SGK uses digital transformation to collaborate and accelerate brand performance
Supporting clients in optimizing their brand performance through customized content and packaging solutions, SGK has successfully blended the right combination of talent, services and technology in the management of infinite brand touchpoints. Knowing that even the best ideas are only as good as their execution, the business has applied this knowledge across the entire brand ecosystem, spanning multiple channels, contents and geographies.
Transforming the way brands relate to their customers, SGK rethinks how brands are created and sold, and how their assets are produced to protect their equities to ensure a fully optimized investment.
Spearheading a multitude of technology led initiatives, and benefitting from an extensive career across manufacturing and supply chain product development, SGK’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Francois Estellon jumped at the chance to take on a new challenge in a sector which he had yet to explore. “SGK was a new industry to me. I love to try to draw differences and parallels between various industries. A third-party view on operations and the way we do business can bring different perspectives. You have to maintain a balance between learning something new while trying to inject some knowledge from your previous life,” he explains.
“I like to spend time with our clients and our talented client-facing team to understand their challenges, how our organization can help them and how it should drive our technology focus. Our customers have real challenges that need solving urgently and we need to focus on this as a tech organization. In the marketing supply chain industry, we are one of the most established businesses and collaborate with great global brands. Mars, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Procter and Gamble, Unilever, Apple… you name a global consumer product or food company, and we do business with them. It’s a pretty interesting space,” he adds.
Through an effective blend of creative and business-orientated individuals, SGK has built a collaborative culture which places technology firmly at the center. Developing products, such as packaging and ads, as well as PDF files, renders, metadata and more, the company’s creative brands such as Brandimage and Anthem support the establishment of effective marketing communications and programs that enable its clients to strengthen their overall positions in their chosen market.
“Our Equator brand focuses on the unique needs of retailers, while IDL creates exciting and interactive instore displays and experiences. Our production brands also bring strategies and ideas to life. Schawk produces and protects clients, ensuring flawless execution and consistency, while Saueressig delivers rotogravure solutions and technical expertise in the reproduction of brand assets,” says Estellon.
As brand owners continue to experience complex demands stemming from a rapidly evolving marketplace, SGK’s long-term technology roadmap has focused on simplifying, standardizing and automating services, applying a manufacturing approach to the creation of marketing deliverables. “This removes unnecessary hidden-factory costs by creating and managing content seamlessly across systems and marketing channels while offering greater agility in the creative development process,” affirms Estellon.
“The guiding principle of our roadmap is to embrace leading-edge concepts without carrying legacy debt to what has come before. This is on top of generating revenue from new digital products and services, reaching new markets and opportunities to supply different customer outcomes though technology. We also want to improve our speed to market, and enhance quality through automation. Production is a big part of our DNA and we need to continue improving.”
Partnering with a number of companies which share SGK’s guiding principle for technology, the business has become cloud first (utilizing Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) for running existing applications, managing artwork and content file storage and shares), alongside an API first, User Experience and User Interface Design (UI/UX). The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and national language processing (NLP) will also be additional accelerators for SGK’s production teams.
Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) in particular may face significant disruption in the coming years, and with the race to provide consumers choice through omnichannel sales options, brand products will need to be available not just through traditional packaging, but through a multitude of e-commerce channels. The marketing supply chain will therefore need to become nimbler in providing marketing assets. This, coupled with store brand competition and changing consumer tastes and behaviors will all provide brands with increased opportunities to utilize innovative, connected packaging solutions, and differentiate themselves with the types of experience and information offered.
“The time to produce assets has also been impacted, not only as a result of technology, but shifting market expectations,” says Estellon. “For example, we've been able to build a supply chain for easy access production. Historically, if you see a picture of a liquor in a magazine, this seems to be a photography asset. We would book a photographer, a studio, and take a picture of the assets. These are renders now. We take models to bottles, take the models to liquid, we take the packaging we develop, and we build a render for all the liquor brands in the world. We are able to build a supply chain in weeks. Eight or nine projects, that's huge from photographic assets to free assets. Now it takes weeks instead of years, so that's important for us.”
With growing demand for increased information to be placed on packaging, SGK is driven equally by creative content and data. Estellon explains that creating a new package requires a significant amount of metadata: from nutrition, ingredients, barcode and QR codes, all the way through to brand and allergy statements, and often in a multi-language environment. “Using technology to recognize, capture and enhance data sets is therefore critical for us and for our clients. As an industry leader we are also working to establish standards in taxonomy and metadata definitions for the verticals we serve.”
The way in which consumers interact with brands has clearly led SGK to transform its service offerings. Restructuring teams to remove all internal silos between development and deployment has seen the establishment of integrated, holistic solutions, where teams can gain greater understanding of the brand ecosystem outside their particular area of expertise, become more flexible to clients’ needs and identify optimisation opportunities to develop innovations which address marketplace demands. By improving brand and business performance in relation to cost, speed and market share, these tools have all proven invaluable to SGK’s clients.
All industries are being driven towards more digital engagement, leading SGK to provide a user centered experience which remains contextual for a client’s business. Building four platforms which provide strong foundations for its end-to-end supply chain operations, the company has developed a new Service Delivery Platform, HubX. This platform is not only scalable, but fully covers the end-to-end supply chain and delivers a complete, user-centric client experience.
“HubX is an interface which grants clients greater control, visibility, efficiency and access to data for all content projects, from brief to asset release, and will bring a number of innovations to the fore,” explains Estellon. “HubX will put you in control of your content workflow by simplifying tasks through automation, connecting to back-end systems to enrich project data points, driving process efficiencies. It also delivers real time reporting, and showcases project data and spend, guaranteeing quality insights.”
“Previously, we didn't have a global ERP system. We now utilize SAP as our middle office to produce a single view of data. We've been transforming our production line, and partnered with Hybrid to revamp our digital production environment,” he adds. “We want to focus on operational improvements that bring customer value: efficiency, quality of artwork and velocity/responsiveness. This extends towards simplifying, streamlining our processes, and empowering employees with digital tools to help deliver better customer outcomes. HubX brings the value of that investment directly to our clients.”
The transformation of SGK’s digital infrastructure has been fully tied together through its strong Application Programming Interface (API) system. Leveraging readily available micro-services from Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company has even built a robotic process automation (RPA) tool called Logic Builder to complement HubX’s capabilities. “It’s a little bit like Lego bricks – we have the base bricks and can now build solutions to benefit our customers by shuffling these around and building new ways of leveraging our investment. It gives us the ability to innovate and scale rapidly,” depicts Estellon. “For example, we were able to build a supply chain for our 3D assets production in a matter of weeks by leveraging our customer front end, our production workflow and render software, all secured through our API system.”
The business is continually looking at the next trend or technology to support its evolution, and is now set to launch a new solution to further improve customer connectivity, Estellon refers to it as “a platform that is built on our combined expertise in software development”.
“A lot of people in our marketplace have a software solution but it remains independent from their business,” he explains. “They cannot sell it as software. If clients work with us, they gain access to the platform. I think it’s really game changing in our industry, where we want to change the way our clients do business with us.” However, although sales are a vital part of overall brand performance, accessing metrics such as views, clicks and likes all factor into how consumers now engage with digital content. Consequently, brands will need to take a closer look at the array of content consumed, which all filters into a company’s brand strength.
To counteract this, SGK has successfully launched an array of its own internal startup brands, enabling clients to address specific tools across the supply chain, either independently or in conjunction with the company’s other services. “ColorDrive, for example, helps clients manage their print quality by providing a cloud-based solution that allows for easy evaluation and comparison of printer performance. It makes complex print analyses more digestible for those who may not have highly specialized print expertise,” says Estellon. “5Flow is also an independent software company within our holding – they develop configurable workflow platforms for clients to manage their artwork supply chain and approval. The key advantage of these tools internally is that they allow us to broaden and deepen our partnership with clients by helping them solve complex issues. From a client perspective, they have access to tools that can ease their management of the supply chain and ensure their brands are more consistent and accurate on the shelf.”
Reinforcing smarter content and packaging solutions, and remaining increasingly efficient, connected and global, SGK’s content and packaging ecosystems hum with extraordinary efficiency, as it turns brand activities into connected content experiences which inform, entertain and delight consumers in unexpected ways. Its ability to scale will allow the business to leverage resources and local talent to deliver ultimate brand consistency, operational agility and process efficiency, where technology will be the key driver in cementing SGK’s ongoing position across an evolving competitive landscape.