It’s no secret that global brands can spend millions on branding, packaging and marketing campaigns while brokering deals with retailers to secure premium retail positioning. Global brands have long enjoyed all the benefits of mass production such as cheaper unit costs, bulk distribution and the ability to dominate shelf space through sheer volume, all of which are typically out of reach for smaller local businesses. However, thanks to changing consumer habits and innovations in digital print technology, small to medium businesses now have an increased focus on both branding and customer communications, and greater ability to make it work for them.

While having a one-for-all global design can be an effective brand strategy for packaging, in local markets consumers are likely to have different behaviours or preferences. Despite having the advantage of volume and reach, global brands don’t always get it right.

We have all heard or seen a packaging faux pas, whether it be bad translations or unfortunate designs that cause offence. Such mistakes illustrate the importance of research in local regions for global companies. The little details can make a huge difference to the consumer experience and a brand’s reputation.

This is when brand strategy and local customization need to work together. Brands, whatever the size, should take the time to fully understand local markets when working with packaging designers. The pressure is not only on from the local consumer but also the local retailer; with sustainability high on the agenda for many, avoiding wasteful mistakes is an imperative.

Craft beer is a good example where smaller producers have increased focus on branding in recent years. Craft beer and, in fact, many beverage products (cider, wine, ready-to-drink cocktails and even non-alcoholic beverages) are commonly produced in smaller batches, celebrated for their uniqueness and sold locally.

Many breweries have already made a move from traditional bottling processes to using cans, since these offer a full 360° circumference for marketing and branding. This can be more cost-effective than a bottle and label. New printing technologies are allowing brewers to not only explore creative branding opportunities, but to also include additional information to tell their story and sell their products, such as offers which can be accessed through unique promotional codes. With direct-to-shape digital print capabilities for cans, businesses can refocus their marketing efforts, frequently without the traditional barriers of cost and time that conventional print processes present.


The Game-Changer

It’s easy to see why many brands have already opted to digitally print their packaging. It’s undeniable that digital processes have positively impacted marketing methods and will continue to rise in popularity. Many of the larger brands have adopted digitally printed shrink sleeves that are then applied to bottles and cans, to create marketing hype and increase consumer focus on their traditional products. The same approach has been taken by craft beer companies, using digitally printed shrink film and paper labels, however, this was primarily to overcome the minimum order boundaries set by can suppliers.

This is where direct digital printing on cans steps in.  Traditional printing processes for beverage cans are only financially viable with minimum orders of around 150,000 blank cans. Add that to lead times of several months, even for version changes, and it’s easy to see how digital is gaining preference in package printing.

Digital printing directly onto cans is very cost-effective, allowing brands to capitalize on short-run packaging for limited editions or special promotions. Products can be canned and printed exactly as required, in the quantity needed, without any of the set-up costs or time required for traditional printing formats.


Limitless Design Possibilities

The true advantage of digital print is that every single can could be produced with a different image, creating virtually limitless design possibilities. Long lead times and minimum order constraints are eliminated, so essentially a digital can printing solution removes one of the most expensive and restrictive parts of beverage production today—traditional bottling and labelling.

The new digital printing technologies are capable of printing several batches a day, decreasing product time-to-market. This means that larger breweries can leverage digital print to respond to market or seasonal trends, and produce limited edition versions for events and social media campaigns much more easily.

Digital print can also potentially have a significant impact on a small producer’s ability to expand beyond the local limitations. By leveraging the full marketing potential of packaging design, products can be tailored to maximize appeal in different regions or offer promotions in partnership with other local brands or cultural events on a national or international scale. Not only that, digital print reduces the risk of over-production. This means improvements to packaging design can be made almost immediately in response to local market conditions. 

In fact, brands should start to look beyond digital print for customization and limited-edition products, and start to take full advantage of this technology for its economic and time-to-market advantages for mainstream packaging decoration on any scale.


Engaging Customers

Interactive packaging design will become more common as more brands adopt methods to engage with customers through content such as how-to videos, coupons and promotions which can be accessed on a smartphone or tablet via a printed code or augmented reality app.

This will also have a significant impact on the kinds of data that brands are able to collect about the consumers who are interacting with their packaging. Even the smallest producers will be able to learn a great deal about how to improve their brand’s appeal through small tweaks and variations to their packaging.

For effective consumer engagement and communication, digital print really can take brand marketing to a whole new level. There is a huge opportunity for brands to engage, entertain and educate consumers in real time, opening the door for brands to capitalize on specific packaging features for local markets, while also empowering small producers to access global markets.


It’s About Balance

Customization and regionalization can attract more customers, but shorter print runs are often not feasible with traditional printing processes. Digital print for packaging makes the short runs required for brand differentiation increasingly accessible for smaller brands. True customized packaging is key to unlocking significant marketing opportunities for a variety of business models.

When the balance between global and local branding is achieved, consumers are left satisfied, and sales are certain to increase. Packaging is integral to your brand, so be sure it gets the attention it deserves. Custom digital printing operations on various types of substrate should be a consideration for any brand, regardless of size.