Glba’s Innovation Funnel Of Packaging Creativity

Packaging in the 21st Century is as much art as it is science and technology, says Stratcom CEO Gail Macleod. Packaging these days is also inextricably intertwined with branding and marketing, she says. 

Stratcom’s clients include Tiger Brands, Distell, Pioneer, Premier, Nestle, AB AnheuserBusch InBev, Coca Cola and Danone. She calls them “local heroes” and “global giants”. 

Macleod is a founder member of the Global Local Branding Alliance GLBA that was established in 2013. Stratcom hosted GLBA’s ninth biannual conference in Sandton in March. The topic: Consumer Insights and Packaging Trends. 

GLBA is an alliance of six other likeminded, multi-award-winning agencies from Germany, the USA, China, Russia, Turkey and Brazil, all of them packaging specialists. 

The Sandton conference covered a wide range of packaging themes: South Africa’s heritage, energy, vibrancy and modern colour palettes; German innovation and engineering; the US trend of regional “antimonolism” an anti-big-establishment move and a return to support of small, local producers; Russia’s disruptive thinking and colour use; China’s digital revolution and Turkey’s emphasis on regional nuances.

 The many different types of packaging possibilities make it impossible to have all the capabilities involved in one outfit, MacLeod says. For starters, the overhead costs would be high. 

Thus, GLBA has become a “sustainable innovation funnel’ and a platform to discuss emerging trends and new technologies breaking into the world of consumer goods and packaging. 

The purpose of that platform, Macleod says, is to identify and leverage the opportunity for clear differentiation in an often-crowded marketplace. There is also an understanding that brands are under more pressure to perform globally. 

GLBA was set up to turn freethinking into action, she says, and to allow member companies to stay relevant locally and globally on creativity, innovation and strategy. 

“It’s important to understand how the best in their region operate,” she says. “That allows you to benchmark yourself, know what you’re really good at and what you need to fix.” 

GLBA is also positioned to tackle growth regions together, providing a local base on five continents. 

The alliance employs talented specialists across all design disciplines, Macleod says. The individual local and regional expertise and original perspectives combine to provide indepth, authentic and actionable consumer research findings. 

“Our design teams engage constantly with one another,” she says. 

Team members also have the opportunity to spend time in partner markets. And they learn to tap into the emotional connections involved in consumer insights, spending and buying patterns. 

“With each agency possessing over 20years of experience, working alongside brand owners at each stage of development, GLBA has the combined skill set to create innovative, disruptive or just plain clever package design solutions that make emotional connections with consumers,” MacLeod says. 

That’s becoming more important given the market age range. 

Millennials are a big opportunity, as the Sandton conference showed, though not predominantly in all regions. Millennials are a driving force in developing markets such as South Africa, China, Russia and Brazil. European markets are ageing, MacLeod says. Packaging and branding trends in those regions aim at maintaining that traditional customer bracket. 

All of that makes packaging for the future a “package deal”. It must be led by consumer insights, needs, science, strategy and a clear vision of branding purpose, says Macleod. Thereafter, that must be translated into packaging. 

She and her team gather intelligence and speak to analysts to determine future market trends. “We look at what’s driving the market and do trend analyses. Part of the strategy is then to define the gap and fill it.” 

Through identifying trends and insights globally, Stratcom has the opportunity to advise brand owners and producers about market opportunities as potential entrants to Africa, she says. The company also advises local producers wanting to enter other markets, such as China, on consumer insights, brand and marketing strategy and distribution. 

One of Stratcom’s USPs is that it’s both a packaging and branding specialist agency. It’s not just the tail of the dog, she says. “We operate at the head and lead the strategy. If we were only at the tail end, we would be reactive and sitting at the design-centric area. “We don’t constrain creatives, but packaging really has to blend art and strategic science these days. If you don’t have a strategic, scientific approach, you might just as well go off and be a fine artist.” 

She should know. Macleod started out as a fine art student then became a commercial graphic designer. Later she added strategic branding consumer insights, business management, financial management, marketing and technology skills to her portfolio. When Macleod founded Stratcom in 1996, she says it was “the first truly niche, integrated packaging company, from concept, sketch, naming, architecture, logo, design and technicalities”. 

She and her team together now have over 90 years of packaging experience. 

Macleod says there are major challenges for all packaging specialists globally. In SA, waste management is a big issue. The industry’s mandate on biodegradable packaging was put before Government in December 2017. 

Clean packaging is a big drive and already mainstream in Europe. Africa will benefit from being more proactive, she says. “But you can’t just wake up on Tuesday and say that your packaging must be biodegradable by Wednesday. You have to look at refining packaging and the window within which you have to rectify offending issues.” 

SA’s big-producer, “local hero and global giant” companies have until September to put to Government their waste management plans, what they will do with packaging and how they will incorporate PDIs previously disadvantage individuals. 

CEOs are also demanding that R&D come up with innovative new ideas but these are not always intertwined with marketing. That makes it difficult for pure innovation to be consumer-centric, she says. 

And marketing departments are getting younger. They are representative of the millennial market but lack corporate support to truly innovate. And if they do innovate and make a mistake, the consequences “can be dire”, Macleod says. 

“Unless there is a truly innovative environment within marketing we won’t see much innovation.” 


Published in: Food & Beverage Reporter, Packaging & Processing Reporter

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