Takeaways from Package Design Matters Conference 2017

Did you make it down to the Package Design Matters Conference last week? If not, no worries, CSW was there. We brought back some great insights to share.

If you’re not familiar with this conference, you should be. Sponsored by the publishers of Package Design magazine, PDMC brings together key players in package design and development:

• Big, forward-thinking brands
• Creative designers and agencies
• Innovative, resourceful suppliers

Here are just a few of our takeaways for 2017 – it’s by no means a comprehensive rundown of all the content.

Aligned packaging design production servicesBe a partner, not a supplier.

PDMC usually holds pre-conference events for designers, such as The D Event or The Strategic Design Firm Leadership Summit. This year they also held a workshop for suppliers, covering best practices and must-haves to keep in mind when navigating between brand, procurement, and other partners in the supply chain.

The biggest takeaway here was: be a partner, not just a supplier. Brands, designers, printers, and other suppliers who collaborate early on will understand each other’s businesses and bring each other solutions. Designers can push digital and print suppliers for innovation, while materials suppliers can bring new ideas back to brand for suggested implementation.

Supporting this insight was a general session on building better business relationships, featuring panelists from DBA, PepsiCo, 3M and creative agency LPK. While speed, cost and capacity are important factors in choosing and keeping a supplier, all agreed that cultural fit and empathy – or understanding of their business – are often just as valuable. They look to suppliers to identify and create value above and beyond the brief.


Be a partner, not a client.

Speaking of which, I also attended a breakout panel discussion on writing better creative briefs – attendees revealed that many of us often work without one. Panelists in this session included product managers, marketers and designers from Newell Brands, Zippo, Wrigley, and The Goldstein Group.

All agreed that a good brief makes projects run more smoothly, and the level of detail included may depend on the size of the project. The brief is a living document (at least at the beginning). Brands should articulate business as well as project goals clearly, so suppliers understand limitations as well as opportunities – this goes back to the idea of “empathy”. Designers and other suppliers should paraphrase what the scope and required deliverables are and present this back to their clients in a visual way, early on: “You need this, NOT this, right?” This gives clients the chance to clarify and/or adjust scope.


Be specific.

We heard during the business relationships session with 3M and Pepsi that big brands use a mix of holistic agencies for strategy, and specialist suppliers for specific project execution. If you’re on the execution side, as we are, “go narrow, not broad”, and be the best possible resource for your area of expertise. This doesn’t mean we should never look up from our own path, however. Check out other suppliers and innovations that may have an indirect impact on what you offer your client – AKA your partner.

Being specific also relates to marketing. Drew Neisser, CEO of social marketing firm Renegade, told us on Day 2 that he’s learned to segment his clients/readers/followers on social media and execute against those who are most engaged, rather than try to appeal to a much broader base. The same would likely apply to market-testing your product and packaging.


Be multiple.

This idea of plurality comes from two sessions. One was a panel discussion on the need for organizational diversity within brands and partners, and the other was Grant McCracken‘s presentation on multiplicity in consumer culture. In the US, we are used to the idea of linear transformation. Most rags-to-riches or founding father stories feature this, as does the career of pop stars like David Bowie or Madonna, who re-invented themselves with every new album.

McCracken points out that not only has the culture splintered into many sub-groups, but the people within those groups are also multiplied. Millennials, in particular, maintain multiple jobs and side-hustles. Gender and racial identities have become more fluid. Superheroes transform themselves – and us – every weekend at the movie theater, and and cosplayers embrace temporary self-transformation. Consumers want to do more and be more – so this goes beyond seasonal, regional or randomized packaging personalization. We have to find out how to optimize the multiple personas of our clients and/or consumers.


Be all of these – online.

Amazon is the Wal-Mart of eCommerce – by which I mean that the expectations they have of their suppliers will have a ripple effect across our supply chain. Luckily, Brent Nelson from Amazon walked us through some of those expectations and best practices. eCommerce continues to grow, and brands need to be wherever their buyers are, from web to mobile to in-store.

To be a better partner for your clients, learn what Amazon needs in terms of packaging tailored to fit their distribution process.

To be a better partner for your suppliers, let them know that you plan to sell your product online and in-store. eCommerce doesn’t need billboard space to sell the product, because digital product shots with multiple views will do that for you. It DOES need right-sized packaging that minimizes waste and protects the product.

To be specific, design a separate package to meet Amazon’s goals (or Home Depot’s, or Wal-Mart’s, or…), instead of assuming you can just set it and forget it.

To be multiple, make sure your design ALSO meets your client’s goals for delighting the consumer once the packaging arrives. It doesn’t have to be just a brown box – especially on the inside.


As I said above, there was so much more to this conference – tabletop vendors featuring innovations in materials, services and technology; networking events; and an awards gala. See you there next year.


Create, then CSW: Aligned packaging design production services


For more on how CSW can be a better partner to optimize your packaging, contact us today.

Posted by Karen Leet, MarCom Manager