Shopper Marketing

What Is Your Product Saying to Consumers?

Rethinking the Role of the Package in Communications

By Published on .

James Black
James Black
Two fundamental truths about packaging are routinely overlooked by marketers. First, packaging is the only marketing vehicle that 100% of the consumers who buy your product see. Not every consumer sees the brand's advertising or is exposed to the exciting social media that your brand is doing. But all of the consumers who buy your brand do interact with your humble package.

Second, and equally important, the package is really the only vehicle that you have 100% control over in-store. While your product can end up in the wrong location or shelved in the wrong direction, the package remains a constant, and once it has a consumer's attention, it starts conveying your message. Displays may not make it out to the floor, or may not be assembled correctly, or can be overlooked by the shopper; indeed, shelf vehicles may be missed altogether. Thus, it is vital to get the communications right on the package. The first step is to decide what message you want packaging to convey to consumers.

An Ad Age Insights Trend Report
First in a series of quarterly reports in 2011 on Shopper Marketing, this report examines relationships between marketers, retailers and advertising agencies and how to best structure shopper marketing practices. The next report in this series will publish in April.

Many marketers assume that the role of the package might be to "stop the consumer" or to "close the sale." But if we explore further and ask "who is the consumer?" and "how do we intend to close the sale?" we reveal a variety of roles for the package.

Let's take a look at just three. A package can attract new users rather than just retain current users, often a truly artful balancing act. A package can also be updated to communicate a new positioning for the brand. And third, packaging can close a sale with the consumer in store.

Attracting new consumers vs. retaining current ones
First, it's important to understand whom the consumer is that we are trying to engage. Is it current consumers? New users? Are we trying to transition the brand from one user group to another? These directions give way to different design strategies and considerations.

Consider, for example, the relatively recent launch of the "U" feminine care products by Kotex. These black packages easily draw attention from shoppers at shelf amidst a sea of predominantly pastel packaging from other players in the category. Indeed, cleverly designed windows on the package reveal pastel packets inside, a cue to category norms. Thus a new to the category brand effectively communicates to consumers by being both differentiated from the category and relevant at the same time.

In contrast, recall the much talked about Tropicana redesign that was hastily withdrawn from market earlier last year. The design was so disruptive that it was not easily recognizable to current users, who were likely to just "grab and go" in the juice refrigerators. As a result, alienated shoppers did just "go," and the brand lost significant volume overnight. Ultimately, brands must strike a careful balance in keeping the brand recognizable to current users while also making it disruptive to new users. As it appears, Tropicana weighed communicating to new users over driving recognition, and missed achieving that critical balance.

Before and after.
Before and after.
Communicating a new positioning for the brand
In 2009, Bath & Body Works re-staged its core Signature Collection line. With the update, the packaging was designed to communicate that Bath & Body Works was more sophisticated, more elegant and more premium, also supported by improved product formulations. Additionally, the packaging played a key role in supporting new and improved in-store marketing and navigation. Here, by integrating package design, product design and in-store marketing, the brand was able to holistically communicate a new positioning.

According to the company, successful test-market sales led to a nationwide rollout and the company also witnessed improved perceptions of the brand in equity measurements.

Closing the sale
In order to close a sale, it is important to understand how the consumer will respond to simple claims vs. the need for extended education at shelf.

Here, consider how the "five" subline by Haagen Daz is brought to life. The packaging does a fantastic job of underscoring a key brand equity point around premium-ness and pure goodness by simply listing five core ingredients prominently on the front of the package: milk, cream, sugar, eggs and whatever the natural flavor is. And to the earlier point, it is key to advance this message without disparaging the parent brand.Additionally, the package conveys a basic idea so simply that it is very effective as the "hero" in the brand's print advertising.

Is your packaging achieving the goals you have for your product? If not, it might be time to revisit what your products are communicating from store shelves.

James Black is a marketing consultant based in New York. Previously, he was the brand manager in P&G's "first moment of truth" team focusing on in-store and shopper-marketing capabilities.
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