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Measuring innovation capability

Key measures used by The Estee Lauder Companies to qualify contract packagers' design capabilities are applicable for many packagers and marketers.

Leading-edge contract packagers are going beyond filling and assembling packages. They're designing them, too, in response to product manufacturers' growing requests for turnkey service. For managers who assess co-packer services, some key measures can be taken to qualify the contract packagers' design capabilities.
If the use of a contract packager makes sense for your packaging needs, qualify the packers design department based on its ability to inspire through design rather than merely creating look-alike packaging. Packagers that operate in innovative cultures produce the best results, says George Kress, vice president of corporate packaging innovation at The Estee Lauder Companies. Speaking at the recent Packaging Summit, Kress listed four yardsticks to use in measuring design capability: 

Ability to discover the inspiration. Concentrate on ideas where form complements function. The ClearRX pharmacy bottle introduced at Target (see New drug bottle ā€˜Targets' safety concerns) has won rave reviews from both consumers and pharmacists for its ease of use. Through color-coded rings on the bottles and easy-to-read labels with a clear hierarchy of information, patients know which bottle in the medicine cabinet is theirs, and how much medication to take and when. 

Ability to know the target consumer. "You can't innovate unless you know who you're innovating for," Kress says. The designer needs to get into the "space" of the consumer who will be using the product and work backward from the consumers point of view. 

Ability to engage all stakeholders as a team. "Unless you bring in outside people with ideas and morph them together with your own, your idea is always going to be in your pocket," Kress stresses. Here's one approach: Select a design idea and ask the design team to drill down on that idea in all aspects of their work on your project. 

Demonstrable commitment to creative thinking. "Unless there's a culture to support and nurture innovation, it's not going to work," Kress notes.

Estee Lauder often enlists the services of contract packagers, and they contribute to the process of developing innovative ideas. Concepts are nurtured through the company's Innovations Group. Kress says that about 20% of the new packaging ideas that the Innovations Group presents to brand managers actually go to market.

"I expect the suppliers who have the lion's share of our business to come to us all the time with new ideas," Kress says. 

This article was from the September 20, 2006 issue of the Contract Packaging e-newsletter, edited by Jim George editor-in-chief.

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