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Harness the power of social media for packaging

Participation in social media has quickly become a business necessity.

Pw 5628 Social Sq

In their recent book, Groundswell, Forrester researchers Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff report that 25% of U.S. online consumers visit social networking sites, 18% participate in discussion forums, 25% read ratings and reviews, and 11% post ratings and reviews. Figures for Europe, Japan, and South Korea are on the same order. These are big numbers, which promise to get bigger.

Many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have discovered the value of social media. They engage customers on their blogs, forums, wikis, and private online communities to introduce and promote brands, invite new product ideas, obtain feedback on existing products, and provide customer service. But there is one area where CPG companies could do much more to capitalize on the social media opportunity: packaging.

Already, an enormous amount of social media chatter revolves around the packaging of consumer goods. Unfortunately, little of it is facilitated by the companies that make the products. A few examples:

    •  A number of widely read independent bloggers review the design merits and eco-friendliness of consumer product packaging. Their blog posts sometimes spread across the Web like wildfire through powerful social sites such as Twitter, Digg, and YouTube. If CPG-sponsored packaging blogs exist, they are not easily found.

    •  Facebook—the fourth most highly trafficked Web site in the world—contains more than 500 groups dedicated to packaging, but few are sponsored by CPG companies.

    •  LinkedIn, the leading online professional networking site, plays host to 150 packaging groups, some with more than 1,000 members. Many are sponsored by professional associations and publications, but I found only a handful sponsored by CPG companies for the purpose of gathering input on their packaging.

Consumers talking to consumers on blogs and Facebook is wonderful. Packaging professionals talking to packaging professionals on LinkedIn–splendid. What is needed, however, are CPG company-sponsored social media forums where consumers talk about packaging directly to the companies that make the products they buy.

Draw input and interaction

Would these conversations attract participants? Absolutely! What consumer wouldn’t relish an opportunity to talk to a manufacturer about its packaging? Indeed, our feelings about a product’s packaging are often stronger than our feelings about the product itself. If a company were to, for instance, publish a series of blog posts around the following set of questions, imagine the wealth of information it would collect.

    •  How can we make our package more eco-friendly?
    •  How would you feel about a smaller or larger package?
    •  How easily are you able to recognize the product on the shelf?
    •  How can we make the package easier to open?• Is it sufficiently tamper-evident?
    •  Are the instructions for use easy to find and readable?
    •  What about the packaging influenced your decision to buy (or not buy) the product?
    •  How could we improve the packaging?
    •  How does our packaging compare to the competition?

Understanding how consumers experience packaging is no longer optional; it is indispensable. P&G chairman A.G. Lafley states on the corporate Web site that “[e]xternal collaboration plays a key role in nearly 50 percent of P&G's products.” Fueled by the conversational Web, innovation has become an open, global collaboration. It has moved out of the lab and into the public square. If this is the future of product development, it is the future of packaging development as well. Smart companies will involve consumers now. In doing so, they will innovate faster and better, and distance themselves from the competition.

About Brad Shorr
Brad Shorr, president of Word Sell, Inc., is a writer, blogger, and social media marketing specialist. He helps medium-size and large firms create conversational Web content, strengthen their online presence, and develop business blogs. He lives in the Chicago area and has an extensive background in the packaging industry.

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