What happens to packaging when brands decide to revitalize and update their status? How can packaging be modernized effectively? Why is this something brands should even do in the first place?

MMR (www.mmr-research.comhas identified a number of explicit and more esoteric consumer needs that show why packaging modernization should always be on the agenda. Explicit needs relate to the fast-changing socioeconomic and environmental landscape which affects and alters the nature of consumers’ functional and emotional preferences at a global scale. For example, what is considered as ‘natural,’ today differs from how this quality was perceived only five or so years ago. To remain relevant to consumers, packaging needs to keep up with these changes.

Esoteric needs relate to the more individual and less accessible wants of consumers. For example, older consumers want to feel rewarded for their brand loyalty, whilst younger consumers desire to feel included and cared for. Updating and modernizing packaging is a targeted, tangible action for any brand to reward loyalty and demonstrate that it is in touch with consumers.

A considered change: Balancing heritage with modernity

Packaging modernization does not have to be radical. Indeed it is best executed in a moderate, structured manner to ensure the brand is fully protected throughout. So how does a manufacturer know what mix of modern influences warrants a packaging change?

The power of a brand’s heritage is of course irrefutable and protecting it is vital. But of equal importance is harnessing and growing a brand’s power by incorporating the contemporary. The challenge is to implement changes whilst retaining the brand’s original equities.

Just like every tangible product, packaging consists of several structural, visual and sensory properties which form a palette of intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Those cues not only drive consumers’ non-conscious choices and preferences, but also gradually become inherent to the brand and form what are known as distinctive brand assets. These assets essentially mark a signature through which a brand becomes easily identifiable, instantly recognizable and distinguished from competition. Coca-Cola’s signature contour bottle and Uncle Ben’s sauces’ signature orange color are good examples.

Where color and shape are relatively well understood brand assets, other, non-visual sensory signatures are largely unexplored in packaging. At MMR, we believe the sound of an aerosol spray and the surface finish of a cardboard box are examples of properties that can be manipulated to add to a brand’s distinctive assets. The companies that communicate any of these brand assets to consumers successfully achieve longevity, retain their loyal customers and generate new fans. In other words, they become immortal and ubiquitous. But how do manufacturers move this enduring consumer relationship into modern climates?

As I touched on above, Coca-Cola is a great example a company that knows how to balance heritage with modernity. The soft drinks giant has recently launched its iconic soda product in aluminum bottles in the USA. This was a leap from the more traditional glass format and the widely accepted PET plastic to a more modern and up-to-date execution. What’s important is that the transition was implemented smartly and methodically. For example, the new format didn’t replace the previous successful packs but sat alongside them, offering consumers an extra choice as well as the excitement of something new.

Putting it into practice

As the Coca-Cola example illustrates, it is entirely possible to re-establish relevancy by modernizing packaging, whilst at the same time retaining key historical equities. But in many respects, none of this would have come about without the contribution of intelligent consumer research.

As a research partner ourselves, at MMR we have developed specific tools that allow us to measure and monitor the direction and intensity of the effect that packaging changes have on brands. Based on the success of our approach we recommend that modernization takes place in three distinct steps:

  1. Define the brand’s key equities and translate them into relevant emotional and functional attributes and in consumer natural language;
  2. Define the brand’s distinctive assets and create a controlled set of prototyped variations of each;
  3. Measure the relationships between the identified attributes and the prototypes to compute how far modernization can be stretched without harming the brand’s heritage.

 Without altering or damaging any distinctive brand assets, updating a pack’s structure or artwork can reinforce a brand’s position in consumers’ perception, stay respectful to older consumers and attract the attention of a younger audience. Goodwill, open-mindedness and creativity amongst marketers, designers and packaging developers are necessary components but research is the glue that holds it together and the secret to successfully updating packaging in line with brand equities.