Commonly-used food descriptors, for example, can be tricky even when not apparent to most. Take the case of the claim “gluten free.” Generally, this refers to wheat gluten that can cause digestive problems and even celiac disease. But, what about rice gluten and corn gluten? Are they okay? Some say yes. Others aren’t so sure.
Do these issues need to be addressed via a label, perhaps with a web address or QR code linking to more in-depth information about non-wheat glutens?
Let’s go one step further. There is widespread acceptance of liquor distilled from grain being free of gluten because of the distilling process itself. However, some healthcare specialists question this claim, particularly for those who may be particularly gluten sensitive. They may suggest a grape-based vodka, such as Ciroc or Idol, in lieu of those typically made from grain.
With these types of issues bound to continue churning controversy, the terms used on labels will increasingly be in the middle of discussion and debate. Although label printers don’t typically advise about or review label content specifics, there is a growing need for customer awareness in this arena. By educating your customers, you help them better serve theirs.
By offering timely tips and relevant reports, you help customers view you as a good steward who cares about their well-being, in much the same way you make recommendations about stocks, inks, adhesives, legibility, label functionality, and the like.
Here are suggestions for addressing this increasingly important arena:
1. Provide general alerts and advisories as a standard service. Regardless of your level of interaction with a specific customer, develop and maintain regular communications that offer updates about a variety of labeling issues, including content. This can be an e-blast, blog post, website post, or any other regular communique that alerts customers to developments potentially impacting their business.
Besides enhancing your role as a caring partner, this can “prime the pump” for subsequent discussion with customers – raising issues, concerns and warnings in a non-threatening, helpful way.
2. Ask customers individually what they want to know about. Besides blanket communications to all customers, reach out individually to determine what other information may be of interest around the whole realm of accurate content labeling. Regardless of response, this will serve as telling market research about what your customers care about (or should be caring about), and provide feedback about their level of concern. As you identify customers investing more time and energy into this arena, ask if there is anything you can do to assist.
3. Be aware that you could get dragged into the debate. As public and regulatory indignation over mislabeled products increases, there no doubt will be added scrutiny of every party in the supply chain. Even though printers have (or should have) explicit written agreement with customers disavowing any legal responsibility for content errors, this may or may not be an airtight defense in today’s increasingly litigious environment.
And, regardless of legal standing, the court of public opinion can be ruthless and vindictive when incited. What printer wants to be dragged into that discussion, even as an “unwitting bystander?” By being proactive and showing willingness to educate and alert customers, printers can strengthen their case for being part of the solution versus part of the problem.
4. Speak up if and when you see something awry. Almost without exception, full disclosure and communication will win out over silence. If you see something amiss in the content of a label you’re charged with printing, minimally make the customer aware of the problem – no matter when it occurs. Obviously try and do this prior to printing, when there is still time to make a change. But noticing a problem on something already printed still merits the discussion.
Initially, the frustrated customer may make you their “whipping boy” because they’ve got to take it out on someone. But, in the long run, good customers will respect and appreciate you for stepping up to the plate.
5. Evolve the process as your relationship builds. As you get more familiar with a customer, you’ll gain a better understanding of their needs and sensitivities. Periodically review if and how you might want to change the type and level of communication based on that familiarity and understanding. lnw
Tammie MacLachlan contributed to this report.
Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels – an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA – since 2008. Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels. She has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for over seven years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label and printing news.