Unreasonable expectations: we have all been subject to them and some of us have subjected others to them. Sometimes, our expectations are too high, but sometimes our own imaginations are limiting our progress. I believe the latter is true for product packaging.

According to InfoTrends, the average consumer goods company takes 6.6 months, or 198 days to execute a change to product packaging through the convoluted, manual, collaboration-intensive process that is often referred to as “artwork management.” We’re not talking about a re-launch or re-design; we’re talking about a change to a claim or an ingredient or another “touch” of some kind to a SKU.

"The expanded reach of core packaging systems with augmented or artificial intelligence enables leaders to measure not only the productivity of their teams but the performance of the value chain participants"

The struggle is real.

And according to the CMO Council’s research, chief marketing officers believe it only takes about 90 days and wish it took only 30 days to make these packaging changes. Even more paralyzing: on average, consumers think packaging changes should take just one single day.

I choose not to think about how devastating the gap is between these different sets of expectations. Instead I choose to ask a simple question: What would it take to achieve such expectations?

To meet those unreasonable expectations, we need to raise our own expectations of packaging to unreasonable heights. Here are five unreasonable expectations I think we should demand of our packaging process.

Unreasonable Expectation #1: We need to be able to see the exact status of our packaging projects and digital assets at any point in the process, regardless of which company or individual is working on them, from design brief to retail shelf, ecommerce product page and consumers’ mobile devices.

The expanded reach of core packaging systems with augmented or artificial intelligence enables leaders to measure not only the productivity of their teams but the performance of the value chain participants: internal approvers, designers, engineers, agencies, printers and even their customers. Leaders are measuring not just what was intended, but what was achieved, or even what is still achievable.

Unreasonable Expectation #2: We need to be able to instantly trace the authenticity, provenance, and path of the products we sell, the packaging work we do and the decisions employees make all the way to the consumer.

The increased influence of the brand’s process, brand assets and high quality information allows leaders to synchronize the brand’s image across media, across the value chain and straight through to the consumer’s view on a mobile phone at the point of purchase. Broader connectivity enables traceability throughout the supply chain, allowing brands to pass product origin information directly to the person consuming or using it, as well as increasing quality and accountability in the supplier base.

Unreasonable Expectation #3: We need artificial intelligence to tell us what might be wrong with a change we’d like to make and if quality may suffer, if we will unintentionally violate a regulation or if we’re taking a risk we may not have anticipated.

The artificial intelligence available in more mature digital tools proactively provides suggestions for process improvements, flags potential omissions or errors and enables teams to anticipate potential downstream risks. Such tools advance continuously through regular auto-updates, perhaps delivered through Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models.

Unreasonable Expectation #4: We need to be able to control and forecast packaging costs based on real, historical data and product sales forecasts.

The extension of systems also provides more predictability for the different value chain participants: brand manufacturers may have more advanced notice of order spikes from their customers, and packaging manufacturers, in turn, can prepare for such spikes.

Unreasonable Expectation #5: We need to be able to respond with agility to changing conditions in consumer preferences and in the competitive landscape by changing all our marketing touch points quickly, automatically synchronized across channels and digital and physical media (including packaging). Quickly responding to change can create first-mover-advantage market opportunities. The synchronicity across media must also include internal communications so that all the functions that play a part in packaging and product launches keep in step, working efficiently and aware of the same information together.

How can we exceed these expectations?

Leaders need to reinvent what it means to develop and execute packaging and re-imagine technology systems and people systems. It will take a higher level of trust between individuals and companies that comes from more accurate, more timely and more thoughtful communication. It will take disruption and the establishment of a new set of expectations by management. And at first, these expectations would seem unreasonable.

But if we rise up to meet an Intelligent level of digital capabilities for packaging, we could exceed these unreasonable expectations.

What does it mean to have an intelligent level of capability for packaging?

As I’ve illustrated with my teammates at Esko, X-Rite, Pantone and AVT in the Digital Maturity Model for Brand Packaging, getting to an Intelligent level requires that:

• Decisions and quality checks are removed from the process. Automation and system connectivity can eliminate the need for numerous checks throughout the value chain.

• Packaging tools and systems integrate with other core business systems like Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Digital Asset Management (DAM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Product Information Management (PIM) and Content Management (CMS).

• Companies extend their systems outside their walls to connect to upstream customers and downstream suppliers, either by providing permission-based access to the brand system or by connecting system to system and automating data flows. For example, brands may give retail customers access to digital assets for use on the retailer’s e-commerce website, or a brand may connect its packaging software system to the packaging software system that its printer or converter uses at the next step in the value chain.

• Automated tools are in place to push updated product packaging imagery to e-commerce product pages and sites AND to vigilantly monitor e-commerce product pages and websites for product information and brand imagery compliance. Any deviations trigger exception reports and workflows.

If this Intelligent level I’ve described seems worlds away (or totally unattainable and extremely unreasonable), rest assured it is not farther away than your leading competitor who is taking market share day by day by day.

So what can you do right now?

Digitize everything you’re doing. Automate everything that you can. Connect important systems together, reduce the number of apps people use, link information to eliminate all the errors from copy/paste.

Packaging technology is evolving as technology evolves and as demands shift. The future may be unclear, but it is full of more automation. If our expectations are not unreasonable according to the status quo, we risk being left behind by bigger thinkers with an insatiable appetite for the opportunities that can be unlocked by the speed to market that intelligent, automated capabilities can deliver.