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The Value of Marketing in the Packaging Industry

By AICC Staff

September 12, 2017

Today’s competitive landscape for packaging manufacturers means that they can’t simply let their work speak for itself. While word-of-mouth continues to be an important way to build business, for most it is not enough. Increasingly, manufacturers are turning to marketing agencies to help them deal with what has become a very cluttered media landscape.

Breaking through the clutter to gain awareness, generate preference, and ultimately, gain sales, is critical for all businesses. Packaging manufacturers, though, take a somewhat different approach to getting the word out than others.

The Unique Needs of Packaging Manufacturers

Packaging manufacturers are in a business-to-business (B2B) industry. They’re not marketing direct-to-consumer; they’re marketing to other businesses or, more specifically,

to individuals who work in other businesses. That can be challenging—both because of the increasing number of channels available to connect with various audiences and because of the increasing number of organizations attempting to do just that.

Bringing in the expertise of an outside agency is an option that many organizations consider from time to time.

Joe Morelli is the vice president of sales and marketing for Huston Patterson and was behind the development and implementation of the company’s recent marketing plan. The company, based in Decatur, Illinois, specializes in large-​format printing and has been in business for more than 115 years, making it the longest-standing package printer in North America.

In a B2B environment, marketing is different, says Morelli, who points out that B2B marketers are limited in terms of the platforms they can use cost-effectively to get the word out. “We don’t have 30-second commercials, and we don’t have a long viewing period, so we’re limited to print publications and trade magazines,” he says. “We really have a split second to catch the eye of somebody.” That requires, he says, the ability to grab attention quickly and then to deliver a meaningful and compelling message.

“It forces us to get creative and try to figure out a way to catch somebody’s eye in a split second.”

Huston Patterson worked with an agency back in 2007 to rebrand the organization. An ambitious initiative like that, says Morelli, required the outside expertise of a firm with experience in rebranding and the myriad of activities required to be successful. “We created a new logo, a new website, an internal newsletter, a biannual publication, blogs, and ads—we went all in in 2007, and because of that, we had to go outside of our walls to find the expertise to help us.”

In addition to working with an agency at the time, Morelli says, Huston Patterson also hired someone internally to help manage the agency and the process of creating and executing the campaign. It was a valuable experience, he says. “They were an entirely encompassing organization that really did what we wanted them to do at the time, which was dive headfirst into the deep end of the marketing world.”

Bringing in the expertise of an outside agency is an option that many organizations consider from time to time. There are certainly benefits; there can be some pitfalls as well.

Pros and Cons of Working With Agencies

There are definite benefits to working with an agency, Morelli says. Their experience is the big benefit. “They can tell you exactly what needs to be done and how to do it—that’s the avenue we went with in 2007.” That expertise and the singular focus on marketing that keeps agencies on the forefront of trends and opportunities make them very valuable partners.

There are drawbacks, though. Chief among these is the cost of working with an agency. Agencies, says Morelli, are expensive. For initiatives like their rebranding, that expense may certainly be worth the investment. Now, though, he says, “we do it all internally.”

For those working with an external agency, relationships and open communication are everything. In addition to agency expertise in marketing and marketing execution, it’s important for packaging manufacturers to have a strong relationship with any agency they’re working with, Morelli stresses. “Obviously, you want to feel comfortable with them,” says Morelli. “For us it was a good working relationship in that they were willing to take what we wanted to do and put their expertise into it. They weren’t telling us ‘this is absolutely what you need to do to be successful’—they were taking the input from our people and our executives and going forward based on that.” That kind of strong working relationship, he says, is critical. “Trust and camaraderie are important from day one.”

For those working with an external agency, relationships and open communication are everything.

Kirk Kelso is vice president, sales, at Lewisburg Printing Company (LPC) in Lewisburg, Tenn. Established in 1898, LPC is now in its fourth generation of family ownership. Kelso agrees that a strong working relationship between agency and organization is very important. “A good marketing company provides a service that understands the business culture and the message we want to deliver.” First and foremost, he says, “marketing agencies need to understand their customer’s business model and culture. This will allow them to be on the same page as upper management and how we want our message delivered to the market.”

That deep and solid understanding of the business is a critical factor and one that has moved some in the industry to decide to handle their own marketing needs, drawing on their own deep knowledge of the packaging industry. In addition to the potential of lower costs when handling marketing internally, packaging manufacturers simply know their business better than anyone else, says Traci Strickert, director of marketing for Bennett, a packaging and retail displays manufacturing company with headquarters in Lee’s Summit, Mo. That can be a competency that’s hard to bring in from the outside.

Taking a DIY Approach

At Bennett, says Strickert, “we are the experts in our industry. It makes sense that we tell our own story.” And, she adds, taking the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach by creating an internal marketing team can be more cost-effective than working through an agency. All of Bennett’s marketing, except SEO/PPC is done in-house.

Traditionally, says Strickert, Bennett has relied on direct sales as its primary marketing strategy. Then, in 2016, after an investment in a large-format, direct-to-sheet, production-speed digital press, “it was decided that we needed to pick up our game.

“It was imperative to get our story out, to educate the industry on this new capability and, at the same time, increase awareness of who Bennett is and what we do.” It’s a competitive industry, she says, making communicating distinct advantages critically important.

The approach, she says, relies on integrated marketing—not so different from the approach taken in other industries. It involves a combination of communication initiatives that encompass PR, print, online, and social. Getting the word out in multiple ways helps ensure ongoing awareness.

LPC also currently handles its marketing internally, says Kelso. “Currently, we insource our marketing,” he says. “We have a talented team assembled from different parts of the company. It’s beneficial to get ideas from various perspectives.” Marketing the company is “an integral part of our strategic plan,” says Kelso. “It gives us an opportunity to keep our name in the market, along with updating customers and prospects on what’s new at LPC.”

Creating an opportunity for involvement and participation can be a win-win-win for all involved.

Echoing Morelli and Strickert, Kelso agrees that lower costs and greater familiarity with company culture and goals are big benefits of taking the DIY route. “It also gives our staff the opportunity to be involved in our marketing deliverable and to have some fun building our themes,” he adds. The ability to engage staff is important because, just like consumers and customers, they also have a role to play in terms of spreading positive word-of-mouth about the organization and what it does.

Recognizing the value of these internal brand advocates, Huston Patterson has also worked hard to make people part of their promotion and, says Morelli, that approach is paying off.

Making People Part of the Promotion

width=300At Huston Patterson, people are part of the promotion—and a big part of a recent campaign that has received a lot of positive traction among current and prospective customers, says Morelli. The campaign, titled “Real People,” was created to highlight Huston Patterson’s people in an attention-getting way—“not just the people that are in the field, but the people doing the work day-to-day,” says Morelli. The approach resonated not only with external audiences, but internally as well, he says. The opportunity to be part of the campaign was motivating for staff, he says. “They don’t get a lot of acknowledgment a lot of times—for them to be chosen to be in an ad in a publication created this really cool environment around our plant and in our company.”

The ads are attention-getting and, says Morelli, “people have said a lot of good things about them outside our walls.”

Creating an opportunity for involvement and participation can be a win-win-win for all involved. The company benefits from the input and participation of employees, employees benefit from positive attention and engagement—and customers benefit as well, as they’re allowed a glimpse into the “inner workings” of their packaging providers. People personalize a campaign—and help generate buzz, as Morelli has discovered.

When an Agency Becomes a ‘Must-Have’

Although many organizations choose to handle marketing efforts internally for reasons previously described, there are certainly times when agency expertise can become a must-have, as Huston Patterson’s ambitious rebranding initiative illustrates. Sometimes the required expertise simply doesn’t exist internally. Making the choice to work with an external agency requires carefully researching, evaluating, and selecting a firm that will serve as a good partner.

“As we continue to grow, our evaluation of outside firms will include their ability to understand the message we would like to deliver to the market, their timeliness, and the costs associated with their services,” says Kelso. “Marketing agencies need to understand their customers’ business models and cultures first and foremost. This will allow them to be on the same page as upper management about how we want our message delivered to the market.”

A wide range of options is available in the agency landscape. There are full-service agencies like the one Huston Patterson worked with on its rebranding initiative. There are more boutique-type agencies that may handle very specific elements of marketing—similar to the SEO/PPC firm with which Bennett works. Each organization will need to choose the right combination of talent—internally and externally—based on its capabilities, its needs, and of course, its budget.

What makes an agency valuable and an agency relationship worthwhile? Certainly, the agency’s ability to understand the business—and the target audience. The agency’s technical and professional skills and capabilities are also critical elements in making an agency choice.

Ultimately, though, Morelli points out, what organizations are looking for from their agency relationships are results. “Everybody is striving to get some sort of return on investment,” he says. “Ultimately, a good marketing company would be one that achieves an increase in sales because of what they’re doing. To me, that’s the end goal.”

In addition, he notes: “Marketing companies that succeed are the ones that create some sort of engagement with their audiences—some sort of emotional connection. Ultimately, that’s our goal when we put ads out there. We want to create some sort of engagement, or conversation, that makes people say ‘wow!’ ”

Standing Out

Whether working with an agency or taking a DIY approach, it’s important, says Morelli, “to stand out—to differentiate ourselves from everybody else.” After all, he says, “we have a lot of the same equipment, and we have a lot of the same services. We sell the same quality, and we’re all selling the same thing. It’s our marketing that differentiates us and helps us put our best foot forward.

“At the end of the day, the goal for us is to put ourselves out there in a different way than our competitors do.”


LinLin Grensing-Pophal is a writer based in Wisconsin. She is a frequent contributor to BoxScore.