One of the most popular TED talks of all time is Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”—a topic further detailed in his book, “Start With Why.” According to Sinek, companies discuss products from their perspective of what they do, how they do it, and why they exist. But, to paraphrase Sinek’s thesis, consumers don’t invest in what a brand does, they invest in Why they do it.
Sinek dives deep into brands like Nike, Apple, and Harley-Davidson, and even into historical personalities such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Wright brothers. These entities all started with a Why, which was crucial in aligning their message with their target market’s intrinsic desires and pains. As a first point of contact, packaging has a tremendous influence on consumer perception, cognitive understanding, and purchase intent. For packaging providers to deliver the greatest value to their customers, they should be comfortable with advising how to communicate the brand’s Why through their packaging.
With store shelves crowded with similar offerings and products, the role of a packaging provider is to convey the greatest brand and product differentiation for their clients, at the same time enabling the communication of the brand Why. Products can stay the same over the years, becoming institutions in our collective psyche, but consumers and marketplaces change with the fashion of the day. But even if products are the commodity, the constant, packaging can be redesigned numerous times within the lifetime of a shelf SKU. Packaging has to adapt to keep a legacy product competitive.
When we take a step backward to understand this process, it’s important that packaging providers understand primary consumer data, otherwise design is a shot in the dark. Research tools like eye tracking, facial coding analysis, and hedonics can be used to collect primary data on relevant consumer behaviors like visual perception, emotion, and taste. Many companies, even the Fortune 100, don’t have an established playbook for this kind of testing, nor do they have a dependable, scalable way to acquire the relevant primary data to come up with truly transformative ideas.
This is really where packaging suppliers can take the reins as thought leaders by making themselves the key entity between relevant primary data and the brand. By coming to the table with data and a plan to develop a physical product identity around it, packaging suppliers can adapt their expertise to meet the needs of the market and their clients, establishing the Why while fulfilling the How.
Dr. R. Andrew Hurley is the founder of Package Insight and The Packaging School, and an Associate Professor at Clemson University.