The Opportunity of Variable Data Labels


If you watch the news these days you may think we are heading towards an economic collapse. While the economy is contracting at a faster pace than at any time in more than a generation, there is still business being done. And believe it or not some companies are still growing. People are still buying products and they will continue to do so even if things get worse. It is in trying times like these where a business can really get a leg up on the competition by continuing to try new things.

Digital label printing has been around now for almost 15 years. Lightning Labels has been doing business for about half that time. But there are few companies who are really taking full advantage of everything that digital label printing has to offer. Most people know digital printing is great for printing short runs economically and that you can easily print consecutive numbers on your labels, but digital label printing can do so much more. Digital label printing allows for complete variable data label printing with not just variable text but variable images as well. This article will explore some ideas that take full advantage of the unique capabilities of digital label printing.

1. Allow Your Customers to Personalize Their Labels

If you sell products online then it is not very difficult to allow your customers to personalize their product labels. There are several companies currently providing this service for their customers. Jones Soda has made custom labels a core part of their brand. If you see the six-packs of Jones Soda in a grocery store you will notice that every six-pack has a different photo on the label. These photos are all submitted by their customers and they have been putting a different photo on their soda bottles since the late 1990’s. But what is more interesting in their MyJones service where you can upload your own photo and order a 12-pack of soda for just $30.

Heinz Ketchup has a similar service, but here you cannot upload photos, you are limited to just three lines of black text. You can order one bottle of ketchup with a custom label for just $6 (plus shipping). Scotch maker Chivas Regal has taken a different approach. They will send you free labels for you to adhere to your own product that you presumably have already purchased. Again, you are limited here to three lines of text.

There is a real opportunity here for all sellers of retail products. Because there is far more perceived value in a personalized product, you can charge a lot more. A regular 12-pack of Jones Soda goes for less than $15, upload your own photo though and they will charge you double that amount. Obviously there is some expense in setting up a web site, but you don’t need a very sophisticated site to allow for personalization. And once you have made changes to your site, you can make much larger margins selling personalized products. This is a trend that is only just beginning and most likely you can still be the first company in your industry to offer your products in a more personal way.

2. Use Online Stock Photography

Stock photography is a much underused tool. Sites like and have millions of photos on every subject imaginable and are very inexpensive. You can download images for as little as $1 and use them in your product labels. These images are available royalty free as long as you stay within their limits (500,000 for iStockphoto, 250,000 for Shutterstock for each photo). So you can print 100,000 product labels featuring a photo from either site and still be well under their limits.

How does stock photography marry with digital label printing? Let me give you an example. Say you sell honey and you have a photograph of a bee on your label. Instead of using the same photo on all your labels, you could download dozens of beautiful photos of a bee in a variety of flowers. It could become part of your brand; you could become known as the company that has all these great pictures of flowers on their labels. What’s more we could print these labels alternating down the roll to make it easy for you to apply these labels with different photos. With a couple dozen different photos, you could ensure there would always be a unique photo for your honey jars on the supermarket shelf.

3. Consumers Enjoy an Interesting Story

Each flavor of Vitaminwater tells a unique and fun story on the label. The story on their Revive (fruit punch) flavor starts this way, "If you woke up tired, you probably need more sleep. If you woke up drooling at your desk, you probably need a new job. If you woke up with a headache, on a Ferris wheel at the Idaho state fair, wearing a toga, you probably need answers, not to mention this product." Other flavors have similar whimsical stories that help enhance the brand as a fun and healthy product.

The shortcoming with these labels is that once you have read the fun story that is it. If you like the flavor, the next time you buy one you will see the same story and only glance at it. Imagine if they had created dozens of fun stories within each flavor. People would be excited to read the short story on the product label every time they purchased a bottle. That would generate even more interest in the brand and probably higher sales, too. Hiring a copywriter to write a few dozen 50 to 100-word stories would not be that expensive and you would have a powerful way to enhance your brand.

4. Expand the Concept of Private Labels

Many product manufacturers offer private labeling as a way to expand into new markets. Here at Lightning Labels, we do private label orders every day for our customers. The labels for these orders typically have very little in common with the design of the product manufacturer’s standalone labels (other than label size). All the manufacturer provides is typically the raw product with the label and packaging design decided upon by the private label customers.

There is no reason why you couldn't expand on that concept and create a kind of hybrid private label program. Let’s say you own a company called ABC Body Products that sells bath and body products. You have customers in spas and salons all over the country who order from you directly. What you could offer every customer is a personalized product label that mentions their name. You could add just one line to your standard brand label that is personalized for each customer like this: "Manufactured by ABC Body Products for XXX Spa and Salon." This way, every customer would have their own hybrid private label product.

The technology is available today to easily do everything mentioned in this article. There is a big opportunity here for forward-thinking companies to do something completely new. You can really stand out from the crowd by creating a groundbreaking product label. You could even promote your variable data labels and make it a part of your brand as Jones Soda has done.

In today's challenging times, those companies who innovate now will be in the best position when the economy starts to recover. By taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by digital label printing, companies you can create innovative product labels. The ideas presented here are not expensive to implement. Printing complete variable data labels costs only a little more than regular digitally printed labels.

I believe that digital printing is going to transform product packaging as more companies see the benefits of using this technology to create a more valuable product label. But right now, we are only at the very beginning of this trend. Those companies who jump in first will have a distinct advantage. By the time the economy has recovered you could have a program in place that would put you way ahead of your competition.

(Peter Renton)