Digital Packaging Summit Day 3 Coverage: How to 'Break Out of the Mold' to Appeal to Brands
How do you “win” a brand as a customer? According to Debra Myers, CEO of Enfusia, a maker of artisanal personal care products, it’s when a converter leverages their expertise to bring something new to the table.
“What can you do that's different for me, that's gonna help my product be better?” she asked. “That's how you win, in my opinion.”
Myers was one of three brand panelists during the opening session during day three of the Digital Packaging Summit last week. The panel was led by Packaging Impressions Editor-in-Chief Linda Casey and also featured Sharon Reiter Lindberg, strategic design lead at Beiersdorf; and Ron Burrage, creative director for hire and consultant, formerly of The Hershey Company, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, and more.
The three panelists shared insights into the minds of brands and what they’re really looking for when it comes to packaging and the relationships they have with their package printers and converters. One of the things they generally agreed on was the importance of printers building a relationship with, and deeply understanding, the brands they work with.
“The thing that is most important is education specific to the brand,” Myers said. “You need to be very intentional about No. 1, who you're targeting and why you're targeting [them], and why you think that they're a good fit for you. And if I'm a good fit for you, make me fall in love with you.”
One of the ways to stand out is to offer brands a glimpse at the personalization and customization possible. Myers shared an anecdote about one printer that found out the name of her beloved cat and printed a sample featuring the cat’s name. The key, however, is to make sure that brands are educated.
Reiter Lindberg shared that her company brought HP in to speak with her team about the Indigo process during a seminar aimed at educating the team about personalization and the possibilities with digital printing.
“How could you think about your brand in a very different way and use the capabilities of digital?” she asked. “How do you really break out of the mold?”
Unsurprisingly, Burrage had similar sentiments to Myers and Reiter Lindberg. He explained that education is the biggest piece of the puzzle in terms of making brands aware of what package printers and converters can do.
“Know that you are subject matter experts,” he said. “That might be via your Instagram account, your social media [channels], your website, what you are showing at trade shows conferences … [it’s a] huge benefit to people in the creative industry.”
Bringing it back to the topic of personalization, Burrage pointed out that customized communication is crucial.
“It's that balance of overcommunication and custom communication, so it doesn't feel like it's just a mass mailing or [that you’ve] cast a really wide net,” he said. “The cat example is the absolute other end of that customization scale. … Just make sure that you are on the forefront of technology, communication, and education is what I'm looking for.”
M&A Activity is ‘Very Healthy’
Once again, Marco Boer, conference co-chair and vice president of I.T. Strategies, to center stage to lead a session about the implications of M&As for packaging converters. Joining Boer were Peter Schaefer, partner at New Direction Partners, and Nitay Laor, vice president of investment banking at Mesirow Financial Holdings.
Laor explained that current interest rates are not impacting buyer participation or valuations, and that M&A activity is “still very healthy.”
“On the contrary, we’re seeing strengthening valuations as there are less quality assets on the market,” he said. “So, buyers are competing for less supply out there, particularly within packaging, and I think what packaging has proven over the last 18 months or so is how resilient the industry is.”
Schaefer agreed with Laor’s assessment.
“A year ago, I think [Boer] and I spoke, and I predicted with the raising interest rates, that ‘23 would be a slower year,” Schaefer said. “What I didn’t realize was that interest rates have risen, but there are more buyers in the industry today than there ever have been.”
Overall, most of the companies doing the acquisitions have a platform investment — “a strategic that is owned by a private equity firm,” Laor said. “So they have the financial backing of a private equity, they have an ease of really raising new funds and injecting capital into the business.”
However, there are still publicly traded companies participating in M&As, too.
In response to Boer’s question about what multiples are being seen, Schaefer said, “Packaging is absolutely commanding higher multiples. And because it’s all about growth. Growth drives multiples.”
In particular, segments such as folding carton, labels, and flexible packaging are “generating double digit organic growth, compared to a GDP growth of two to 2.5%,” Schaefer said.
Digital’s Role in M&A
Laor explained that digital printing equipment serves its purpose, but having your eye on selling your business shouldn’t be the reason you get one of these presses.
“We like to say: Run your business as if you’re not selling anything,” he said.
Instead, if you’re looking to sell, Laor emphasized the importance of making your company’s value proposition clear to the market, as well as building and maintaining a well-invested infrastructure.
When thinking about when to sell, Schaefer shared some words of wisdom: “I would say the optimal time to sell your company is always when you’re on an upward trajectory, but not at the top.”
Digital Printing Now and in the Future
After the M&A discussion, Casey joined Boer on stage to discuss the take-home messages from the Summit for attendees. As has been emphasized throughout, digital doesn’t necessarily need to replace conventional printing methods, but it’s certainly growing as a complementary tool to achieve wide-ranging converting goals.
Some of these goals include meeting customer demand for more versioning and customization and increasing productivity.
“Digital printing technology is getting a lot more productive, and we're seeing that both on the toner side and on the inkjet side,” Boer explained. “And that enables us to become a lot more flexible as to how much we print.”
Now, the old rules of picking conventional for longer runs over digital don’t apply, he said.
In terms of hopes for the future of digital printing, converters are looking for two things in particular: more automation and more simplicity.
“The labor problems are so overwhelming these days, that anything you can do to remove steps out of my process is going to be beneficial, so give me more automation.” Boer said. “And then secondarily, make your technology much easier to learn, because it's not just the young people who are coming in to run digital equipment. Many of my traditional operators have been around for 30 or more years. They want to learn how to operate it.”
However, there hasn’t been much talk of quality improvement or greater productivity.
“I think it really shows that it’s just — the conversation about better image quality is just table stakes at this point,” Casey explained.
When adopting digital processes, it’s also important to recognize the concerns of brands, which include protecting their look and feel, reducing procurement costs, making sure production doesn’t slow down, meeting legal requirements, and sustainability.
Speaking on sustainability, Casey referenced Reiter Lindberg’s and Myers’ thoughts from earlier in the day.
“We had Sharon talk about sustainability being a must because they're having their corporate mandates for 2025,” Casey recalled. “And then we had Deb going, ‘But hold on here. I’d love to be sustainable. I'd love to be eco-minded, but meet me where I am within the company right now. I can't afford the difference in cost.’”
To that point, it’s important to understand where your customer is at in terms of embracing sustainability. Regardless, sustainability is still relevant and should be mentioned to customers as a benefit of digital printing.
The co-chairs also said you should take the chance to educate your customers on the capabilities and limitations of digital printing.
As a final note, Boer highlighted the importance of diversifying and expanding product offerings as other printers — such as those from the commercial sector — close in on packaging and label as the industry trends toward convergence. This is where digital printing can step in.
“The reality is, [digital] is going to be more expensive than conventional printing, and as a result, it has to do something differently,” Boer said. “And that’s really where it shines, and I heard several people in the case studies say we’re now at a stage in our industry that we really cannot do without digital printing and it’s a tool to have.”
Ending on a High Note
To round out the final day of the Summit, attendees and sponsors had a second chance to meet in 1:1s, where many got to meet their future partners.
During the night’s reception, some of the best attendees and sponsors were recognized with awards (See below for the list of winners).
To boost the mood further and end on high note, the group was treated to a performance from an illusionist who got close to the finals round on “America’s Got Talent.”
The palpable, positive energy throughout the three days primed attendees and sponsors alike for next year’s Digital Packaging Summit, which will be the 10th annual event.