Think Inside, Outside and About the Box: Packaging Matters

Consumers Want a Container That Lives Up to a Product's Image: Easy to Use and No Leaks

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Packaging matters. It's important to consumers, brands and retailers and can influence purchasing decisions. It impacts product and brand satisfaction throughout the product lifecycle. And there is plenty of room for packaging improvements and innovation.

These were the takeaways from our firm's recent study of packaging satisfaction study -- an area where marketers clearly need to pay more attention.

Price and quality are predictably the most important components of product satisfaction, but we were surprised that the average consumer ranks packaging almost equal to brand on a list of factors. Think about the investment you make in your brand, versus your products' packaging -- are those two numbers anywhere equal?

Our research shows opportunities to get them more into line. We studied shopping habits and consumer satisfaction with packaging, defined as all aspects of the container that a product comes in, including shape, color and materials it is made from, as well as graphics and labeling. The survey included 3,000 U.S. consumers in October 2012.

A majority (64%) of the respondents said they will sometimes buy a product off the shelf, drawn by packaging, without prior knowledge or having researched it first. We found that, despite the smartphone revolution, most consumers (72%) still rarely use a mobile device to research a product while they are shopping. Other studies have ranked packaging as one of the highest drivers of repeat purchase, with more impact than TV ads, online reviews or even recommendations from friends. 

Given how significant packaging can be, it's surprising that less than 20 percent of consumers report being very satisfied with it. Shoppers are satisfied with its appearance on the shelf, but frustrated by many structural features that don't perform according to expectations. Of the 15 packaging attributes studied for importance and performance in our study, consumers ranked shelf appeal, or the product's "attractiveness" and "distinctiveness," as least important.

A package's appearance needs to communicate intangible brand attributes, such as luxury or value, but consumers expect the package to perform to the brand promise. It should be easy to open, and dispense every last drop. The packaging must work.

After a consumer buys a package off the shelf, satisfaction can rapidly decrease as he transports it home, stores and uses it. To drive repeat purchase, packaging needs to satisfy consumers all the way to disposal. If a product's packaging leaks on the way home, or is too difficult to store or use or dispose of, you can bet that your consumers will consider another brand the next time they shop.

How should a brand go about making improvements to its packaging? While each product category differs, the identified areas for improvement in our study consistently related to functionality: "easy to open," "easy to carry," "maintains product integrity" and "getting entire product out of package." 

Structural packaging elements can enhance a brand's image. For instance, the massive amount of marketing dollars that go into a high-end fragrance launch may be rendered null-and-void if the spray head doesn't perform. Whether a fragrance spray is fine and powerful with a whisper sound or long and uniform with a weightless, sensual feel, this packaging element offers brands the opportunity to enhance emotional connection with consumers. An emphasis on function, as well as form, contradicts conventional wisdom. But, we believe carefully designed packaging will delight and keep consumers loyal long after they've bought into the brand's marketing, purchased the product and left the store.

Each day, more products are purchased online, removing more traditional tactics from the marketing equation. What does that mean for your brand? As buying off the shelf decreases, performance, execution and structural packaging features will outweigh attractiveness and distinctiveness of packaging in gaining consumer satisfaction and repeat purchase. Because 100 percent of a brand's purchasers interact with packaging, it has to be the physical manifestation of the brand -- both on the retail shelf and at every other touch point in the product lifecycle.

Steve Kazanjian is VP-global creative and Brian Richard is director-consumer & customer insights at MWV.

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