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Pain Brings Gain: Packaging Redesign is Worth the Risk

Go for the long game when redesigning packaging. While sales may decline initially, the opportunities to boost your brand are worth the risk.

Chobani packaging
Chobani’s package redesign, with lean branding and color-coordinated lidstocks that correspond with the milk fat, single-handedly changed the yogurt category.

What’s your favorite sport? No matter what it is, there’s probably a new technique, critique, or technology available to level-up your game. Once you embrace a change, your performance might go into a slight decline. But that’s Okay. Any athlete knows that it takes time to adjust to the change and get into a new groove. After all, good changes usually bring about a gain in performance in the long run.

Tiger Woods is an exemplary model of this phenomenon. Each time he got a new coach, he saw a marked drop in his performance, but with practice, he eventually exceeded his prior standard.

What does this have to do with packaging? Quite a bit, actually.

See these other columns from Dr. R. Andrew Hurley, published in Packaging World magazine:

“Horror Vacui! Reevaluating Empty Design Space”

“Progressive Disclosure: The Full-Course Meal of Packaging”

“Designing for Kids? Stick it on a Savanna!”

“The Hawthorne Effect & Package Design”

Many brands avoid changes in their packaging (except for agencies and the new marketing officer). We all have our routines, and we don’t want to change them. Customers especially don’t like it when their beloved products receive a new look. We intentionally print phrases like “Same Great Product – Great New Look” to mitigate shoppers’ uncertainty and ensure that they understand that the product itself didn’t change, just the packaging.

There are many legitimate reasons for an immediate decline in sales from a package redesign. New designs may result in immediate missed opportunities because shoppers default to top-down cognitive processing in the store, when prior experiences, versus their senses, are used to make decisions. Oftentimes, new designs are phased in with the old, which means that it could take a quarter (or longer) to see any rewards from the redesign as the new package transitions to the front of the shelf. 

Dr. R. Andrew HurleyDr. R. Andrew HurleyEye-tracking research shows that just a single SKU redesign can have a significant influence on how a shopper population approaches and makes decisions within an entire product category; after all, Chobani single-handedly changed the yogurt category. Just as Tiger Woods adjusted to his changes and started seeing gains in performance, sales can begin an upswing once customers get used to the new packaging. And, like any great A/B test, a new design on the market can have an upside: attracting the influence of new customer persona types.

Redesigning your packaging is an interesting prospect. There’s no guarantee that sales will go up after the redesign. But, given the position your product is currently in, how likely is it that sales will continue to falter if the packaging is not redesigned? It may feel counterintuitive to deliberately plan on embracing an initial decline, but taking one step back provides space for taking two steps forward. Redesigning your package removes focus from the bigger picture, but ultimately, it’s what helps make the bigger picture complete.

Dr. R. Andrew Hurley is the founder of Package InSight and The Packaging School, and an Associate Professor at Clemson University.

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