This summer, members of FINAT, the international trade association for self-adhesive labeling and related industries, met in Monte Carlo for an annual congress around the general theme of "The Battle for Shelf Appeal." What emerged were an updated redefinition of labeling and a frank reassessment of the role that labels play in a greatly altered selling environment for packaged goods of all kinds.

The delegates concluded that the label industry no longer can be seen as a separate and definable niche in the broader field of packaging print. Instead, it has a new and extended profile across the whole of packaging as a provider of product decoration, brand identity, product data, smart phone interaction, track-and-trace, and authentication data.

Unchanged is the weight of the branding responsibility that labels carry at retail. One keynote speaker said that the essence of branding still is the importance of the look and feel of a product to its shelf appeal. But today, product impact and visibility have to be assured in a variety of different environments from supermarkets—where consumers now spend an average of just 20 minutes—to nontraditional settings such as clubs and bars. Five key pillars of label and packaging design were said to support successful brand identity in these diversified surroundings:

  • shape, conveying the character of the product
  • color, to engage the emotions
  • unique visual language that confirms authenticity
  • endorsements underlining product quality and authority
  • packaging finish, defining the product as an aspirational, international premium brand

Another speaker, a consultant who previously had spent 32 years with Procter & Gamble, noted that labels and packages will not necessarily be the first points of contact between consumer and brand in a world where people now do much of their shopping virtually.

According to this expert, given that 70% of purchasing decisions are no longer made in-store, a product’s first sales message might be anything from a friend’s Facebook message to a printable coupon that triggers a sale in the store. This means that label producers must begin to think of themselves as solution providers and marketing companies attuned to all steps in the shopper's journey beyond the retail shelf—including, for instance, the kinds of experiences made possible by near field communications (NFC) and other technologies that add "smart" interactive brand features to labels and packaging.

Founded in Paris in 1958 and now headquartered in The Hague, FINAT represents more than 600 international manufacturers of self-adhesive labels and related products as well as suppliers of raw materials and equipment for the self-adhesive label industry. The association provides information exchange, offers networking opportunities, and promotes best practices, standards, and test methods. It recently announced its 35th annual labeling competition, recognizing marketing impact and print and converting quality in the main market segments where self-adhesive labels are used.