In the midst of a rebrand, you may be focused on the functional and aesthetic aspects of your product packaging and labeling. Here’s a detail you simply cannot overlook: Ensuring that your shipping boxes are properly marked according to customs regulations. Seemingly benign errors in labeling and paperwork can hold international shipments up at the border for months.
Border clearance may not be an issue if your rebrand is strictly graphic—if you’re just changing the logo’s font or packaging colors. Customs and regulatory agencies maintain examples of what your package should look like, and border agents may pull a sample from your shipment to review. While a visual disconnect between the model and the sample could cause a delay, the risk that products will be confiscated is low.
However, if the rebrand involves a change to the name of the brand or the holding company, then customs clearance is a bigger concern. In these highly complex rebranding initiatives, particularly those due to merger or acquisition, there’s so much going on that thinking about customs might not be top of the marketing team’s to-do list. But it should be.
Filing required documents with the agencies that govern global shipping—Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the EU’s Medical Device Coordination Group, and others—can take six months or more. Regulated products are those most impacted by border controls. These include animal and human food and drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, tobacco products, and radiation-emitting electronic products. If you’re not on top of it, you’ll find yourself with rebranded product sitting in a warehouse awaiting approval for six-plus months before you can get it out the door. Depending on the shelf life of your product, scrapping may be inevitable when this occurs.
4 steps to ensure customs compliance for rebranded goods
Global commerce is more complex than ever. So, you’ll need to invest time and resources during the rebranding process to make sure your products can get from Point A to Point B. Here are four essential steps:
1. Involve the right internal resources.
The global transit of goods is mostly a function of your company’s supply chain management team. Your legal and trade compliance teams oversee communication with regulatory agencies. In a rebrand, it’s essential to have representatives from both groups at the table when you’re redesigning product packaging, shipping labels, and documents. The supply chain team can advise on where the process usually breaks down, such as ports or regions where products are most likely to be subject to scrutiny. Legal experts can provide specific guidance on label and paperwork requirements for various agencies.
2. Pay attention to paperwork.
While shipping boxes and product wraps may be your primary concern in a rebrand, equal attention is due to the more mundane elements: the documents you file with regulatory agencies and include with international shipments.
Documentation needs for filing with regulatory bodies include:
1) Technical files for the product and packaging.
2) A dossier with visual samples, data sheets, promotional materials, showing both prior and current versions.
3) Notification letters documenting the changes both internally and to clients.
4) An amended certificate of export issued by the authority from the manufacturing country.
5) Quality documents.
Documents that need to accompany shipments include invoices, packing lists, certificates of origin and bills of lading.
3. Be aware of legibility.
Make sure that you adhere to all labeling requirements dictated by relevant regulators. For example, UN numbers, which identify hazardous goods, must be large enough to be read easily. Legibility presents a design challenge for international shipping because the labels must contain so much information. Make sure the design team understands the requirements and priorities.
4. Coordinate roll out.
As you’re managing the update of thousands of printed pieces, it’s easy to lose track of a single shipping label or customs document. But everything has to match. An invoice and a label should not show a different country of origin, for example. Even a change of address where the product is manufactured means a change in the shipping label—which means you’re obligated to notify the regulatory body of the change. You also want to avoid people in shipping/order fulfillment in different parts of the world using outdated forms and labels; Make sure they’re all rolled out universally at the same time. Again, this is especially a concern if the rebrand involves a name change. And know that every alteration requires prior approval from the governing agency, so allow at least six months.
When you’re moving fast to implement a rebrand, dedicating months and internal resources to elements like shipping labels and customs documents may seem daunting. But the consequences are more so. It’s better to do the work up front to ensure that goods move freely than to watch whole shipments get delayed or confiscated in customs.