Personalising print & packaging

Personalising print & packaging

Stephen Egerton discusses how big data will continue to drive the personalisation phenomenon…


The retail packaging industry has witnessed a surge of innovation in recent years, with the success of numerous print personalisation campaigns. Promotions such as Coca-Cola’s ‘Share-a-Coke’, Heinz’s ‘myHeinz’ personalised baked-bean and ketchup bottles and The Famous Grouse’s personalised Whisky labels, have certainly piqued consumer interest.  


Let’s be honest, how many of us searched high and low for a named Share-a-Coke bottle last year? The craze gained momentum fast, fuelled by intelligent promotion and conversation on Facebook and Twitter. It momentarily changed national buying behaviour, with first time purchases being made by traditionally non-Coke buying customers, for gifting and novelty purposes. The same drink, the same bottle, the difference? Print personalisation.


This and other similar campaigns have only been made possible in recent years, through the use of data, and lots of it. It’s a product of our information age, and a concept that’s been around for over a decade. Big data seeks to make sense of the trillions of interactions that are going on throughout the world every day. 


Gartner, the IT firm behind the concept, breaks it down into the three Vs – the velocity, volume and / or variety of data. It may be the coffee you buy on your way to work, the picture you like on your friends Instagram feed or the order you place on your favourite shopping website. 


The process starts by capturing all meaningful information from any given interaction. For instance, one of the biggest sources of information capture in a generation has been Tesco’s Clubcard. The simple loyalty card scheme, started back in 1994, has given Tesco such valuable insight into both its customer base and its own business, that it is now the world’s third largest retailer, behind only Metro AG and Walmart. 


Transactional data, captured from the Clubcard, is able to accurately track the spending habits of 16 million customers. A wealth of geo-demographic data including location, age, gender, product line and even the payment card used as an identifier, can be brought together in a single repository. This database is then sorted, searched and standardised. The final result is the holistic visualisation of an individual’s purchasing profile. 


Once this hard profile has been generated, it can be used alongside softer, non-transactional data. Ethnographic research into natural human behaviour has shown retailers the best placement of products on a shelf and the most profitable route to follow around the store, as well as the most responsive colour schemes, typography and smells.


Data has been used by print and packaging manufacturers to cater for changes in seasonal goods needed at Christmas, New Year and on Valentine’s Day and also for regionalising packaging by including information about the carbon miles travelled and the distance from source. Ultimately, big data allows manufacturers to use customer information to specifically influence packaging design.


Although big data can provide the strategy to influence business decisions on marketing, investment and growth, it is social media which acts as a catalyst, fuelling the adoption and proliferation of any personalisation initiative. Techniques include Twitter hash tags like #shareacoke, QR codes, mobile apps like Blippar, offering augmented reality marketing, and Facebook competition pages – offering prizes for the most shared and liked posts.


There seems to have been a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour, partly due to the rise in Internet shopping and the transparency resulting from social networking and partly due to the 2007 global economic recession. Consumers are now aware of their surroundings and their impact upon it, more than ever before. It is becoming harder for retailers to retain long-term loyalty. Environmentally conscious, cost savvy and variety-seeking customers are now the norm.


However this doesn’t mean that loyal customers aren’t out there. A recent case study, conducted by market research firm YouGov, looked into what brands can learn from the successful Share a Coke campaign. It concluded that if such a ubiquitous brand can replace its logo with an individual’s name, this can really speak to consumers. “The campaign showed that when personalisation works it can be highly engaging and effective,” explained the report. 


Marketers were reminded that, only through the use of social media as a sharing platform, could brands hope to generate closer and deeper engagement with consumers, thus creating a sense of loyalty and ultimately repeat purchases. This is why numerous campaigns have attempted to emulate the success achieved by Coke.


Heinz, a company with an equally long brand heritage, took the personalisation to the next level by inviting customers to directly customise their own labels for bottles of ketchup and tins of baked beans. This was subsequently emulated by The Famous Grouse for its range of bottled whiskies.


Retailers offering personalised packaging have found that it extends the useful range of a product from a simple inelastic necessity purchase, to a more luxurious and valuable gift item for special occasions such as birthdays and weddings. They are also hugely popular as a simple thank you.


Many may question how this is profitable. Isn’t tailoring print runs for individual variations extremely inefficient, costly and time consuming? Admittedly, this has been true in traditional offset lithography printing. Usually, four-colour, custom etched and chemically treated printing plates are required for each impression. Changing plates for minor typographical variations would just not be economic for standard products. 


However, the advent and rapid development of digital printing has revolutionised the flat sheet print industry. With the ability to print directly from desktop publishing software, digital printing is capable of shorter print runs with a high level of variability possible between one piece and the next. 


In a technique known as variable data printing (VDP), software is used to bring together the information generated in big data analysis, from a database, directly into the desktop publishing platform via a software plug-in. This means that graphical and textual information can be instantly varied on a single print run, without affecting production speeds. 


The obvious advantages to businesses are significant. More effective marketing and personalisation campaigns, especially those tailored store-to-store, will have a greater impact on consumer spending, ultimately yielding a higher return on investment.


However, it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds; there are a few prerequisites. Capital investment in capable plant as well as production confidence are both key. A fast response and lean infrastructure is required for personalisation campaigns, packagers need to be mindful to the often time-specific and dynamic retail market. If campaign delivery is poorly timed, this could have a negative backlash on brand image as well as surplus stock.


KJB have recognised the need for packaging personalisation, using overprint techniques for instance. Use of its waterproof and tear resistant material ‘Ecolast’ for personal, regional or locality labelling has also proven effective. 


It is evident that big data has and will continue to play a pivotal role in the expansion of the retail industry, both in store and online. The ability to personalise effectively has a lot to say about your business operations. The use of big data is expected to become more prevalent in tandem with the rise and growth of social media. 


Networks like Facebook continue to grow with recent acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp, totalling $20bn. It appears then, that big data will become more intimate and adept at catering for our individual tastes in products and services. You can certainly expect to spend more time searching supermarket shelves for the ideal Share-a-Coke style product in the future. 


Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall