The sixth sense

Packaging that appeals to the consumer's five senses is a competitive advantage, but a marketer would do well to develop a sixth sense, too.

Sterling Anthony, CPP
Sterling Anthony, CPP
"I see led people." That's what the main character in the movie might have confessed had he been a marketer at a CPG company. He would have been referring to consumers, who like all of us, perceive through our senses, and therefore are led by them. When an offering looks good, sounds good, smells good, tastes good, and feels good, consumers are drawn to it, a recognition that's the foundation of sensory marketing. Packaging── powerful and versatile marketing tool that it is──can engage all five senses.
But by what means and in what combinations? There's a multitude of options, providing as many opportunities for missteps. And whereas there are service companies that specialize in sensory strategies, replete with proprietary research and metrics, a marketer, nonetheless, should possess the ability to compare and evaluate them. For the marketer, it's not always about hard numbers; the task would be easier, if it were. Experience, insight, and intuition should be incorporated into a framework that serves as a sixth sense.

A packaged goods item does battle under the mantel of a brand, and to best outfit that item with sensory armor requires brand-specific knowledge. These things must be known:

• What differentiates the brand?

• Is the differentiation based on a simple enough concept?

•  Is the differentiation relevant to the target consumer.

With the brand thereby defined, questions can be posed (to the degree applicable) regarding how to communicate the brand through the five senses, more specifically, how to do it with packaging.

Not following that sequence can lead to associations that are forced and ineffectual since not every packaged product can credibly leverage all five senses. Another pitfall is that some senses might receive disproportionate emphasis, at the expense of one that's more important to the brand.
Senses under siege

Even the most remedial course in marketing would begin with the universal truth that consumers are under a barrage of stimuli every waking minute. That's the backdrop with which marketers must contend, offering products that break through selective filters and onto conscious perception. For consumer packaged goods, packaging's role is played out in the retail environment. It's prudent for a marketer to model that environment, but the model has to be true in its representation. But some marketers are using models that are outdated. That's because those models only pit the subject packaged product against those of other brands (national and private-label). That competition certainly is of vital importance; however, what's increasingly the case is that the retailer, also, is going after all five senses of the consumer.
Major grocery store chains are leading the charge, along with the major mass-merchandisers. Immediately upon entering, the consumer encounters specialty departments, such as bakery and butcher, with their streak-free display-cases, offering up sights, sounds, and smells meant to entice. Simultaneously, the nearby fresh produce department has its colorful bounty specially arranged to invite picking. These are higher-margin departments, strategically positioned along the store's perimeter, designed to get the consumer to linger by engaging the senses. Another salvo on the senses is in-store samplings and product demonstrations, the two having the ability to address all the senses, to varying degrees. Some stores up the ante with live entertainment, located (of course) along the perimeter. The relevance of all of this is that the consumer's senses are likely to have been loaded before that consumer starts strolling the store's interior, down aisles where the majority of packaged goods are. The packaging, therefore, should not be anticlimactic; rather, it should at least be the sensory equal of the unpackaged stimuli.

Giving high fives

Having a sixth sense for packaging for the five senses entails being imaginative and not being restrained by overly strict interpretations. Following are some observations along those lines.

The eyes have it. There's just no denying that packaging must be seen in order to fulfill its marketing functions. Methodologies that measure the gestalt of a package's structure and graphics──its ability to hold its own among the clutter of the shelves and the aforementioned stimuli of the retail environment──will always be in demand. But sight isn't the only sense that the package should engage while sitting on the shelf. Depending on the product, the marketer should ask whether simply looking at the package causes the consumer to say of the product, in anticipation, "I can just feel it now. Smell it now. Taste it now. Hear it now."
The finishing touch. The tactile properties of a package can be functional, expressed in size, materials, handling features, etc. Tactile properties also can be decorative and nonfunctional; however, that's not to suggest that such properties are less valuable. To the contrary, decorative/nonfunctional properties can be trademarked; however, there are registration requirements complex enough that the legal department should be called upon early in strategy formulation.
The sweet smell of success. The olfactory sense can stir a welter of emotions and associations that can work to a product's advantage. A package's barrier properties can guard against the dissipation of fragrances and essential oils so that the product maintains its signature smell at the time that the package is opened and throughout product use. But what of the persistent talk concerning versions of scratch-n-sniff, impregnated into the package? Whatever applications become commercial will have to address health concerns, for no one wants to place a nose where another nose might have been.

Taste is not all in the mouth. Food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals benefit from tasting good; therefore, the packaging must safeguard the gustatory properties of such products. Duh! But other products that are not ingested can benefit from packaging that appeals to taste, although that appeal is indirect. Some personal care products invoke taste recall, apricot shampoo, for example. Some household cleaning products do similarly with a lemon-scented feature. In the two preceding examples, what the packaging has to do is provide visual cues as well as protect olfactory properties.

Can you hear me, now? Sounds associated with packages can be confirming and reassuring, the hush of a bottle or can of carbonated beverage upon opening is an example. It also is an example of a one-time sound, as opposed to one that's repeated. And if a sound falls in the latter category, it had better not annoy, as recently proven by the notorious snack chip bag.

Our main-character-turned-marketer would further say, "They don't know they're led." Perhaps not, but just like their movie counterparts, they want to be helped. And they can be, with packaging that delights the five senses.

Sterling Anthony is a consultant, specializing in the strategic use of marketing, logistics, and packaging.  His contact information is: 100 Renaissance Center-176, Detroit, MI 48243; 313-531-1875 office; 313-531-1972 fax;
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