedding.”

HP is among the digital press manufacturers leading the charge. At Drupa it premiered the twin-engined Indigo 8000 narrow web press, designed for labels and packaging production, although HP Indigo EMEA marketing manager Marcelo Akierman says the WS6000 series presses have proved most popular among its users that produce personalised packaging.

Many Indigo owners are also using HP’s SmartStream Mosaic software, which enables every piece of packaging in a campaign to be completely individual by generating a unique design based on several base original still pictures. This enables brands to maintain individuality in mass customisation campaigns.

Coca-Cola used the SmartStream Mosaic technology for a Diet Coke campaign in Israel in 2014 while Oreo used it for a Christmas campaign in the US last year.

“While one company is doing a campaign using Mosaic, another company can run it in a different way and they won’t be copying each other,” says Akierman.

Trevor Smith, managing director of Blandford-based Amberley Labels, which produces personalised labels using HP Indigo WS6800s, adds: “Packaging produced this way could be unique to me but you haven’t got to deliver it to me through the supply chain and I think that’s likely in the short term to be attractive to some of the brands.”

Smith says his customers’ interest in personalised packaging has grown hugely.

“The biggest drivers behind that I think are more awareness among brand owners and the production and supply chain capabilities that people like us have are now much more in line with brand owner requirements.”

Data harvest

Brand owners are also using personalised packaging to build profiles of consumer shopping habits, particularly if the personalisation encourages them to interact with the packaging using their mobile phone or social media and supply personal data. This information could then be used to send customers offers and product information tailored to their tastes.

“Digital print and personalisation allows products to be delivered in a completely different way and the information brands can gather from consumers is a big attraction as they can start to get one-to-one communication with their customer base,” says Ultimate Digital’s Tonge. 

“The ability to link to other things will also be a big thing. I think it will get a lot more clever as it develops, people are really starting to get to grips with where digital print sits at the minute.” 

Though food and drinks brands have been responsible for many of the biggest personalised packaging campaigns to date, it is also proving increasingly popular with cosmetics and pharmaceuticals producers. 

“For cosmetics we’re seeing a lot of interest for special launches and special ranges or personalisation for an event or for a store,” says Amberley Labels’ Smith.

“Run lengths for personalised campaigns tend to be around 4,000 to 5,000 where people take a database of customers and send them personalised goods, but some companies do much longer runs as part of the supply chain.”

So what does the future hold for personalised packaging? Glossop’s Sidebottom-Every believes the market is going to boom.

“Personalised packaging is in its infancy as brand managers become accustomed to the type of services and innovation manufacturers can offer them. Future growth will be consistent and, as machines adapt and become more mainstream, the services will become widespread and more of the expected rather than novel one-offs.”

HP’s Akierman believes that mass customisation will be the most successful area, at least in the short term, as it enables brands to react to events and occasions quickly.

“I think mass customisation is more real today in what can be applied. You have brands, local events, national holidays, regional tastes; it’s a combination of everything but with the same purpose, which is for the packaging to be as relevant as possible.”

Amberley Labels’ Smith adds:“Personalisation might not just be a name, but perhaps an ancestry or a football club, we’ve seen a lot of increase in that. Localisation personalisation is also becoming the flavour of the month.” But could consumers start to tire of personalised packaging if it becomes the norm, and not the exception? Smith believes the possibility of this happening is still a long way off.

“If at some point you can buy virtually anything personalised then the value to us as the end-user will reduce but I think we’ve got many years of growth ahead of us yet, we’re literally scratching the surface at the moment.”

Ultimate Digital’s Tonge concludes: “I think the growth is going to be quite significant from a value point of view. We’re selling digital print to marketing teams, not packaging buyers, so it’s a lot more than a piece of packaging, it’s suddenly a whole customer experience.” 

Case study: Tonejet beer can personalisation

Direct-to-object inkjet printers are increasingly being used by printers for short-run packaging personalisation. Xerox launched its Direct to Object Inkjet Printer - which enables personalised printing on threedimensional objects - at Drupa while Heidelberg’s Omnifire direct-to-shape printing system and Tonejet’s 2-Piece Can & Tube Digital Decorator also target a similar market.

The Tonejet machine, which incorporates a nozzleless electrostatic ink droplet projection system, has been used by customers in both the US and Europe for printing onto beverage cans, particularly in the craft beer market.

The Cambridge-based digital inkjet manufacturer says the direct-to-cylinder device provides converters - or brewers wishing to print their own cans - with a cost effective way to produce unique and personalised packaging.

Due to the traditional process usually used to print on cans and the economic crossover point of the suppliers, the can printing industry would previously only offer small volume independent craft brewers minimum order quantities of around 150,000, where they would typically only want around 50,000 cans or less, says Tonejet vice-president of sales and marketing Simon Edwards. 

This meant that without planning months in advance and paying for it up front, it was not possible for them to change a label to accommodate a local music or sporting event, or to can a new limited brew, which severely restricted customisation and personalisation options.

“Our technology gives craft brewers the ability to print really small to medium runs as well as the other advantages of digital printing. Similar to many of the big drinks companies, a lot of these small brewers want to get their name out there and do some very clever marketing on the product,” says Edwards.

“The whole beverage market is really attracted to the story behind the product and you can use that story for certain events on a local level using customised packaging.”

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