‘We’re on page one, book one of the personalisation journey’

Our new star commentator Richard Askam (digital print guru, speaker, writer and broadcaster) will be writing a regular, exclusive column for Packaging Europe magazine from our next edition, which hits the desks in January 2018. Readers will turn to the back page of the magazine to encounter Richard’s hard-hitting, opinionated, and humorous comment delving into his field of expertise: the momentous impact of digitalisation in the packaging sphere. Libby White talks to Richard to learn about the man behind the column.

What were the stepping stones in your career and how have they led you to your position today?

Going back 30 years wine started being the drink of choice for consumers in the UK. I grew up in the wine business, which I realised was a story-telling industry. Wine became the consequence of its story rather than a commodified product. It was a great time to be in that trade and to gain knowledge and be elevated to the status of expert. To this day, people prefer choosing wine and discussing it with someone they trust as more knowledgeable.

It was a good training ground and gave rise as a natural progression into the personalised gift business, using wine and champagne specifically as the base ingredient. I was still focused on the core product I knew most about and adding value with personalised labels and boxes.

I jumped into the e-commerce world, a new arena for me asides from the restaurant and hotel sector. As a result, my experience of the importance of story-telling with wine resonated with brand managers of other products.

The big door opener for me was when Coca-Cola invited me to work on the ‘Share a Coke’ online campaign in 2014, spanning across 14 countries in Europe. It was a fitting end to the jigsaw from all the pieces of my career to arrive at the doorstep and the start of the personalisation revolution, during the perfect storm when digital print enabled it. I found myself in the right place at the right time.

Subsequent connections in that world and working on various other brand campaigns that were utilising personalisation in its very early form led me to my position now as a commentator and speaker at events. Speaking at events ensures you leave with a few more opinions than you entered with, and it becomes self-building- it’s networking at its most beneficial.

My advantage is that I’ve been involved from the beginning.

What have your experiences taught you about the personalisation trend?

Personalisation is a bit like a glacier. What you see on top is only a small proportion of what is going on below. There are many different definitions, and at the moment everybody seems to want to find their own definition of it in order to be able to use the term and feel as though they are on trend.

Personalisation has been around for centuries, millennia. Essentially, it’s what does it mean to you? The experiences I have had with major consumer brands have been more based on what can personalisation offer them, rather than what does it do for itself. For example, the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign was nothing to do with selling more bottles of Coke, and everything to do with engaging with teenagers. Coca-Cola’s incentive was that teenagers would take notice of them as a brand, and they used personalisation as a device to start that conversation.

I think the biggest change in our lifetime is that the internet has forced brands and retailers to recognise the merit of the individual. They have realised that a campaign dealing directly with the consumer is far more valuable than a carpet bomb marketing campaign. Personalisation has many layers of benefits.

I truly believe we are on book one, page one of personalisation. I don’t even think we have got to the root of it yet. My experience has taught me that we have only just begun.

What prompted the move into your current role as a commentator? Can you give me an idea of what we can expect from your column?

I have found the environment that suits my skills- my product is my time and my ideas.

I believe that packaging is the next big focus for personalisation, and there is great opportunity. As of yet, no one has productised packaging, it still remains a commodity and a medium, rather than a message.

My role is to broaden this perspective and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts. I’m not just focusing on the major multinational brands, there is a significant proportion of businesses around the world that do not use packaging for anything other than to convey the product. My view is that there is an opportunity, especially with digital print, to productise the packaging.

I will be nudging that narrative on throughout the year along with some anecdotal evidence and humour. I am not tainted by any vested interests, so my opinions are agnostic in that sense.

All I aim to do is start the conversation.