In business, it is often all about the bottom line. It’s a careful balance between income and expenses that you hope tips the right way. Expenses are a unavoidable part of any business and can be loosely defined as something one pays for that is consumed, used up and does not directly contribute to the bottom line — think cleaning supplies, shipping costs and paper clips. Expenses can be painful, tightly controlled and just no fun. Many times, packaging for a company’s product is considered an expense, a necessary evil that allows a product to go from the maker to the consumer. But packaging is so much more. It’s time to elevate packaging from expense to investment.
INVEST WHERE IT MATTERS
An investment is something that contributes to the foundation of the company, something upon which one builds and improves, and it supports growth. An investment works for you — think machinery, software and payroll. Yes, payroll.
Companies invest heavily in employees through recruiting, training and compensation. Each employee is expected to show up and execute specific functions critical to the success of the business. When you look at the extensive and demanding role packaging plays, you might agree that packaging is a CPG company’s hardest working employee.
Check out the job description:
- Must work 24/7 — no vacation days.
- Must play nicely with machinery and transport vehicles.
- Must cooperate with merchandisers and stock clerks.
- Must protect the product at all times from various threats such as pests, humidity and breakage.
- Responsible for maintaining the freshness or quality of the product.
- Must communicate clearly and stay on message as a brand ambassador.
- Responsible for attracting a lot of attention and making the sale.
- Must be attractive, well dressed and stand tall at all times, even when purchased and stored in a home.
- Must play nicely with other items in the pantry/freezer, vanity, etc.
- Must be able to fit neatly into a small space and yet not become hidden.
- Must create temptation.
- May contribute to creating new usage occasions.
- Must be simple, not complicated.
- Must be easy for “Junior” to use.
- Must be easy for “Grandpa” to use.
- Must function as expected every time.
- Must not be high maintenance or expensive.
- Must dispense or allow access to the product easily.
- Responsible for delivering a positive product/brand experience by making “every time like the first time.”
- When empty, must easily transition to discard, reuse, recycling or repurpose.
With packaging taking on such high-level, high-value tasks, thinking only about dollars going out is the wrong approach. It results in missed opportunities. It can lead one to take shortcuts. Elevating packaging from expense to investment means a shift in perspective. It means packaging is no longer viewed simply as a vehicle for containment and delivery, but rather it becomes a full-fledged member of your marketing and branding teams, a brand ambassador. It must deliver on the brand promise at all touch points. It cannot disappoint — it must delight. Instead of approaching packaging as something one must do (expense), think of it as something one gets to do (investment). It’s an opportunity to send a powerful message.
LOBBYING FOR THE CRITICAL FIFTH P
Drop in on almost any business school marketing course, and you will hear about the “four P’s” — say them with me … product, price, promotion and placement. It’s the traditional marketing mix, and yet it is blatantly missing the fifth P — packaging. Perhaps some would assign “packaging” to the area of promotion. Still, that does not give packaging the attention it is due, and ultimately, packaging is about much more than promotion.
Millions of dollars flow into advertising campaigns that might touch your consumer for a moment. Packaging is the one element of your branding and marketing efforts that actually gets to live alongside your consumer in his or her home. It is often the first and the last impression your consumer has of your brand. In many cases, as consumers, we physically touch and interact with a product’s packaging more than we interact with the product itself. It is worth considering at every turn, and it is worth doing right. The time has come for packaging to be given the respect it deserves as an integral part of a brand’s identity.
Think about the manpower and resources that go into creating a product from research and development to launch. Think about what goes into creating and executing a marketing campaign, from ideation to hiring an agency to consumers testing to the time it goes live. A product’s packaging (including the choice of materials, aesthetics, form and function) should be given the same level of attention and consideration, because, in your consumer’s hands, the packaging is your brand.
PRODUCT + PACKAGING = THE CONSUMER EXPERIENCE
While industry professionals tend to separate product from packaging, the consumer mindset is that it all plays into the “experience,” and that experience becomes their perception of your brand. The product can be fabulous and the packaging sleek, but if, for example, the opening experience is messy or difficult, the consumer tends to associate the brand with frustration.
Consumers can be drawn to a product because of the packaging, and they can just as easily reject a product based on the packaging. When one considers the potential for impact on the consumer, how can packaging be treated as simply an expense that must be incurred? It plays an integral part in a product’s success, from prompting trial to encouraging a repeat purchase. Approach packaging as an opportunity to invest in your branding and the consumer experience, and be sure to save a place along the “Employee Hall of Fame” for your superstar brand ambassador.