There are plenty of examples of adequate package design. Good design helps to establish brands and sell consumer products. It dutifully positions the brand identity and employs color, graphics, and imagery. Good package design isn’t disruptive; it doesn’t take chances and basically blends into its product category.
Generally, this reflects a manufacturer’s conservative approach: Don’t rock the boat with daring design, and don’t spend too much money. Maybe it’s time to step back and look at package design another way. Rather than focusing on the cost of investing in great design, how about considering the benefits? If too conservative an approach leading to status quo packaging is the norm, isn’t a mediocre response from consumers the result? Is “adequate” package design actually preventing the brand from reaching its sales potential and building consumer loyalty?
If a brand is packaged in a similar manner to every other category brand, why should the consumer be loyal to it? It doesn’t appear to offer any additional value. If the budget is tight, the consumer may think, “I’m familiar with this brand and like it, but I’ll try another one that’s cheaper.” Why? There’s little perceived difference. On the other hand, consumers expect to pay more for innovatively designed products and great packaging because there is more perceived value. They’re far more likely to reflect, “I’ll cut back elsewhere, but I have to have this product.” Isn’t brand loyalty a wonderful thing?
Consider strong consumer brands that have become category leaders due to their grasp that design is core value in consumer product brands. Think Apple, Coca-Cola, Heinz, Method Home, Logitech, and Hasbro Transformers. Rarely do we see innovative, category-leading brands that don’t place high value on package design. After all, shouldn’t products featuring great design appear in packaging of equally great design? If they don’t, isn’t a mixed message being sent to consumers?
Consider every package component
Every component of packaging should be considered before any package revitalization takes place. Which aspects of your packaging can be elevated to bring the brand from good to great?
• Structure. What is the brand all about at its core? How can package structure leverage those assets? There’s a good reason why Diet Coke is being repackaged in slim cans and V-8 V Fusion Sparkling drinks will debut in slim cans this year.
• Functionality. We all know how Heinz made its ketchup products more user-friendly; it’s easier now to use up the product sans waste. How much consumer product packaging would benefit from being easier to open and use, and to store product in than it is now? And how about being able to use the product up without having to fight it out of the packaging? How much can be learned by asking/observing consumers interacting with current packaging?
• Shelf impact. Method knows how to make a statement. Disney’s iconic Mickey and Minnie Mouse-licensed foaming hand soap for kids in black recyclable plastic packaging pops on the retail shelf. Will kids notice anything else in the category when they spot the famous silhouetted Mickey Mouse ears? Unlikely.
• Graphic cues. What’s more iconic than boxes of Kraft’s ubiquitous blue packaging for its Macaroni & Cheese products? Yet, Kraft found a way to elevate the brand by incorporating its noodle smile into the brand identity. Consumers are visual, and this is memorable. Pure genius.
• Signature color. How many brands of bottled sparkling water are there? What stands out on the shelf? New brand Something Natural, launched in 2011, decided to make a statement. These all-natural sparkling waters are packaged in cobalt-blue glass made more striking by a graphic flock of white birds and a white brand identity. Only the flavor descriptors appear in another color in a lovely, artistic font. Can signature color be fully leveraged?
• Brand communication. New Hasbro Transformers Dark of the Moon action-figure collectibles are immediately identifiable with the movie of the same name. The dark moon rising over our blue planet features figures suspended over the Earth. Only essential brand communication appears on the packaging. The visual says it all.
Offsetting new design costs
Cost need not be the overriding consideration and a block to the development of innovative packaging. Many things can be done to mitigate cost, from smaller package size and fewer layers of packaging to changes in substrates and finding more competitive suppliers.
Even costly innovations like new package structure to reinforce the brand or deliver more functionality can be offset by raising the price. Consumers have shown over and over again that they’re willing to pay more for added value. Remember that the cost of a new packaging mold is incurred once, but the ROI on packaging that represents more value is ongoing.
More efficiently designed packaging that is lighter to ship will save on freight costs. As will packaging that allows more units per shipping carton and per pallet. Can this offset new package design costs?
And let’s remember consumer loyalty is the end result of boldly executing great package design. Forget good design: Go for great. Great package design substantially increases the value perception of the brand. So is there a direct correlation between investing in great package design and core brand value? You be the judge.
Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc., a package and licensing program design consultancy to the consumer product and entertainment industries. He can be reached at 856/810-2277.