Answering the imperative for authenticity

The buzzword is innovation. In conference after conference, those who manage contract-packaging services for some of the nation’s foremost consumer goods companies have been saying they are looking to their external partners to be innovative.

They want to be first, fastest, or best in the market. Along the way, they say, innovation would be welcome anywhere in the value chain, from package design to repacking to logistics.

But innovation as a term is used so loosely in packaging circles today that it has some managers scratching their heads in search of practical meaning.

James Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II have developed a perspective that may help clear things up. They’re co-founders of Strategic Horizons, an Aurora, OH, consultancy, and they’re in the business of developing business models to help companies generate economic value for clients like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Kraft Foods on the product manufacturer side and Avery Dennison on the packaging materials side.

With their new book, “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want,” Gilmore and Pine expound on their previous tome, “The Experience Economy,” by observing that we all crave what’s real in our increasingly contrived world. We relish the “appeal of real” in all aspects of our lives, yet too often it is missing. This ideal transcends issues of brand security in assuring that the product inside the package is the real deal.

Gilmore and Pine introduce the authenticity movement in this way: “In a world of paid-for experiences, consumers increasingly question what is real and what is not. As a result, authenticity is quickly becoming the new consumer sensibility—and key business imperative—in determining what offerings consumers buy and who they buy those offerings from.”

They go on to say that in addition to the availability of commodities, cost of goods, and quality service, companies should add authenticity of experience as a management imperative and brand differentiator. Consumers are no longer content with products that are merely available, affordable, and of good quality. The authors assert that people today base their purchases on how well those products conform to their own self-image.

Simply, they want real products from genuinely transparent sources.

What does all this have to do with contract packaging? Those at consumer packaged goods companies who are charged with staging consumer experiences—from brand managers to the marketing department—need their partners in the value chain to step up and help them deliver. As contract packaging’s role expands from merely putting finished goods into primary packages and repacking products, opportunities for the industry to impact the appeal of real are, in fact, very real.

We’ve all heard how it can be effective to identify the end objective and work backward from there to create solutions. If the desired result for a product marketer is brand authenticity and increased sales, then all stakeholders, including those who manage and provide contract-packaging services, must infuse their expertise into making both product and brand authentic.

So for a vacuum pack of dog food, one supply chain role could be innovative processes to assure that each pack consistently resembles the shape of a dog bone.

Gilmore and Pine conclude, “To succeed, managers across most all industries must add to their expertise … an understanding of what their customers consider real and fake—or at least which elements influence such consumer perceptions—about their company’s offerings.” When that happens, possibilities for innovation are boundless.

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