28 January 2008

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Inc.

When it comes to packaging, why is there so much stuff?

It really makes me wonder what the makers of some products are thinking when they package their goods... specifically, the makers and/or packagers of ink cartridges. In an attempt to protect myself from unwanted lawsuits, I have disguised the names of these manufacturers... because it's not about whos doing what, but more about what is being done.

My experiences with ink cartridges is limited to 3 brands; Fepson, Scanon & Bhp. What I write here is not at all scientific and is based solely on my use of the ink products for the three disguised brands... here is how they measure up:

1. Fepson. I have owned 6 Fepson printers and really like their print quality as well as their ease of use. Simple, like me. Their packaging however, is not simple at all. First, if you buy the combo pack (bw + colour) you have to get some industrial scissors to cut open the blister pack, then you have two boxes, inside each box is a perforated cello strap which I believe holds the product in place after you open the cardboard box (yeah, go figure), after you tear away the perforated cello strap, you can remove the product, which is inside of an air tight clear cello bag, when you open the bag, you are just one more step away from using the product - a tear away strip of plastic film over the print heads. I may not know all the facts, but I do know this - that's WAY too much packaging for an item that is by its very nature disposable. The air tight cello bag could be printed and die cut to have a peg hole in the top - and there you go - a new package that uses a lot less materials. In addition to that, the colour ink is all in one, so if you run out of yellow, you have to throw out your cyan and magenta, just to get your yellow up to snuff.

Fepson, you waste more on useless packaging than is acceptable and for that, I will begin to phase out your printers in our office and replace them with another brand.

2. Scanon. I have one wide format Scanon printer that I paid a lot for (it dropped in price by 1/3 about 3 weeks after I purchased it). The print quality of this machine is awesome and it has 6 ink cartridges, which means if you run out of yellow, you need to replace only the yellow. The ink cartridges are sold separately which is nice, there are convenience packs, not convenient for my use though, but I may not be in the 'average' use market. Each cartridge comes in a box, which contains a clear vacuum packed cello bag with the cartridge inside.... the cartridge itself has a plastic tab on the bottom which has to be broken off to be placed into the machine. So, the tab, the plastic bag go back into the box and into the garbage. Surely, with a product that has an affixed plastic tab, they can forgo the packaging entirely and put the cartridge on a card with a peg hole.

Scanon, you waste less than Fepson and have terrific print quality... you can stand to waste even less. I will look at Scanon to replace my Fepson printers.

3. Bhp. I use a Bhp printer at home, and I bought it because it did everything (scan, print & read digital media cards). The print quality is not impressive at all, the blacks seem to sit above the paper, giving photographs a real cheesy quality. The thing that really bugs me though is that there is no warning when you are out of ink, it just keeps pushing paper through... with prints getting shittier and shittier with each piece of paper that goes through. Not good when you've sent a large document through to print. So, you run out of yellow, on page 4 of a 47 page document and you get 43 really shitty looking pages... and after you replace the 'tri-colour' cartridge (for just one colour) you have to re-print the job again. The cartridge comes in a fortified box (extra cardboard bits inside for extreme handling), inside that is a printed foil bag re-enforced from the inside with even more card stock, inside that is your cartridge, with a clear plastic film over the print heads that needs to be removed. This comes with a full colour brochure that is folded into a tiny square (which I have never even opened until this blog) as well as a postage paid envelope. The envelope is for you to send your old print cartridge in for recycling - this is by far, the best thing I have seen from any company in any industry (huge green applause to Bhp) to help to reduce waste... assuming it's going somewhere that it will be reused or recycled.

Bhp, you waste less than Fepson, but your prints are gross. You have a terrific recycling program which makes me feel good about using your products - I will by other Bhp products, but not another printer, unless the print technology changes (which is has already I'm sure... it's been 6 months since I bought it).

Any ways, there you go - one grumpy guy's rant over a waste in packaging. When you're designing the packaging for your next widget, don't create waste, use only what you need and use it wisely (make it reusable, or recyclable). Don't just create your packaging a certain way because that's the way it's been done or because that's what the customer expects... we expect more... or less, in this case.

21 January 2008

The Ultimate Brand Experience

I recently spoke at a national convention for one of my clients. It's always a lot of work to put together large presentations especially when it's required each year. However, I push myself each year to create something new and relevant for the audience and I find this very rewarding. I get energized from researching other marketers methods and each year I see more and more companies accepting and trying new strategies... and there are more and more successes to draw from.

Here is a small excerpt from the speech I gave, it's about creating the ultimate brand experience and elevating your brand:

Creating memorable customer experiences is by far the best way to build brand evangelists. Brand evangelists are people that have experienced the brand first hand and will go out of their way to ‘bragg’, ‘promote’ and ‘sell’ your product for you based on their experience… think of them as testimonials on steroids.

Creating brand evangelists is more than just good customer service or marketing though… that’s only part of the puzzle.

The customer experience encompasses all aspects of the customers’ interaction with us. It spans the awareness, first contact, face to face meeting and follow up. This is how the customer interacts and experiences your brand.

If you think about it, all facets of an organization affect the customer experience –

1. The advertising sets the expectation – opinions are formulated by the message and visuals the advertising puts forward. This is where we make our promise to the customer and demonstrate the image/perception that we have to live up to and that they want to associate with.

2. The corporate culture and policies within the company translate into the nomenclature, language and attitude that the customer reads and hears. This is the personality of the company, and, just like in life, there will be people that your personality doesn't agree with... and this is the hardest thing for established operators to grasp: you don't have to please everyone, in fact, don't even try. (I can write an entire blog on this)

3. The technical or product engineering side of the company designs the product to be relevant and necessary. The ease of use, the ease of understanding and its aesthetic qualities nurture the experience.

4. The frontline personnel are the first contact with customers often confirming the first impression and reinforces or destroys what the advertising or marketing has promised.

5. The product delivery can be largest hands on part of the experience and perhaps, if we get to this point, the most powerful. This is the point where we confirm the attributes presented in our advertising, make good on our promises and WOW the customer. Making their experience with us memorable. This is where the customer first touches your brand.

6. The residual – the follow up, future advertising, communications… all of these are equally important to the experience because these back up the experience, keep the customer engaged and remind the customers of the experience they had with us… it’s this reminder that will keep these customers referring. This is what tells the customer they made a good choice in associating themselves with your brand.

Each department, whether training, customer service, support, research & development, marketing, advertising or technical, all have to be focused on the ultimate customer experience for it to truly be memorable. Each department plays a role in developing the experience. This takes some leadership, direction and a belief in your product... that it matters to the customer, and, if it does, you've got a winner - and an evangelist.

Think of some brands you like to be associated with and some that you don't... then think about the experience that each gave. That's your assignment for tonight.



If you get a chance, have a look at the yellow pages from any city at about 1992 and compare the retail listings... you will find one very obvious change... an operator (or two or three) that did not exist in the market, moved in and took over. Seriously, look at the pet food sector, home improvement, book stores or even pharmaceuticals.

In retail, most of these sectors were made up of small businesses or a family business with a number of locations. Easy targets if you ask me. All it took was one person to map out the best business model (usually a great brand experience mixed with a great location) and repeat it (through corporate expansion, buy-outs / take overs or through franchising) - large scale advertising, unique decor and professionalism were different from what consumers were used to seeing from the old operators and enough for them to change their buying habits.

Drive through any power centre and all you will see are nothing but national chains and franchise operations, if you see a small local business, chances are the strip mall is still owned locally as well. This 'globalization' or 'masstardization' of retail is only the beginning. I could go on in greater detail... but, you get the point.

What was my point. Oh yes, this changing of the guard isn't over.

A prediction, one that I made 5 years ago, is starting to come to fruition. Service companies will be the next to fall into massterdization.

As business people become more marketing saavy, and realize the benefits of properly branding themselves (and that's more than a cute logo, folks) the less small time operators there will be. There are also a number of outside influences that will help to change this, like new legislation... there are new building codes, safety requirements and environmental protection laws that affect many businesses bottom line. For instance, a body shop in Alberta will have to incur some heavy costs over the next two years in order to comply with new environmental standards...(I'm not blaming the standards, I'm all for strict environmental standards, it's just an example that will affect the small operators) small shops will sell or close, medium shops will have to either find a niche to fill or eventually sell to the large national shops (which have started to blossom in the last 3-5 years) and the consumer will be left with little by the way of choices. Another example of this are increased errors and omissions insurance costs affect many trades and professions (plumbers, electricians, inspectors, doctors, dentists etc.) and with rises in litigation each year, only the large companies or corporate entities will be able to afford this mandated coverage.

So, the days of being a consumer where you have a multitude of choice in what you want to buy are slowly coming to an end. There is no need to worry though, what you'll miss with genuine personal care will be replaced with corporately mandated greetings and an 'opt in' for regular engagement with their marketing speak.

There is one shining light, however. The trend in marketing is to provide customers with the ultimate experience... few companies will actually pull this off, but there is hope. And, a price tag for it, I'm sure. Watch for the companies that are genuine in this regard, transparent in their operations and serve a higher ideal: the customer.

The personal experience is dead. Long live the personal brand experience.