Digital Print: The Customisation Trend

The rapid growth and success of digital print are prompting brands to experiment with marketing – improving approval ratings and brand loyalty from consumers, a new report Smithers Pira finds out

According to Smithers Pira new report - The Future of Digital Print for Packaging to 2022 - digitally printed labels and packaging is worth $13.4 billion in 2017. While the label sector has been the early adopter and is mature in some regions there is very strong growth in corrugated, carton, flexibles and direct-to-shape, with developments in metal printing. By 2022, the rapidly expanding digital (inkjet and toner) packaging market will grow by almost 13% annually to exceed $22.0 billion.

The market for digital print is expanding at over 15% for all formats – except labels where it is already well-established. Digital print platforms are opening up a whole world of possibilities for boosting emotional engagement with a consumer, and creating new revenue streams. This is allowing brands, design agencies and retailers to become more creative, with many launching innovative campaigns to enhance approval ratings; while other businesses across the value chain can evolve new, lucrative business models.

Print products: economic short runs

The digital print for packaging sector has a lot to thank the Coca-Cola Corporation for. The well-known “Share a Coke With…” series of marketing campaigns brought the capability of digital printing into the mainstream for brands, designers, and converters. The main campaign was a mass-customisation versioning of PET bottle labels, supplemented by one-off specific names printed on-demand for glass hobble skirt bottle packs via a website, and more generic versioning of metal cans.

It was the biggest series of marketing campaigns run by Coca-Cola, putting the packaging as the message. The packaging design – of form, function and graphics – has always been important, but the Coca-Cola campaigns showed that the pack can be a critical part of the customer experience. Packaging is being specifically used as a component of the brand strategy to win customer approval, as consumers spend more time interacting with a product after it has been bought.

There were many copy-cat campaigns brought to market with names, places or sports teams featuring on the pack. Many companies put forenames onto their packs, for instance Nutella and Marmite, while Oreo cookies ran a campaign to colour in the pack design and get the pack sent direct to the buyer.

These brands are using digital print to increase their emotional engagement with consumers and potential customers, to boost the brand status. Purina (a Nestlé pet food brand) sells Just Right, a premium range of personalised dog food. The pack has the dog’s name and picture, the owner’s name and the Just Right logo on it. The food is formulated for the dog, taking the breed, size, age, activity and various other factors into account. The company uses the information about the dog they have been given to satisfy the owner’s desire to deliver an individualised experience for the pet. This combination of owner, brand and dog is a very powerful engagement.

Anti-counterfeiting efforts: brand protection

Digital print can be used to provide hard to replicate brand protection features to packs and labels, aiding anti-counterfeit efforts. As the quality of packaging printed by counterfeiters has improved, brands are more motivated to prevent losses from counterfeiting and protect the quality and integrity of their products. In an ecommerce environment, consumers increasingly want to assure themselves that a product is genuine, particularly for high-value items such as fine wine or cosmetics.

There are security inks and toners that can produce overt and covert marks, and some of the electrophotographic presses can produce microtext and features such as photocopy voiding patches. Digital laser finishing systems can add selective “engraving” of text and images, either as a partial burn or creating complex patterns of holes or sheet edges that are difficult to copy.

The capability of digital systems to impart unique information – like an item-specific QR code – onto a pack or label is giving new security capabilities. Such a marking can be used as an identifier to validate the product is genuine via a smartphone scan referencing a secure database look up. Once this initial online connection is made brands or retailers, can then use this online channel to feed customised or even personalised promotions to the buyer.

There are other applications, for example in Japan some cigarette packs have QR codes printed on the outside that provide information to the customer, on health issues as well as promotion for the cigarette brand. Some packs are also using unique QR codes on the inside of the pack. These can be scanned and provide consumer sign up for events and offers, a twenty-first century version of the old cigarette card and coupon promotions.

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