The Power of Packaging: Underleveraged And Misunderstood
by Peter Clarke
In the fast-moving CPG sector, it seems like most innovation initiatives have centered on product formulation. But even if these strategies are driven by consumer desire for more product variety, the resulting over-proliferation of product offerings just adds to an already “noisy” store shelf and leads to SKU overload. So what’s a true innovator to do in order to infiltrate this clutter?
The new innovation frontier
One could argue that structural packaging is an untapped opportunity to deliver innovation. To truly charm the consumer during in-home use (and lead to the ever-important repurchase), meaningful innovation in the form of value-added features is the ticket.
Historically, this innate strength of structural packaging has been overlooked. Many marketers only see it as a valuable billboard, or an effective form of product protection or containment. Further, most companies consider packaging an expense, seeking to strip costs out rather than add innovation dollars in. This limited perspective explains why package development is usually an afterthought, and why many companies are relegated to an off-the-shelf, stock solution at the eleventh hour.
The fact is many unmet consumer needs can only be satisfied through new product delivery systems. As prices in most CPG categories become commoditized, and private labels continue to imitate brand name product formulations, value-added, functional packaging will be paramount in the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers. So why not redirect some of those dollars once earmarked for mass media into structural packaging innovation initiatives?
Much more than a billboard
Along with the product that’s inside, structure plays an important role in creating brand value and delivering consumer delight. As the physical embodiment of a brand, structural packaging creates a tangible, multi-sensory brand experience. And as a product delivery and/or preparation system, innovative structural packaging can influence product consumption and can even extend or create new usage occasions. Nothing pleases end users more than meaningful, experience-enhancing functionality, and in most cases they will pay a premium for it.
Put as much faith into the package as the product
In order to fully take advantage of the power of packaging, companies need to include those who know packaging in the discovery of opportunities with consumers, so that the functional and emotional benefits that packaging can deliver are part of early innovation exploration. This helps ensure a connection between what consumers desire with what can be made.
Here’s an even better idea. What if you actually began with the package and used it to drive product innovation? New delivery systems can spark invention and give rise to a plethora of new product offerings—ones that are tied to unmet consumer needs.  
Remember, invention requires creative freedom to experiment and tinker. Moreover, packaging innovation entails more lead time than product development and may call for capital equipment investment. Companies committed to structural packaging innovation will have to readjust their financial and timing expectations. But by embracing structural packaging as an alternative route to breakthrough ideas, companies unlock the greatest range of creative, consumer-directed and business viable innovations that will lead to market primacy. BP
The author, Peter Clarke is president and founder of Product Ventures, a packaging and product design and development agency. Contact Peter at 203.319.1119 or