Nothing communicates your brand to your consumers in the same way that your packaging does. Packaging, at its best, refers back to the brand and leverages the brand’s chief assets. It is also powerful enough to be considered the brand’s most important consumer touch point. Packaging makes products tangible and communicates the brand promise simply, honestly and directly when effectively developed. Structural packaging, in particular, can be as powerful a brand differentiator as the products they contain and become an instantaneous icon.
In an age of spiraling TV and print advertising costs, increasing market segmentation and a dizzying array of competitive product choices, arguably the most effective marketing tool is packaging. However, too much of the packaging in the marketplace, just as too many of the products they contain, have little or no sense of differentiation in the eyes of the consumer. Therefore, the dreaded ”commodity” tag raises its ugly head as the consumer perceives increasing parity in the one product category after another.
Many marketing departments still cling to the idea that packaging should convey features and benefits in a conventional manner. This is considered more cost effective than paying for structurally designed packaging. But is it, really? Rather than being convinced of the desirability of products packaged in such a predictable way, consumers’ eyes glaze over and they walk away overwhelmed, frustrated and unsure about which product to purchase. When this happens, a great opportunity to begin or extend a relationship between consumer and brand has been irretrievably lost.
We can then argue that what appears to be cost effective packaging might, in fact, be very costly; and that structural packaging can add more value to the brand and its products. In fact, the best packaging refers back to the brand in subtle and not so subtle ways. Expert package designers are not only able to develop unique and differentiating package design systems, they are able to leverage the assets of the brand and strongly identify the packaging with the brand in the customer’s mind. Is brand building worth the additional investment in structural packaging? It certainly can be if it is done correctly.
Brand differentiation through structural packaging design
How can the truly important values of the brand be properly communicated when packaging is indistinguishable in form, size and shape from all of its competitors? How can brand packaging that is configured just like everything else on the shelf stand out? If we all believe that product packaging should contribute to a quality consumer experience with the brand, then we need to examine what our packaging is truly conveying to the consumer with an objective and critical eye. We must also initiate research that will hopefully divulge where we are failing and take remedial steps to revitalize both packaging and the brand identity itself, if necessary. Failure to do so will imperil the existence of the brand over time.
Structural packaging doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive to produce. Structure can encompass uniquely shaped cut-outs or ”windows” to view products inside of packaging, new take-offs on traditional ”clamshells”, embossed or debossed logos, the incorporation of uniquely identifying elements of the brand or actual products. These kinds of tactics are not that expensive to produce, but they are strong differentiators. More importantly, over time they become quick, easy identifiers to the customer.
The packaging that the consumer sees and picks up off the shelf is as instrumental in creating their overall experience with the brand as the product itself. If every product in every category is “running for election” every day, it should tip us all off that package design is a critical component of winning in every consumer campaign. Therefore, package design is an increasingly important part of a well-developed, overall marketing strategy.
Structural packaging checklist
Not only can package structure design differentiate, it can offer the consumer additional perceived value by tying together product and brand. There are a number of ways structural packaging can accomplish this:
- By offering more user friendly features than competing brands.
- By offering the consumer more convenience or functionality. For example: easier to grasp, taking up less storage space, making the product inside easier to use or less messy; all of these features add to the value of products.
- By offering more protection for the product inside. Packaging that keeps products fresher or more viable for longer, prevent product deterioration or are designed to prevent spillage or breakage constitutes real value.
- By offering unique and distinguishable shelf presence in a crowded category
- By creating an upscale image for premium-priced products.
The strategy part comes first
Having said all of this, I’m not advocating that a refresh of structural packaging is the answer on its own. A strong brand identity has to be in place. And a real marketing strategy as well. Otherwise, developing a new package structure is a moot point; a fruitless exercise. If a brand is floundering, then it should be revitalized and repositioned before any new packaging initiatives are undertaken.
A strong brand can really benefit from proprietary structural packaging. If well-strategized and well-developed, package structure can provide a true competitive advantage and a real point of differentiation. More importantly, packaging has the power to connect brands with consumers like nothing else can.