Extended insight from PACKLAB’s CEO Ian Rooney, based on interview published at Food Production Daily: Breaking News on Food and Beverage Processing and Packaging (http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Packaging/food-packaging-Packlab-Empack)
It is an exciting time for designers and for consumers: the level of enthusiasm to put forth novel captivating ideas is as high as ever, while customers are more open-minded than they have ever been. Many businesses, however, need a better understanding of packaging development and of what does it take to fill the gap between consumer expectations and branded products in store. Whether faced with brand development for an entirely new product or with visual rejuvenation of an existing piece of packaging, brand managers are faced with numerous constraints, technical limitations, lack of meaningful research to support their decision making, and boardroom policies pouring one bad brief after another. We know. We’ve held hands and provided support to brands from all over the world, and we are here to share some advice.
Let’s start at the end of the process: the new design launch. The uncomfortable truth is that just because you have a good piece of packaging that stands out on the shelf at its launch, it doesn’t mean it will be successful six months later. The reason for that is not because your design was not good enough, but because in the meanwhile you may have failed to remain relevant in the marketscape. The competition will have changed, new brands would have appeared, and those surrounding your pretty pack will alter how well it stands out on shelf. This is not a groundbreaking revelation, is it? Nonetheless, the amount of businesses that sit on the same packaging year-in and year-out, and at some point look around oblivious as to way sales figures have not moved in ages is surprising.
It is very simple: things change.
The most basic rule brand managers should adopt is to review their packaging every six to 12 months. And when we say review it doesn’t mean you’ve got to change, but you’ve got to review at least at some level and to carry out a conscious, purposeful evaluation of how do you measure up against the competition in regards to visuality and design presentation on shelf. With such a simple brand design audit, you will very quickly begin to see how it is mandatory that packaging is part of your short- and long-term brand management strategy.
Long gone are the days when the functionality or aesthetics of packaging are to be even discussed – those requirements are for a given. What brand managers should be very seriously concerned with is whether their branded packaging offers an experience, emotion, and interaction with the consumer. Part of this is what we at PACKLAB’s studios often refer to as the “moment of secondary discovery”: the moment when the consumer has already brought the packaging at home or to the consuming environment and the interaction with the packaging itself continues to surprise, delight and support the brand proposition. Consider the case of Heineken and their seemingly regular bottle, which to the surprise of the consumer, lights up in UV light at the club. No other touchpoint than packaging can provide better and more immediate tangible support to a brand (intangible by definition). Certainly not many brands have acknowledged, leave alone mastered, this post-purchase interaction with their customers. Such powerful brand characteristic is not a matter of chance – it is carefully planned and skilfully embedded within the brand and packaging design alike. Be critical and question every step of your product’s packaging development: consider whether the concepts sitting in front of you are simply aesthetically appealing or also emotionally engaging.
There is rarely a design brief that passes by that omits the word “innovation” within the design requirement. By “innovation” companies often understand technological advances related to materials and function. It is understandable: packaging manufacturers are reliable partners who are first to bring industry innovation to the end-consumer. Better, shinier and faster machines strive to deliver improved durability, utility and function of packaging. However, there is another side to packaging innovation, and brand managers should demand from their agencies to be able to deliver on it. What brands are missing when they bypass creative design agencies, and work solely with internal designers of the packaging manufacturers instead, is innovation that stems from the early stages of the packaging design itself. Experiential, interactive innovation which can change and improve the consuming behaviour because of the design elevating the consuming experience – not the technology applied. Such design innovation often pushes the limits of existing technology and helps extract more from it than your average manufacturing engineer would deem possible.
Briefing & Research
The biggest killer in packaging design and development is assumptions. Brand owners have assumptions, they commission research on assumptions, research is developed based on those assumptions, and design briefs filled wrong assumptions are written and passed to the agency. The right research at the right time in the right context asking the right questions can lead to relevant products. But there’s a horrendous load of irrelevant products on the shelf today. Research has got to be more agile as traditional methods of product development cannot move fast enough. If you think about the average time of delivery of any kind of research, to get from the table on the boardroom and then eventually to get to the designers' table – it’s nearly already irrelevant. This is not to say that research is not needed. On the contrary, we need quality insight more than ever, but instead of lengthy R&D processes, we need agile Q&D – quick and dirty, on site, eye-opening insight. Research needs to move fast to provide relevant foundation for quality briefing.
Our most valuable thing now is time.