Designing Packaging for Consumers’ Reality

Andria Long

When it comes to a product’s success, it is all about the consumer. If it doesn’t start with the consumer and solve a consumer need, in a new or better way, it is going to be a failure. No matter how revolutionary, exciting or whatever other adjective is used to describe a new product… if consumers do not see a point of difference that they are willing to pay for, the product will fail.

So, the question is: how does a marketer determine the best approach to a new product? In simple terms: they need to ask the right questions and genuinely listen to the consumer responses. Do consumers really want this product? Do they need it? Is it going to do something better than what they have today?

If you want consumers to buy your product, you need to cater to their needs and values. You need to build credibility and showcase to consumers both the quality of your product and how it will be beneficial to them. In order to achieve this, you need to leverage packaging as one of the key drivers. Right now, consumers will find a product or company credible if they see simplicity, transparency and value, so how are you making sure this is translated into your packaging?

As far as simplicity goes, you need to spell it out for consumers, but in as few words as possible. We live in a fast-paced society; not many of us are stopping to read every single word on the package, and most spend less than ten seconds looking at the shelf. As soon as consumers see a product, the packaging should tell them what it is and why they want it.

Color-coding makes products easily distinguishable. Many consumers associate colors with different flavors or variations of your product. Personally, I want to be able to tell what I am buying quickly and without getting confused. Recently, there was a color change on the type of milk I buy, and I almost ended up buying whole milk instead of skim. I was conditioned to look for the light blue label instead of having to read the label.

Do not forget about the consumer-buying context. Think of how the product is going to look on retail shelves and in displays. Some shelves obstruct the view of part of the packaging; make sure it’s not your flavor or key consumer benefit that is tucked under the lip of the shelf, out of sight.

Now, with online shopping, it is more important than ever to make sure the front of your packaging communicates exactly what your product is… clearly, from a small image. It is important to remember there may not be context of what aisle you are in and surrounding competitive products to make up for poor communication on the front of your packaging. 

For example, during a recent online shopping experience, I did a flavor search on pumpkin products. I found pumpkin and banana bars— two of my favorite flavors— and I was excited, even though I was not familiar with the brand. When I got the email receipt, I noticed one of my purchases was classified under “baby products,” which I thought was in error. Come to find out, these bars were for tots, the call-out for which I had troubling finding even when I had the box in my hands at home.

Transparency with packaging is also important to consumers. Half the time, what is in the box looks nothing like the picture or the commercial. Consumers want to know what they are buying. They want you to be upfront about what materials or ingredients are in your packaging and product— the level of quality is paramount.

Now apply transparency literally— the only way that I can establish quality and desirability is if I can physically see for myself the actual product and judge what is on and in the packaging to make a decision to purchase. As a society, we are judgmental and critical— no matter how many times we hear the adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” we usually make decisions based on appearance, especially when it comes to purchasing food or other products.

If you walk into just about any grocery store, one of the first things on display is fresh fruit and vegetables. If you look at fresh packaged fruit and vegetables that have been cut up and are ready to eat, it is all transparent packaging, so we can see the product and judge the quality in order to decide on purchasing it or not. With consumers’ high demand for fresh food, packaging needs to change in order to fulfill that demand. The use of transparent packaging gives consumers a sense of confidence in their purchase; if they can see the actual product, not just the outward packaging, their trust in a purchase will increase.

Consumers also want value. What features can I introduce or tweak to add value to my product? For example, consumers will be interested in packaging that enables them to use every last drop of the product, like toothpaste. Imagine the consumer delight if there was a tear-away tube to ensure that avid Crest® or Colgate® users were able to use every last drop of toothpaste. It would minimize waste, and possibly increase perceived value. This is a small example, and there are many different packaging features that could be utilized to maximize usage, minimize waste (both product and packaging waste), use sustainable materials… anything that could add value in the eyes of your target consumers.

Of course, every marketer wants to do a packaging refresh, which is necessary to evolve with consumers’ needs, but in order to maintain consumer loyalty, do not stray so far from your origins that your brand loses its identity. Take Tropicana®’s product revamp in 2009. The classic logo of the orange with a straw was substituted with a simple glass of orange juice. The entire packaging design changed. The result? Very confused customers and $30 million in lost revenue in only two months!

In this case, they decreased branding, making their product almost unrecognizable to consumers. Remember my tip about color coding? Tropicana® almost completely removed the variety indicators on the cartons. The shelving situation blocked part of the packaging from view, and the entire Tropicana® section of the juice aisle looked like a limited selection of bargain brand juice concentrate. Of course consumers were confused! Gone was the tell-tale sign of Tropicana® quality: the fresh, ripe orange with a straw poked through.

As I said, there is a huge emphasis is on fresh food products. Tropicana® consumers valued its quality, and that logo symbolized fresh, high-quality orange juice. That $30 million deficit moved Tropicana® to cease production of the new packaging and return to the old design. Consumers become familiar and trust a brand, and they associate certain symbols, designs, colors and benefits with that brand. Drastically changing any of those pieces can have disastrous economic consequences, not to mention severely confusing or angering your consumers.

All in all, you need to know what consumers want and that needs to translate beyond the product to packaging and needs to be viewed as holistic proposition for consumers. Packaging must also evolve sensibly to continue feeding the current consumer demands as the consumers themselves evolve and change. What appeals to consumers today might do a complete 180º in a few years, and we have to be flexible and understand what will get positive results (i.e. sales!) from consumers by addressing their ever-changing demands.

Andria is a leading growth marketer and transformational innovator who has successfully driven strategic growth at 5 Fortune 1000 companies in the intensely competitive CPG space. She has built two Innovation Centers from scratch in her roles as VP Innovation & Strategy at Sara Lee and VP Innovation & Consumer Insights at Johnsonville. After 20+ years of delivering transformational growth for brands like Sara Lee, Cheez-It, Huggies and Jimmy Dean, Andria synthesized these career learnings into her own proven approach to growth. Andria shares this validated approach by providing advisory services on accelerating  growth, serving on boards and speaking on cutting edge topics in the industry. For more information see www.andrialong.com

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