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Digital Packaging a Boxful of – ization Potential.


by Geert Fransen, CHILI publish

The marketing talk is easy, The tech walk too

by Geert Fransen, CHILI publish
by Geert Fransen, CHILI publish

The digital revolution has re-written the rules of the marketing game. And while the packaging industry has recognized the importance of big data and how to monetize that information, somehow it failed to communicate the various packaging techniques available to make the tailoring trend available for customers of any size or application.

This whitepaper hopes to eradicate that thinking. It provides suppliers and print customers with the technical knowledge to assess all options when considering their expansion into digital packaging – and highlights how digital is about much more than just personalization.

Technology has caught up with marketing trends – it’s time for packaging printers and customers to jump on board, get creative and monetize.

  1. The Market(ing)-Ization Of Things

Consumer behavior has evolved from a price-for-quality approach to an ad-hoc attitude. Many consumers give in to instant gratification, regardless of price and quality. They’re also quick to abandon a brand once it’s no longer the ‘brand of the moment’, making it very difficult for brands to build loyalty and foster a long-term relationship with consumers.

The digital revolution turned (some of) us into spoiled, selfish insta-junkies. Information and services must be universally accessible, immediate and personalized. We’ve grown accustomed to buying stuff online, while relaxing in the bathtub. And we don’t even want the hassle of finding stuff that interests us – we expect online retailers to recommend products or brands we might like, based on our search or purchase patterns. We get disappointed when geolocating isn’t working properly, while we’re right in front of a store that sells our favorite beer.

Marketing is all about making the customer fall in love with you. The rise of digital marketing has turned the brand’s relationship status with consumers from “happily married for five years” to “it’s complicated”. They’re still with you because you’ve done it right so far – but some other brand’s marketing is playing the Tinder game and could easily catch their wandering eye.

Nothing else for brands to do but try to keep their lover. So they go back to basics – marketing one-on-one: make them feel special. A trend that got picked up first by the packaging sector, but will soon transpose to other industries as well.

Originally, packaging was simply about protecting the goods. But over the years, it evolved into a communication vessel in its own right – one that conveys product characteristics, brand values, promotions and much more. And given that around 70 per cent of all purchasing decisions are made on the spur of the moment at the point of sale [1] , printers and brands must optimize their packaging to realize its full potential and boost sales.

How? The –ization differentiators.

Digital packaging is more than just personalization. Think customization, regionalization and individualization. Centralization and optimization of your marketing strategy will be your reward.

The Technology Background

Digital print has done away with many of the restrictions that blight conventional print technology. It allows printers to change things quickly and easily, whereas conventional print tends to be more rigid. Above all, digital printing has opened new opportunities. It has enabled printers to develop packaging that’s flexible, nimble and fast-paced. Attributes that lend themselves to creating something bespoke and interesting.

Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” So, can you?

As a result, the technology comes in many forms. Choosing the right technology depends on personal print preferences: quantity, quality, price. At a certain quantity a certain quality comes at a certain price.

The key is to select the best technology for your most re-curring job. When technology can optimize your processes, seize the chance to increase your ROI.

Technology options

Electro photographic solutions established themselves in the market many years ago. Four-color printing – and more – is more the rule than the exception, and delivers some stunning print enrichments. The toner technology even enabled some press manufacturers to obtain food approval certificates.

Digital printing using inkjet technology, however, is relatively new, but has evolved incredibly over the last four years, bringing about new and exciting possibilities. Flatbed solutions have been popular for many years, thanks to the versatility they offer in terms of size, ink types and substrates.

Sheet-fed and web presses were also added to the portfolio, and the printing speed of the latter, as well as the different inks available, show great potential.

A Smithers-Pira report predicts that the majority of digital printing in the packaging industry in 2018 will be done on inkjet machines. [2] That’s because the very nature of digital printing lends itself perfectly to the changes encountered when printing packaging materials. The demand for shorter runs, marketers’ and brands’ far greater interest in the digital approach, and the increasing availability of web-to-pack portals are clear indicators that the time is right to realize the technology’s full potential.

Both toner and inkjet technologies accommodate the conventional approach – multiple copies of the same. However, it’s the digital approach – small or large volume of single copies with unique content – that facilitates diversification. In order for printers to benefit from this, some changes upstream need to be considered.

The digital track

Collecting and organizing data is crucial for successful digital printing. When Ascend2 conducted research into data-driven marketing, 70% of respondents indicated that “personalizing the customer experience” is a top priority. [3]

Collecting data on individuals – such as their preferences, dislikes and purchase history – allows marketers to analyze consumer behavior, based on facts and figures. And when you organize that data, marketers are able to develop a more personal approach, while streamlining and automating the creation and production processes.

  1. Collection

The packaging itself is a key source of data collection. What is sold, where, how, and in what volume? Any logistics chain can supply that information. Smart marketers also turn packaging into a canvas to capture data, with call-to-action smart links or QR codes towards a website that’s data-collection enabled.

  1. Organization

A number of options are available for keeping track of digital assets, and storing and processing data, such as Digital Asset Management (DAM) solutions, Product Information Management (PIM) systems, and custom-made databases.

  1. Development

The centralization and analysis of all this data – ‘the one source of truth’ – gives creative teams the insight they need to develop a targeted marketing campaign. Harnessing data and tailoring content to various demographic, geographical or even individual traits is possible thanks to online editing and digital print solutions that can accommodate any print preference.

Definitions of online editing vary. In this whitepaper, we define online document editing as the possibility to edit/create a professional graphic arts document in a web browser, with the ability to force/protect brand guidelines, without extensive industry knowledge or editing experience.

A solution such as CHILI publisher allows end-users with no knowledge of the industry to create a packaging document that’s not only ready for production, but one that fully respects the rules of the brand and the industry. The ease of integration of these solutions into existing workflows, and the connection possibilities they offer with data-driven solutions, make online editing ideal to unlock any –ization potential.

Allow me to illustrate. The example below shows three packaging sizes: small, medium and large. The sizes also come in different versions. The small size has three different versions, the medium has four, while the large has three. In a conventional environment, a file is made for each of the flavors and sizes – resulting in ten different files. But by using an online editor in combination with variables, this can be reduced to just three templates.


Conventional print

3 sizes

3 versions

10 documents

Online editing

3 sizes

3 versions

3 templates

The color, product name, product image or calories can then easily be changed via the variables in the template.

These variables can be driven in different ways:

  • Manually, by implementing the specs in the product template itself
  • Automatically, by integrating an online editor with a DAM or a PIM solution – also often referred to as the “single source of truth”, as one solution holds the legal statements, product statements, nutritional values etc. The content and rules are defined in the ‘workflow’, while the template consumes the input then produces the required file.

The latter way of working offers great potential. It’s not the topic of this whitepaper, but indulge me in a quick recap.

The benefits

  • True WYSIWYG – 3D document preview
  • Browser operative – no need for install/purchase/add-on software
  • Cross-department coop
  • User experience adapted interface and rights
  • Change traceability
  • Data-driven solution connection (single source of truth)



  • Reduced risk of human error
  • Easier design changes
  • Shorter approval cycles
  • Reduction in total number of files to be maintained
  • Reduced cost of file admin


The result

  • Faster go-to-market
  • Quick response to market changes
  1. The –ization Differentiators

Although we’re just at the tip of the iceberg at this point in the process, we see the following –ization options that will enable marketers to diversify.

A higher level of standardization implies the design is less individual, generating multiple copies of the same package. A higher level of variability implies less standardization, and immediately increases the chance for a unique copy.

The different – izations relate to a certain level of variability and standardization, in combination with the amount of identical copies. Flexibility increases when the design becomes more and more individual.

To be clear, the graphic doesn’t take profitability into account. When opting for individualization, some standardization is necessary to make it profitable – for example, standard sizes, so only the print is individual.

2.1 Regionalization

What – elements on the packaging differ from region to region.

When is this most valuable? Mainly when developing packaging in different languages.

A key aspect here is legislation: different rules apply in different regions. This is not limited only to which ingredient list is displayed where on the package, but also includes which languages must be used on the packaging. Different standards apply for electronic appliances in different parts of the world – CE for Europe, CSA / UL for North America. The chemical and pharmaceutical industries are probably the most comprehensive and therefore the most challenging examples. Combining the database assets with a web-to-pack solution is a proven way to reduce human error and shorten approval cycles. All legal information is then stored in a database, which updates the packaging document and automatically initiates and traces an approval cycle after changes have been implemented.


However, regionalization can also extend far beyond displaying legal information on the box. You could, for example, regionalize a logo. Or use a product statement that better suits a specific region, as competitors may differ in various markets. Changing the color of the packaging so it stands out more (or blends in better) could also be a viable strategy.

2.2. Customization

What – diverse alteration.

The application options with customization are as diverse as the name indicates. Customization may involve seasonal or promotional elements that are added to a standarddesign for a temporary campaign, or colors that are altered for a limited edition. In a web-to-pack environment, this can be done manually by adding the elements in an online editor tool, or automatically via a connection to a central database.

Customization can also imply that packaging for a product is made in different flavors or models. The design template is the same, but the product information – name, flavor, color etc – is changed accordingly. For example, a hairdryer can be shown as available in different colors. Or one packaging design theme may be used for a variety of meat products. Using a web-to-pack solution with an online editor would require only one update of certain elements, and wouldn’t require creating a totally new document (see the Withworths example described in 3. Development).

When is this most valuable?

When you want to standardize documents based on packaging size / die-cut. Or when you want to react quickly to market trends. It enables marketers to launch campaigns that include time-limited and/or seasonal promotions

2.3. Individualization

What – unique customer experience. Individualization covers more than just personalization. Personalization tends to be a somewhat ‘burned’ term that most people associate with simply adding someone’s name and address to a document. Individualization is actually much broader than that – it’s all about making the document unique to an individual. This can include name and address, but also images, shapes and colors. An entire package can be tailored to one person: name, address, favorite color, the shape they best respond to, and their preferred font. And why not go even further – cut the shape and size of a box to personal preferences, if the cut is done on a cutting table or laser cutter

Word to the wise – profitability shouldn’t be neglected. Some standardization is required, depending on the application.

When is this most valuable?

No doubt this approach provides the ultimate customer experience. It can be applied not only to the packaging design, but also to the collateral and promotional material accompanying the packaging. A hypothetical example is someone joining a weight-loss program, like This program includes a personal coach who helps change your eating habits. Their advice entails the sale of weight-loss nutrients and sharing recipes. The goal is not just to lose weight, but to maintain the target weight. The key elements here are that the customer is known, the progress in the program is known and, most importantly, the customer’s ordering pattern is also known. Packaging can be tailored specifically to this customer. Name, address, picture, language, including a badge for every achievement since joining. Each shipment can contain a personal note, or another recipe suggestion: “We noticed you prefer bacon-flavored shakes. Here you go, our top-ten recipes.” Once the goal is achieved, you can reach out again, this time with a tailored consolidation program. It all adds up to a truly individual experience – one that’s far more likely to build loyalty and support customer retention.

The results of engaging in the –ization trend are twofold:


All digital marketing documents are stored in one central location. The metadata of each file allows marketers to maximize content for future/other (cross) references.


Marketers have no excuse for not putting all that digital material and content to good use. With the assets and database aligned, a creative team has the technology to bring data to life and build a brand that consumers will love. But please remember: implementing any of these –izations in a packaging production environment (design/ordering, production, delivery) will require some changes.

An online editor enables people without a graphic arts background to implement changes. Smaller run lengths are the standard, and since -ization makes it easier to run seasonal campaigns or respond faster to trends, an investment in digital printing – inkjet or toner-based – is inevitable to increase the value of print to the print buyer. The more individual the printed packaging, the more individual the delivery has to be too.

Up next, revisiting the traditional supply/delivery chain.

  1. The –izatıon Pioneers: to market, to market

We now know the various –ization differentiators. But as mentioned earlier, there’s still disbelief that the technology is accessible to anyone. And yet it is, as the examples below show:

3.1. Coca-Cola share-a-bottle campaign

Description: customizing the label of a Coca-Cola bottle.

-ization: the major print runs with generic names fall under the customization category, orders via the website come under individualization.

3.2. Vedett

Description: personalizing the label of a beer bottle.

-ization: individualization, as the label is tailored to the Twitter avatar of each attendee at a small/medium/big party.

3.3. Twix-Raider

Description: time-limited re-entry of the product under its former brand name ‘Raider’ in the Netherlands, as part of a one-off, special edition retro campaign (Twix vs Raider).

-ization: customization

3.4. Walkers

Description: exclusive and limited end-of-the-year campaign. Via the Walkers website, a personal message can be submitted for printing on a favorite crisps packet.

-ization: individualization.

3.5. Heinz Soup, Nutella, Marmite, The Famous Grouse, Firefly

Description: Creating a personalized label on demand.

-ization: individualization

3.6. Ola

Description: Famous brand sells ice cream in different countries under a different brand name, but the graphic element remains consistent.

-ization: regionalization.


  1. Case In Point

When we say anybody can do what Coca-Cola did, we mean anybody. Here are some companies who take the lead:

De Budelse – Bringing a bottle no longer needs to be impersonal.

Show your good taste in wine and your way with words. And packages.

Folded Color – Your present is a bit bigger than your average alcoholic beverage carrier.

Not to worry, get your package tailor made. Perfect personal fit.

Raja – anybody can ship a standard cardboard package.

You can make yours stand-out with a personalised ribbon. Customer can reuse the box (how green!), but they will know immediately upon delivery who sent it to them.

Esko – The Webcenter is a packaging management solution.

It allows you to manage all the complexities of creating packaging: from specification and execution to design and content management. This management solution makes it easy to classify and organize all your packaging assets.

Galilée – it’s all about the partner you choose.

It holds for life, and definitely for work. Check out how a Galilée, DALIM Software and CHILI publish partnership changed a food retailer’s customer approach forever.

Beercompany – we’ll give you a taste of our own beer.

Hit the link below and select the “no log-in yet”. After leaving your data, you’ll receive a confirmation. Once aproved, you can play around with the template. Discover the joy of online editing without needing your graphic designer by your side. > (click on: “no login yet”)

  1. Conclusion

The world of digital packaging and its application solutions are expanding. Packaging is no longer rigid – it has become as responsive and agile as the solutions it has integrated within its workflow.

Investment in digital technology is inevitable. And whether it’s a data infrastructure, an online editor, or a digital printing press, marketers and print service providers must ensure they realize the technology’s full potential in order to maximize ROI. To take a cliché literally, it’s time to “think outside the box” – why limit the use of the technology to packaging? Packaging is in essence just a way of shipping (physically or by persuading someone to buy) a product to its destination (by protecting it during transport or to the customer’s doorstep).

Customer persuasion should also not be limited to the package only. The -ization elements can also be applied to marketing collateral, POS materials and advertising, using the exact same technology as that used for digital packaging. By relying on a database as ‘the one source of truth’, all these elements can be “customer triggers” in a more streamlined and individual way.

As for digital marketers, it’s time to put all that customer information to good use. Take advantage of the technology that’s readily available – it’s guaranteed to become a new source of data collection.

And to packaging experts who know the tech walk but haven’t had the marketing talk, we hope this white paper will help you when exploring your options.


[1] Stora Enso Packaging Solutions, 2016, Viewpoint. Retail Packaging: 2016 and beyond., p. 2. Packaging_English_low%20res.pdf .

[2] Smithers-Pira, 2015, The Future of Digital Print for Packaging to 2020.

[3] Ascend2, Leading Marketing Solutions Providers, 2015, Data-Driven Marketing, Research Summary Report. ntent/uploads/Data-Driven-Marketing-Summary- Report-141113.pdf

About Geert Fransen

Geert Fransen’s roots in the graphic arts industry run deep, with consecutive and different roles at Agfa, Xeikon, Unibind, Creo and Kodak. His experience covers the entire Graphic Arts process from design to prepress over print to finishing. His drive is stimulated by the evolution of variable data printing. Above all, he is a strong advocate of common sense, especially when it comes to enlightening people on their VDP options and opportunities.

#GeertFransen #GeertFransen #CHILI #Digital #Packaging


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