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Building Bulletproof Relationships

By: Martin Kleinman
Posted: November 25, 2013, from the December 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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So, then, do you provide only clear cut parameters for the assignment? “For the truly breakthrough solution, that’s the kiss of death,” Papaikonomou counters. “Rather than convey a specific ‘what,’ provide the supplier with an idea, in broad strokes, of the desired outcome. It’s far better to keep initial direction more open-ended.”

As for who should be in the room in the early stages of development, the general consensus was to maintain a smaller team at first. Gradually, bring in a wider group of department representatives once the project starts to take shape. “The key is clear communications,” says Yows. “Ninety percent of customer-supplier relationship issues can be traced back to faulty lines of communication. Be clear, be consistent and err on the side of communication overkill.”

“This goes back to the issue of trust,” Yows continues. “When you select the right supplier, there is a trust factor in play and critical information is not withheld.”

Selecting the Right Supplier

With staff cutbacks now noticeable, many brands are relying upon the expertise of suppliers more than ever. As a result, the care of the supplier relationship has taken on new levels of importance. But, how are savvy suppliers found, and, once identified, are there key steps brand owners can take to ensure that the relationship proceeds in lock-step?

“Industry conferences are a great place to listen to and meet with suppliers,” offers Brands. “With the rate of transition in our industry, everyone has their own alumni group. Work your network to identify possible suppliers and read trade publications to find packaging solutions you admire. But ultimately, for me, success boils down to a matter of trust and getting them in early.”

Quality work should be a given, according to both Bichon and Papaikonomou. “It’s a lot like dating,” Papaikonomou says. “There’s got to be something appealing, but ideally you share similar core values. Seek out firms with versatility, that share common goals with you. An ideal supplier should have skin in the game. You both should have something to gain—and to lose.”

To mitigate risk, he adds, first engage the supplier on a pilot project to assess the company’s speed and agility, as well as to assess that all-important chemistry issue.

Yows advises brand owners to select suppliers with experience that aligns with customer-specific needs. “Select an outfit that has done it all before,” he notes. “You may meet with groups that have tremendous technical expertise and wonderful examples of work they’ve done, but their work should coincide with your specific product realm. You don’t want them learning on the job when it’s your launch that’s at stake.”

Relationship Results

Building stronger brands through the creation of breakthrough packaging requires the ongoing care of brand-supplier relationships. There are just a few precious seconds to capture the consumer’s attention at the point of sale, and, as Papaikonomou says, “Packaging has an essential role in announcing that something new—something revolutionary—is going on.”

The package is indeed critical, Nowak concludes, “The package is the brand in its most tangible form. Does your supplier understand your brand? Are they capable of championing it? What is the quality of their work? Can they meet the needs of a global business? And, can they work effectively with you, in a true spirit of collaboration and partnership? When the answer is ‘yes,’ you have found the right supplier for you.”

Martin Kleinman is managing director and founder of Communications Strategies, LLC, a New York-based marketing communications firm. During his career, Kleinman has developed and implemented programs supporting both B2B and B2C clients, including those in beauty and personal care product packaging. In addition to his client work, he coauthored Robert’s Rules of Innovation, and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.