New tactics are needed for the post-Covid world, writes Bob Cronin of The Open Approach
Labels and packaging have always been important facets of our customers’ businesses, be it housing for barcodes, ingredient information, product display/protection, or simply carriers for high-impact visual merchandising and branding. But their perceived worth by the buyer has changed. While end users are now expecting more from the label or package (better messaging, safety/tamper resistance, ability to clean/sanitize a purchased product, trackability, etc), some of our customers think they should cost less.
This is not because these customers believe we’re not as important. Rather, it’s trickle-down thinking as they remain in recovery mode. Some industries have been able to adapt their business model (and operational expenses) to Covid-19 better than others. And some have simply not caught up. The continual evolution and ping-ponging of regulatory requirements are making it difficult for many to stay in business.
Rather than acquiescing to razor-thin margins, we need to rework these perceptions. During uncertain times, people want confidence. And this can start with confidence in their suppliers. The label and packaging business has always been built on relationships, and we need to return our customers to that thinking. So how do we build, protect, and grow our business now?
1. Focus on service/ease of doing business
Every label and packaging company’s website talks about how they are experts in customer service. Yet, few take any defined or meaningful approach. In an era where customers have gone from welcoming your occasional visit to taking great lengths to avoid proximity, the relationship aspect has tanked. This lack of personal contact makes orders more transactional, and thus the emphasis on cost.
You need to make it easy to do business with you – in today’s times. Streamline ordering and RFQs. Leverage your IT team to build personalized landing pages, ordering portals, or digital news feeds with special offers. Keep customers posted on any inventory they have and what they’ve ordered the same time last year, and provide ongoing email/text status reports of all jobs in process. Make it easy for customers to purchase, track and monitor any project or program 24/7, or explore new product options. Give them multiple contact points so that they can get answers quickly.
2. Re-evaluate how you go to market
Print providers in general are historically poor at marketing their own services. And with Covid, traditional connections such as direct sales, distributors, trade shows, and associations have nearly vanished. Additionally, remote workforces mean your direct mail campaigns stack up in the mailroom until someone throws them out. Clearly, you need to change how you go to market.
In a Covid world, you need great digital. First, update your website. Decrease emphasis on your history, equipment lists and industry jargon, and showcase novel and cost-saving solutions. Demonstrate how your specific manufacturing, substrates, capabilities and handling processes have changed and how they can offer an advantage today.
Second, enhance your social media presence. This is key for current customers, but also vital in attracting prospects. Experiment with all types of posts and measure their effectiveness. Do creative videos. Promote and provide incentives for your customers to follow you. And give them great content that they’ll share. Wrap up your digital thinking with consistent and quick email touches. No one has time to read a quarterly customer newsletter. Feature a success story, provide a limited-time coupon, or offer a contemporary promotional item (hand sanitizer, keyboard cleaner, custom-printed mask, or something you can produce) that will keep you top of mind. Examine every customer engagement channel, and maximize every opportunity.
3. Become experts in your customers’ business
Nothing makes a label and packaging company quite as successful as its understanding of the customer. Every company in every industry has been affected by Covid — good, bad, or both. Healthcare/pharmaceutical packaging, food labels/packaging, consumer goods, and others need to adhere to CDC/FDA requirements and cautions. Large retailers continue to replace signage and floor decals to meet new standards. Restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality enterprises now need label/packaging items they never did before. These drivers are all affecting how, why, and what label and packaging users are buying. By getting more entrenched in your customers’ business, you can better understand what’s on the horizon, and help them get more proactive and efficient in their spending.
4. Deliver new solutions
Innovation has always been at the crux of the label and packaging business, and is even more important now. When Covid hit, it stopped a lot of us (and our customers) in our tracks, hesitant to make any moves, investments, or changes. But you can’t continue to wait for things to happen to your company. You need to start making them happen for you.
Focus on R&D. Are there solutions you can create to solve some of your customers’ (or your) new challenges? Can you fine-tune any existing product to better protect, display, or enhance visibility? Are there new label substrates or inks that can help enhance hygiene of the products they get attached to?
If you can’t develop innovations alone, consider a strategic partnership or an acquisition. Either way, consider an investment that will improve productivity, efficiency, and throughput. And make sure it directly benefits your customer. Even simple actions to grow during these times will enhance perceptions about your company – and your value.
I hope these considerations provide some fodder as you retool your strategic growth strategy for the new world. My next article will explore specific steps you can take to optimize your customer approach. Growing your business – and thriving – through this strange ‘new normal’ is possible. Face it positively, yet realistically, and don’t be afraid to make changes as you go.