Nothing is as consistent as change. And while change is around us continually, the pace of
change facing the next generation of leaders in the packaging industry will make today’s pace of change feel downright glacial.
Every generation thinks differently. Your grandfather probably never dreamed he could own a car. Your father was a hot-rodder and was not afraid to stick his nose under the hood. You were into muscle cars and performance, but you purchased power rather than investing sweat equity to increase performance.
But your children, the next generation of decision-makers, don’t even want to own a car. They can get from place to place using Uber. They are turning a sunken cost into a marginal expense.
The next generation sees transportation as a utility rather than a lifestyle. Your father’s generation of uniformity and your generation’s entrepreneurism are being tossed aside for groupthink and infinite customization to a consumer base of one.
For better or worse, they just see the world differently than their parents did.
Same, but Different
Think of the shopping experience over the last four generations. Your grandparents ordered from the Sears catalog. Being able to purchase from a catalog offered many more choices than the local general store, and at a much lower cost. Packaging was an afterthought.
Your parents shopped at the first generation of shopping malls that resulted from suburbanization. They were influenced by what they saw on TV and assumed the printed box they brought home contained some semblance of what they expected.
You shopped at smaller specialty stores that catered to your particular tastes, and the packaging and displays played a critical role in your decision. You were conscious of “brands” and trends, and stores were staffed with knowledgeable professionals who understood your tastes.
Your children order from Amazon.com, and it shows up in a brown box from UPS. It may or may not fit, but it can always be returned.
Based on these observations, there are five major trends that will dominate the future of packaging solutions. Each of these will be implemented in ways yet unseen, but we can make some general observations and comments.
The Death of Retail
Real estate is expensive, and it represents dead money. Shrinking workflow and logistical demands can reduce costs and increase efficiencies. The hollowing out of major cities in the 1970s will repeat with malls and traditional purchasing patterns crumbling. Any retailer that does not plan to become virtual and logistical is in trouble. Any packaging company not helping their customers become virtual is in just as much trouble.
It’s Digital or Dead
Digital printing is here. While more and more plants are taking the digital plunge, few companies have a comprehensive strategy for the future. You will make large investments with larger risk than ever before. And by the way, the lifespan of digital equipment will be a less than the machine(s) replaced.
Analytic tools will help tie everything together, from who performs on the factory floor to understanding the changing purchasing and products you supply. There is an old saying that fortune favors the bold. Today, fortune favors the astute, who are investing heavily in analytics.
With today’s digital technologies, there is no compelling imperative for mass consumption when you can tailor a solution for your clients. Imagine digitally printing corrugated boxes with each having a unique personalization.
Millennials are enamored with virtual reality. Millions turned out a few years ago to chase Pokémon characters that existed only in the ether. Presenting packaging designs in 3-D motion, making changes on the fly, will be the new norm.
Hugh E. Keough once wrote, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the best way to bet.” Like it or not, you are going to make big bets that will affect the viability of your company. Bet smart.