Packaging: wrap your attention around this

7 May 2020


The maxim that 'people judge based on appearances' is not wrong. For CPG brands, great packaging is perhaps the most crucial asset in the marketing mix.

One of our NZ Senior Strategists Catherine Warn discusses the importance of packaging and the common pitfalls to avoid during an evolution. In-store, online and at-home appearance has never been more relevant, especially as consumers discover new products for lockdown life.

The magnetic aesthetic

Packaging is arguably the greatest tool in the CPG marketer's toolbox. Done well, it serves a purpose across all levels of the marketing funnel - delivering awareness, interest, decision and hopefully action.

Great packaging performs a number of crucial roles – it builds strong and immediate brand recognition and creates positive momentum for your brand; it gives your brand personality; it differentiates your product from the competition; and ultimately it hugely influences and motivates consumers to buy. It is literally the face of your brand – and rightly or wrongly, we know that people judge based on appearances!

Craft beer: perhaps the untapped mecca of creative packaging design? Why? It's a sensory-driven category we love to shop-around.

When it comes to brand recognition, change is risky. So why bother?

Packaging needs to be updated periodically to ensure your brand remains modern, competitive and relevant to both existing and emerging consumers. You may also want to keep abreast of changing trends in the market, such as creating more environmentally sustainable packaging, or you may be evolving your entire brand portfolio and need consistency across all your products.  

Packaging design is complicated and needs to balance a range of different elements. You want to change up and revitalise the pack - but not so much that you alienate existing customers, or worse still, they no longer recognise you! There are several well-known examples of radical new pack designs sparking calamitous declines in a brand’s sales. You may want to promote compelling and believable scientific or health benefits on pack, but we know that a simple, uncluttered, easy-to-navigate design is equally important to avoid customers finding it all too confusing and just walking away. 

Shopping list: "1 x Chocolate Almond Breeze" - Pretty easy to spot, huh? Now where is the Califia Vanilla Almond Milk? 

Evolved design and creativity gets us excited, but what about our consumers? 

Time and again, we as marketers and strategists are amazed to realise that what we think is a great design just does not resonate with our target buyer. This is where good research can help you get closer to the consumer in context - a vital step on the road to taking your brand-new packaging to market. 

Before designers have even put pen to paper, good qualitative research can be invaluable for developing a clear vision of the marketing goals and packaging objectives. Shopper observation, ethnography and usage behaviour will uncover how consumers navigate the category; while in-depth interviews uncover motivations, perceptions and preferences that drive brand/ product choice – such as what packaging colours or styles attract them and elicit positive emotional connections with the brand. This stage of research can uncover significant insights that may turn your design plans on their head – for example, a clear window to showcase the product may emerge as the key to driving trial among new customers. 

Context is everything

Once your designer has created a range of potential new design options, packaging research steps in to understand how well each pack performs on shelf, in a ‘true to life’ competitive situation. Does it draw the eye away from key competitors, or does it recede and go unnoticed? Is it unique and distinctive? Can consumers easily identify and recognise the brand? Can they successfully find the variant they’re looking for? Are they likely to buy it? There are a number of tools that can be used in this context, including heat mapping, using webcams to track where the eye moves across the shelf, and timing of findability tasks.  

Including the current pack as a benchmark is of course important. While inherent bias means that it will usually have an advantage, a successful new design needs to match or exceed the current pack on a range of key measures – otherwise, we need to go back to the drawing board. 

As we continue social distancing online after the pandemic, don't forget your virtual customer

Traditional shelf testing is not the only litmus test for success. Indeed, with far greater uptake of online shopping taking place, ensuring your pack stands out online is becoming ever more important. Are you thinking big enough for mobile screens? Can you develop a stronger relationship through an unboxing experience? Can your packaging be re-used or repurposed and your brand remembered on the kitchen tops of your loyal customers? Hands-on testing of the packaging in-store, on-screen and in-home can ensure you’ve got a winner. It is also effective at revealing any weaknesses and identifying ‘easy win’ tweaks to improve the design. 

Master branding: don't forget the big picture

Another vital factor to consider is how each design will affect perceptions of your master brand. While it may be a goal to drive attributes of modernity and energy in one SKU, a successful design needs to do this without jeopardising other values already inherent to the brand. 

A holistic assessment of your design refresh will also help you pinpoint the finer details – including how to best communicate product claims (e.g. which will work better - ‘no artificial sugars,’ ‘no added sugar’ or ‘sweetened with natural fruit’?); which claims will give you the best bang for your buck on pack; and price perceptions or stretch based on the pack designs.  

A brand pack refresh is a significant undertaking, with numerous pitfalls for the unwary – having an experienced researcher along for the ride is essential. Design, test, iterate and learn is our mantra when it comes to packaging. We’ve worked on literally hundreds of packaging refreshes for a wide range of household name brands and bring this wealth of experience to all our projects. With the right partner, you can be confident that research will improve your odds of success.

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If you'd like to hear more, subscribe to Frame or live chat to the team to discuss your packaging. Why not say hi to Catherine too? 

Tags: Branding, Packaging, Strategy, Marketing Mix, Recognition, Acquisition, Creative