Who is responsible for ordering labels at your organization?
Is it an engineering team that understands the role the label must accomplish and the specifications it must meet? Is it a marketing team that meticulously manages your brand image and chooses design elements to connect with consumers?
Or is the entire job of ordering labels left up to the purchasing department?
If you answered the purchasing department, don’t worry; you’re not the only one. Typically, purchasing personnel are chiefly responsible for ordering labels.
The problem is when they’re not fully aware of all the demands related to the labels’ form and function.
This is no knock against purchasing departments. Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with purchasing professionals who are extremely good at what they do: efficiently and affordably sourcing the materials that keep your company’s production schedule rolling.
But engaging other divisions in the label buying conversation from start to finish can help streamline the process, avert mishaps and delays, and ensure the labels meet or exceed your performance expectations.
Who Should Have a Say in Label Ordering?
The idea that a custom label is needed almost always originates somewhere other than the purchasing department. Most often, a label’s life begins with either a marketing or engineering/operations decision.
Marketing teams also oversee product launches, forecasting the immediate demand for new products. These estimates may not always reach the purchasing department…or the label supplier, as we will discuss later.
When the label application is of a technical nature — for example, a safety sign on a piece of industrial equipment or an electrostatic discharge label on an electrical component — an engineering or operations team tends to lead the label requests. These types of label applications often have very specific requirements, such as intricate die cuts and challenging application conditions.
Why Ordering Labels Should Involve Multiple Stakeholders
Whether the label order originates in the marketing department, engineering or somewhere else, the next step is almost always purchasing.
However detailed the order is, though, there’s no guarantee that the specifications chosen for the label are suitable for the job. Your label printer may have questions or suggest improvements to boost the label’s performance or reduce its cost. In some cases, your label printer may inform you that what you’re asking for is impossible without making changes.
This is why it’s helpful to involve more parties beyond the purchasing department when ordering labels. Otherwise, your label may get stuck in an endless cycle of back-and-forth between your label supplier and engineering or marketing, with purchasing as the increasingly frustrated intermediary.
“OK,” you might be thinking. “So why can’t purchasing make those critical calls on their own?”
They can, and it usually works out well. But sometimes it doesn’t, leading to situations like these:
Not Ordering Enough Labels
If the marketing department fails to fill the purchasing team in on their demand forecasts, purchasing may end up ordering a few thousand labels when a few million would be more appropriate.
Label suppliers set up their equipment and determine prices based on volume. So, to avoid unnecessary costs or delays, it’s crucial to communicate your long-term expectations.
Over- or Under-Engineering the Label
Because they’re not directly in contact with the label printer and therefore don’t understand the cost implications, your engineering team may request label features that aren’t strictly necessary (to which your label printer might suggest alternatives).
On the other hand, your label printer may recommend additional features your engineering team didn’t consider, such as a waterproof coating for wet environments.
Creating a Label That Underperforms
Many factors can affect a label’s performance, depending on the label’s role. For example, environmental conditions such as heat, moisture, and sunlight can degrade label material, weaken adhesives and cause ink to fade. A poor choice of ink or material may drain the life from your eye-catching design.
An expert label printer can help you make the right choices to avoid these issues during the label design phase. By the time it gets to the purchasing department, it may be too late for significant alterations.
Getting Locked Into a Suboptimal Label
Changing a spec once it’s been written can be an elaborate and expensive process in certain industries — medical and pharmaceutical products, in particular.
In these fields, it’s better to get your label printer involved with the design process early on to avoid setting in stone a label that is more costly than it needs to be or lower quality than it should be.
On top of that, some label printers will use deliberate tricks to make it challenging for your business to change printers – such as including their own proprietary name for a common label material in the spec sheet. Others may list a certain vendor’s material in the spec sheet, leaving you with few options should that vendor experience supply chain issues. That’s why working with a label printer who can help you navigate these challenges without limiting you to a specific printer or vendor is critical.
Turning Label Buying Into an Interdepartmental Label Discussion
If you've been tasked with ordering labels for your company, we encourage you to think of your role as managing a conversation rather than making a simple order.
A good label printer will ask several questions, not to annoy anyone, but to help your company get the best label for the job at the best price.
Whether you’re in marketing, product development, purchasing or any other role in your company, you should be prepared to bring the people at your organization who know the most about your label’s function and environment into that conversation and addressing those questions. Doing so early on will you avoid many more questions — and potentially, taking your label design back to the drawing board.