Your final sales pitch

cleavers resizedWithin seconds, a product’s packaging can determine if it sells, so it is crucial that the design does its job.

“Packaging is arguably the most important tool in the marketer’s shed, especially in an FMCG environment where consumers are becoming less and less brand loyal,” says Sydney branding, packaging and design agency Jam & Co. MD and founder Jennifer Segail.

Effective packaging combines strategy, science and design to entice and inform consumers. “When all you have is three to five seconds to grab a consumer’s attention with your on-shelf product, you have to be sure your product packaging delivers,” says Segail.

“Packaging is your final sales pitch, so it’s imperative you value it accordingly. The core issue is that many marketers don’t hold packaging in the high esteem it demands. It is such a crucial element to driving sales for your brand.”

Needs to be timeless

Many caution that packaging design should not become a slave to current trends. “You can give them a nod, however, but for your brand to have true longevity you want it to be timeless,” says Coca-Cola Amatil GM of marketing (alcohol and coffee) Sally Byrne.

“The core design should remain as true to original as possible, while the extra design ‘furniture’ can be on trend as styles evolve through the ages. Coca-Cola is a fantastic example of this. It cushions the colour, name and wave in a variety of ways, and it always feels progressive and current yet steeped in familiarity and history.”

There is also general agreement that a basic rule of good packaging is the credo ‘less is more’.

“Don’t clutter the pack with a whole lot of features and benefits – keep the maximum to three,” Segail suggests. “People tend to want to put so much on the front of the pack, but you don’t want to clutter it because the consumer has only a small window of time to see and pick up the pack.”

Brand essence

Another packaging rule, whether for a large or small brand, is determining the ‘brand essence’.

“Whether FMCG corporates or the little guys, so many don’t know what their point of difference is, so whether you’re a challenger or a number-one brand: what is your essence? You need to get that right first. What is going to get a consumer to pick up your product over that of a competitor? What is your unique point of difference?” Segail asks.

“Where we’ve had the most success are brands that actually invest in doing strategy. It’s a matter of getting your brand essence and your brand values and brand personality right. It’s really hard to create a pack if you don’t have a personality.”

When redesigning your pack, understand why. “Why are you updating this pack? Are your sales declining?” Segail says the brief is important: “What do you actually want to get out of this?”

Research first

As usual with marketing, the best approach is to research and gain insights so you can clearly brief an agency about what is needed. “Know your audience, know who you’re talking to,” Segail advises. “Then, as the consumer walks down the aisle, they feel they connect with your pack, and they pick it up and put it in their trolley.

“When they look at it, the investment they’re making is around perhaps $3 to $8 – it’s not like they’re buying a car or house and are doing a tonne of research. It’s just a real emotional pull … your product pack is your salesman and your sales material, and your last marketing opportunity to convert the consumer into a regular customer.”

Percept Brand Design GM Maree Tippett agrees, suggesting that when a redesign is being considered, it is a chance to create ‘shelf shout’. 

However, she advises to consider whether a complete redesign would alienate or confuse customers, resulting in loss of sales. “What is the price point versus the perceived value of the product, and do these match? Set the correct expectations for the customer – is the product good, better or best in the category?”

Also consider the information hierarchy on pack. For example, is it the packaging brand or product lead? Ensure the packaging is authentic to the product and brand; talk to the target market; and keep it simple.

Setting the trend

Design professionals agree that a natural, organic look is popular at the moment.

“It is amazing how many ads now are going back to nature, the natural organic, feeling, and I would say that packaging is on the leading edge of setting the trend,” says Segail. “A lot of the work we’ve been dealing with is in the organic area, and the natural and back-to-basics approach is all about being authentic and honest.

“We’ve been doing this for a couple of years and it’s now becoming mainstream. You’re seeing it in ads because that is what the consumer wants. They’re really wanting this back-to-earth, back-to-nature feel,” Segail says.

Tippett agrees. “We’re seeing the tail end of the overused brown-paper-bag feel of ‘natural and organic’ to a transition that combines earthy and traditional commercial. The introduction of strong colour combined with natural tones is a refreshing movement we are seeing on shelf. This trend is giving products more personality and stand-out.”

This trend of bright and fluoro colours or ‘pops’ combined with natural colours has come through in the past six months or so.

“They’re bringing in quite a bit of colour now. It actually helps the brand. It creates interest on shelf – ‘shelf shout’ – when everything’s a bit mono and neutral coloured. It’s very hard to get shelf shout in a busy FMCG environment,” says Tippett.

Less is more

Transparency – literally as well as metaphorically – is also becoming a mainstream trend. “Less is more, and everyone wants clean labels so they can see the product more, and you’re not hiding anything,” Segail says. “It’s minimalist labels, and just being honest and authentic.”

On this note, Byrne sees a yoghurt brand achieving the prime aim of cut-through. “I love the simplicity of design by Chobani yoghurt. I keep noticing small changes to their design which further enhances their standout in a sea of new yoghurts hitting the market.”

Another packaging trend is digital printing. Though it has been around for a long time, the latest developments mean short runs are possible, enabling designs to be tested on shelf. If it’s not working, the packaging can be removed and reprinted. The costs are a lot less than previously. “Before, you had to pay for the set-up, the plates, the wash down.” Each colour plate could cost $1000, but this is no longer the case, meaning changes can be made quickly at less cost.

Emotional connection

Jam & Co helped deliver for Bills Organic Sourdough Bakery last year by building an emotional connection with consumers through their packaging.

“Sales results speak for themselves, with a 25 per cent increase in just the first two weeks on shelf. Not a single dollar was spent on extra marketing efforts,” Segail says. “With Bills we could monitor that, and it was pure packaging that did it because they didn’t have the budget for any other parts of the marketing mix.

“It’s sometimes hard to actually say it was definitely packaging that achieved results, but in this case it was on the forefront and doing everything.”

Jam & Co’s Pitango packaging design, launched in July last year, saw a 32 per cent lift in sales in the first six weeks on shelf.

Byrne favours developments in Cadbury packaging. “I love how Cadbury chocolate has added a sensory and an almost magical element to its packaging. It has really brought the connection between indulgence and the magical world of Willy Wonka to life.”

Needs to work

“If the design doesn’t work on shelf, if it doesn’t increase sales, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on,” says Segail.

While the LOUD SCREAMING pack may grab the consumer’s attention and bring them to the shelf to look, it will not necessarily close the sale, Segail says, citing a nut and muesli bar manufacturer that changed its packaging.

“While their new pack screamed ‘Look at me!’, when the consumer saw how unnatural it looked, they automatically assumed the product wasn’t natural either. It didn’t take long for the company to have to start discounting to move the product off the shelf.

“The sad thing is that the company would have invested heavily in the new design, translating it across all touch-points, only to find that while it grabs attention, it fails miserably on shelf.”

What does not usually work are designs done by a committee. “You have a whole lot of people involved, and each doesn’t like certain things – but you have to think of what the consumer wants. Who is the product targeting?” Segail says.

While packaging design needs to boldly stand out against its competition and pop in its category, this is not achieved by shouting the loudest, but by appealing to consumer core values and amplifying them, says Segail.

Case Study: Inspiration from history

Percept Brand Design’s makeover of Mr Pisa gelato packaging has just come on shelf. “It’s a really strong makeover,” says Tippett. “We redid the brand – the actual logo, the packaging and physical packaging as well.”

The brief was to refresh the brand and packaging to represent quality, increase sales and establish a point of difference. As the original white plastic tubs had issues with the product crystallising, a more user-friendly and on-trend approach resolved the problem. “We put it in a cardboard tub, and redesigned their brand and the actual packaging to tell their brand story.”

In 1950s Sydney, the client sold gelato around the harbour from a little cart with a traditional blue-striped awning. “Taking inspiration from that, we created a hand-crafted logo type. All the tubs have pastel blue and white stripes. As they didn’t have photography and product shots, we had renders made of the gelato to indicate flavour. The flavour cues are really easy for the customer to differentiate.”

This article was first published in the July edition of Inside FMCG. Subscribe now.

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