When seeking strategic opportunities for your brand, the answer might be found in your product’s packaging.
With a holistic approach to packaging design, you will find that opportunities to optimize the consumer experience and your bottom line await every step along the way.
Often, packaging design considerations seem to begin with the most obvious areas of interaction with the product and the consumer — at the shelf and in the home. That’s fantastic because these points certainly are critical. However, they should not be the only areas you explore when looking for opportunities to save money, make money, delight the consumer and save the world (or at least make a positive contribution).
The Choice of Materials
What does the package need to do for your product functionally in terms of containment and protection? What does it need to communicate about your brand promise? Knowing what your company and brand stand for is important as you choose the proper materials.
The Manufacturing Line
Along with knowing whether the desired package can be made efficiently and cost effectively, one needs to consider how it will work on your product’s manufacturing and/or fill lines. This can be an area where you look for cost savings by evaluating orientation, process and the ability to use existing equipment. If a capital investment is required, can it also serve more than this one product or brand?
Transportation to the Stores
Cost savings and a positive sustainability message could arise from designs that can be palletized efficiently and thereby lower transportation costs and, ultimately, your footprint. Consider how excess weight (and materials) can be trimmed and yet still deliver the product and brand message as intended.
Stocking the Shelves
Make it easy for stock clerks to keep your product on shelf and looking great. I once heard a story of lower than expected sales of a product at a particular outlet. It was discovered that the product was so tedious to stock (it kept falling over) that everyone at this location waited for someone else to do it. Consequently, customers saw empty shelves while the product piled up in the back of the store.
Another stocking issue resulted in out-of-date product loss for a brand in the dairy case. This product was hung, and stock clerks were instructed to restock by moving the older product to the front of the rack, and placing the new product at the back. This meant removing all of the packages each time, something that was clearly deemed too time-consuming by some. Expired product piled up. Once the issue was discovered, the brand’s packaging partner created a tool to aid in stocking — problem solved.
The Shelf Set
Merchandising matters. Does your package have a unique identity communicated through structure or graphics? Is the facing, the “billboard,” optimized? Could you take advantage of color-blocking? Are you using the allotted retail space to its fullest by stacking? Can the package be oriented more than one way?
Can you create a shift in your category by jumping to a different packaging format or instituting a new system of presentation? How does your package appear presented in the competitive set: Does it disrupt, or fade into the background? Private label or store brands have in the past tried to look very much like national brands. In recent years, these products are finding more favor by way of standing out with their own identity and designs.
Handling at Shelf and Getting Into the Cart
Catch the eye of the consumer, and you are partway there: Your product must be seen to be considered. Be interesting and appealing enough to get picked up, and research shows there is a high likelihood of making it into the cart.
When your product is picked up, does the feel of the packaging — the tactile elements —match with the brand? For example, would Apple ever sell an iPhone in a bare cardboard box? Are you considering tactile or functional elements that invite touch or exploration? New soft-touch textures have been getting a lot of play. A caution here — I’ve also tested packaging concepts that had a coating consumers perceived as feeling “dirty.” Be sure to do your homework.
At shelf, there are functional considerations as well. Is the product easy to grab, grasp and hold? Can a busy mom with a crying toddler in one arm or a grandfather who needs to hold the cart for balance pick it up one-handed? How heavy is it? Will your packaging hold up to repeated handling through stocking the shelves or careless handling by curious shoppers? Will you have to write off a percentage of the product as damaged? You know — the mangled packages that get shoved to the back of the shelf as shoppers look for “the good one.”
Bringing It Home
Will your packaging stand up to bagging at the checkout? Will it tear or puncture, leaving your product vulnerable to breakage or being crushed? For larger items, can it be easily carried to and from the car without a bag, as more states begin to nix the use of disposable grocery bags — or as in some parts of Europe, charge for a bag? It’s also important to realize that in urban areas, consumers are often walking, riding bikes or taking the subway to the neighborhood grocery. Here, size and weight matters.
Will your frozen or refrigerated product make it home in the summer heat? We all know the dash to get ice cream home. Could better packaging that keeps the cold in (meaning, food is safe and appealing to eat later) save on returns or be your point of differentiation?
Opening, Closing, Storing
Ease of use is a key consumer desire. With opening and closing the package, who in the home does this? Is it a young child working to achieve independence (with thankful parents!), or is it an elderly person simply hoping to maintain their independence? Countless injuries occur each year when knives and scissors are used to open even simple packaging.
Is your packaging compact enough to fit in a cabinet or the freezer? In a recent ethnographic study, I watched people bring a frozen product home and immediately open the carton, toss it (and your branding) into the trash and store the product in only the unlabeled interior liner. They said the carton was too bulky, and it quickly feels soggy when taken from the freezer due to condensation.
Does your packaging make it easy and convenient for consumers to keep it — and your brand identity — around for the life of the product? Can it be condensed or “collapsed” as product is removed to make space, yet still remain attractive and neat? Is interior packaging (bags, liners) branded and identifiable in terms of flavor or variety?
Does your packaging look as great with the last use as it did with the first? Strive for “Every time like the first time.”
Access To and Use of the Product
How well does your packaging deliver your product? Can it be done with less mess, a better pour or a more directed spray? Does one need a tool (knife, spoon?) to get the product out, or is there a solution that means skipping this step?
People don’t like waste. Does your packaging let them easily access all of the product? Can your packaging help people use it as intended with proper or metered dosing?
Protecting the Product
Does your packaging include proper barriers to preserve nutrients in food, protect taste in beverages or maintain efficacy in other products? Is your food packaging secure enough to keep out pests? Bottom line: Does your packaging keep your product fresh and protected for as long as your consumer needs it to? Stale food and freezer burn are common consumer complaints, particularly frustrating to customers as they represent a loss of value. Transferring food to other packaging in the home comes at a cost of time and money. Keep consumers from transferring your product to their own canisters or zippered baggies (with no branding!) by giving them packaging that works.
Visibility in the Home
As noted, it is important to keep your brand visible in the home. He says, “Honey, what was that new cereal you bought? I really liked it.” She says, “Gosh, I don’t remember. I put the cereal in the canister to keep it fresh and tossed the carton.” Don’t let this be you.
Does your packaging let people know at a glance, or at least give them a clue, when they are running low on your product so they can buy more? This is increasingly important as more shoppers go online and need to allow time for shipping. New airless packaging seen in cosmetics and skincare is notorious for running out without warning. Some aerosols are the target of similar complaints. And have you ever been caught off guard when you thought there was at least one more turn left for your solid antiperspirant?
With food, there is a need to whet the appetite, to create temptation. Shopping doesn’t end at the shelf. It continues in the home as people have choices in their pantries and refrigerators as well.
Keeping your brand, and sometimes the product itself, visible is often key to increased usage or consumption. Remember the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.” In recent years, some cleaning products have made the leap from the cabinet to the counter by way of new packaging.
Discard, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose
What is the last impression your packaging will leave? Useful, helpful, wasteful or difficult? How can you help consumers do what they want to do? Does the package break down easily? With more hybrid packages on the market, can package elements be separated for proper recycling?
Packaging has many jobs to do, and that affords us many opportunities for optimization. A holistic approach to packaging design can take your consumers from disappointment to delight and at the same time, improve your bottom line. And yes, that just may help to save at least a small corner of our world.