Unlike the proverbial chicken and egg, there is no debate which came first: the product did. People have been trading goods for as long as they’ve been interacting with each other. But packaging, in one form or another, has been in existence for almost as long. From as early as 100 B.C., people have used treated wood, clay, shells, animal skins and leaves to wrap food.
But the question is “which comes first?” In a world where purchase decisions are driven more by emotion than necessity, the consumer needs to be made aware why they should buy a particular product, and how they will feel if they do. Here, packaging is key.
As society has evolved, interactions have grown more complex and packaging along with it. Not only has the core feature of functionality evolved: including flexible substrates, date codes that change colour when expired and packaging that can actually extend shelf-life; the role of packaging itself has evolved and grown. It’s moved from being simply a container to a communication tool and a means of persuasion.
This expansion from pure function to experience has segued into the development of branding: arguably the most important marketing tool. Now, it is not just the product that’s for sale, it’s the whole brand experience.
Much more than just a logo, a brand is a set of values that define a product’s personality, quality and market position and, in turn, set consumer expectations. It is this brand that will position the product in the minds of target consumers and differentiate it from the many, many others in a saturated market.
When considering this in a retail environment, packaging makes a promise about the benefits of a product each time it is bought, used or experienced. This is made, almost subliminally, the moment that a consumer looks at the product on the shelf and forms an opinion about what the product is and what both the physical and emotional experience will be.
A good experience allows consumers to connect with a brand’s values, inspiring loyalty and promoting repeat purchases. There can be no loyalty without branding. Without packaging, how else can these values be communicated on shelf?
Whilst product development is borne from an awareness of consumer need, successful packaging design is built upon an awareness of consumer appeal. A clear brand proposition and the ability to communicate and connect with the consumer is the only way to differentiate from the competition. Only with in-depth knowledge of the consumer and market can effective packaging be created. Effective packaging design ensures shelf standout and positively influences purchasing decisions.
Research has shown that a customer decides to purchase (or not) in the first 3-5 seconds. Shelf standout and appealing packaging is vital.
Consider Coca-Cola, arguably the world’s most recognisable brand. It was originally sold as a health drink and touted as a cure for numerous ailments, such as indigestion, headaches, and exhaustion. Unable to still communicate such claims, their brand offering and proposition has adapted accordingly. They’ve moved away from health claims (understandably) and have positioned the product as an accompaniment to a fun lifestyle, focusing on the emotional experience rather than physical.
Their most recent campaign used personalised packaging to great effect, revitalising the brand and seeing a huge sales uplift as a result. Whilst the packaging has evolved along with the consumer, they’ve deftly managed their brand, ensuring that no equity is lost by the continued use of recognisable design features, such as the iconic red, typography and bottle shape.
Using packaging to convey a change in their brand proposition has allowed Coca Cola to maintain their dominance in a competitive category.
In this day and age, products come and go. There are as many new products on the market each year as there are left by the wayside. Only through constant reassessment of the market, an in-depth knowledge of your consumer base and a willingness to adapt, can a product’s success and longevity be ensured. Packaging the whole brand experience allows the customer to be informed, enchanted, and engaged. A brand that makes a lasting impression on the consumer psyche will not only survive but thrive.