May 2, 2014

PACKAGE PLAYS: 4 Ways to Crush Conventions and Add Lasting Value

Packaging innovation is a great way to build brands, but it is often overlooked. If done right, breakthrough packaging can lead to enduring innovation. What do Sherwin Williams, Pringles, Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola have in common?

Each of these brands has successfully broken category conventions by disrupting the status quo with innovative packaging. In each case this involved resolving a consumer tension better than existing packaging and setting a new category standard.

So how can your brand shatter category conventions with packaging? Here are some brand examples that completely changed the dynamics at shelf.

1. Paint yourself out of a corner

Zigging while everyone else zags can help you stand apart, but don’t be different just for the sake of being different. Brands achieve greater success when they use packaging to solve an unmet consumer need.

The paint category was characterized by metal paint cans that were cumbersome to carry, open and pour. Sherwin Williams tapped into this consumer insight and made painting so much easier with the introduction of its lighter weight “Twist ‘n Pour” paint jug, recently named one of Brand Packaging Magazine’s “10 Best Packages of the Decade.”  It’s easier to open, easier to carry and easier to pour. Plus this innovative new packaging even keeps paint fresher, longer.

2. Don’t let the chips fall where they may

Leverage package design to deliver unexpected benefits and unique category interactions that have the power to change behavior. This can create a powerful emotional bond and become the signature of the brand.

Hard-to-seal bags dominated the category, making it difficult to keep chips fresh and keep them from getting crushed at the bottom of the bag. Along came Pringles with its game-changing, tall, cylindrical can. Plus, the new package delivered multiple consumer benefits from protecting the chips to eliminating all that wasted air in an ordinary bag. Plus, this pop-top can makes this salty snacking experience more fun and even showcases what’s inside—a stack of chips in a perfectly mouth-sized form. More recently, individually sized portion packaging makes it even easier to snack on these tasty chips anywhere.

3. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Having an iconic package that stands the test of time is desirable, but above all else, a brand must retain consumer relevance. Search for ways to strengthen, connect and stay top of mind, as the consumer world is always changing. And, you may find your packaging relevance has changed too…and not for the better!

The red and white Campbell’s soup can is an iconic representation of mom’s comforting meals of our youth, but declining consumption revealed the brand wasn’t relevant with the millennial target who perceived the brand as old-fashioned. To contemporize the brand and drive penetration within the highly desirable youth target, Campbell’s had to break category conventions and launch a line of contemporary soup flavors in an award-winning, easy-open/easy-pour pouch. Plus, the pouch is microwaveable too!

4. Keep it simple, keep it cool

Packaging innovation doesn’t have to be big and bold, in fact small and simple can be highly effective. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you. At least in front of the consumer, that is. Where do they keep it? How do they use it? If you watch them, the consumer will show you the way.

While the “suitcase” style carton was the category norm, consumers prefer their soft drinks cold and the average refrigerator could not accommodate that carton. Remember loading single cans then storing the remainder? There was an opportunity for breakthrough, and that’s exactly what Coca-Cola did with the launch of the fridge pack. Its longer, narrower carton design fits perfectly in the refrigerator, it’s easy to carry, and the package serves as a single-can dispenser. This relatively simple package has become ubiquitous in the category, and more recently has evolved to include a “Sixers” format that targets smaller households, particularly those in urban settings.

So how can you apply these disruptive packaging innovation approaches to your business? Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Review all competitive products in your brand’s category: what do they look like? What are the packaging conventions? Are there any visual commonalities? For example, are they all packaged in boxes, bottles, bags, etc.? How could you revive your brand’s packaging to disrupt those category conventions and stand out among the competition?
  • Look outside your category. If you are a food brand, take a look at the packaging conventions in wine and spirits, health and beauty aids, or visit non-traditional channels like a Farmers’ Market. How do they package their products and how could this be applied to your brand?
  • Observe your consumers’ interaction with your product. Conduct research to take your team into your consumers’ homes to gain a fresh perspective. How can the overall experience be improved? What do consumers want but don’t believe is possible? How can your brand make this a reality with packaging innovation?
  • Research packaging technologies that could make it possible to do something never seen before. Can these technologies resolve a consumer tension?
  • What are the latest trends that can be leveraged in way that will make your brand’s packaging more relevant if it were delivered in a new way?
  • Does your packaging truly fit with your brand’s core promise? How could it do that job better?

Don’t let current realities limit your team. Put the focus on the possibilities of what could be and if it is motivating to your consumer, then make it a reality.

Laura Mason is a Senior Strategist at Seed with a passion for renovation—brands, packaging and even homes. Her strategic acumen and expertise in dozens of categories over the past 18 years allows her to bring a unique perspective to every client branding challenge. 

P.S. You can follow Seed Strategy on our LinkedInTwitterFacebook and Instagram pages.


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