Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bringing Packaging Into Focus

More companies are starting to look at packaging through the lens of shopper marketing

As one of the most important parts of the shopping experience, consumer product companies are beginning to change the way they view packaging, moving it from an isolated work function to a more integrated step in the shopper marketing process.

"In its early evolution, the package design process was the last decoration station before the product hit the shelf," says Rob Wallace, managing partner with Wallace Church Inc., New York. "New brand identity strategy is often involved at the very inception of a new product development or the inspiration behind a brand repositioning."
An April 2010 Advertising Age article, "P&G Pushes Design in Brand-Building Strategy," suggested that brands are placing a "greater emphasis on creative-packaging initiatives [following the] growing importance of in-store marketing." For example, The Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, has folded packaging design under its brand-building umbrella. One of the key components of this new approach is P&G's "store-back" idea that says every marketing initiative -- from new product introductions to seasonal promotions -- has to prove it works at the shelf.

At other CPGs, including Irving, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark Corp., the packaging department works closely with other departments in a cross-functional process. "Packaging is the only in-store medium that you can 100% count on," says Deb Hannah, senior brand manager, shopper marketing for Kimberly-Clark's adult personal care brands (Depend, Kotex and Poise). "It's all about making the package just sing off the shelf so when the shopper walks by, it says, 'Here's what I am, here's who I am, and here's why you should buy me.' Getting that message clear and across to the shopper is probably the No. 1 thing we can do as shopper marketers."

Kimberly-Clark's packaging and shopper marketing departments work closely together on projects. "Packaging is part art and part science," says Hannah. "The science is really the shopper marketing part and the art is all about fun and the emotional connection."

The company recently reorganized its shopper marketing and design groups in order to facilitate more interaction between the two functions. One big change has been the way package designs are presented. Gone are the single product glamour shots positioned all alone in a conference room. Now, packages are placed in a mock planogram with similar products to recreate, as closely as possible, what a consumer would see at the store.

"When you put the product up against all the brands in its category, the package might not have the same panache that it does when you're staring at the boards in the middle of the table," says Hannah.

At Atlanta-based The Coca-Cola Co., packaging has been folded into the other marketing functions under the commercial leadership umbrella. "Packaging is considered an integral part of the marketing mix," says Lisa Motto, global design director for Coke. "When we do a design initiative, packaging is one of the integral elements of our visual identity system."

The Nielsen Co.'s 2009 Bases study found that in-store marketing delivers more awareness of new U.S. CPGs than television advertising, making the case that packaging is driving self-awareness of products to an even greater extent than previously known. "There are certain shopper marketing principles that align very closely with our design principles," says Motto.

"For Coke products, it's retaining bold simplicity, creating shelf blocking and creating shopper clarity. We limit the number of elements we put on the package so it's not too busy in a cluttered retail environment," she says. Those elements include Coke trademarks, which generally consume 80% of the package real estate, leaving the other 10% to 20% for promotions, such as a recent Heart Truth promotion on Diet Coke.

"I think there's more and more focus and importance placed on design within Coca-Cola, but packaging specifically is now gaining a lot more respect and a lot more focus," says Motto. "With 1.6 billion servings a day globally, packaging is the highest frequency touchpoint for consumers, and in a lot of cases, it's the only interaction consumers will have with our brand."

The Research Behind the Packaging

With the integration of shopper marketing and packaging design, research has begun to play a bigger role in packaging. "For the large branding initiatives that we most often work on, research has always played an important role in determining design effectiveness," says Wallace. "New [research] technologies now provide a better read on not only findability and shopability but brand affinity and emotional connection."

Wallace Church recommends mixing quantitative data with qualitative insights when deciding on packaging research methods. "We shy away from methodologies that force consumers to be art directors," he says. "Brand identity strategy and design is a specific expertise, and creating the appropriate balance in the communication hierarchy always works better than a consumer's request to 'make the logo bigger.'"

Consumer insights uncovered by research "are essential to what the CPG firm is trying to bring across with the product itself," says Tom Egan, vice president of industry services at the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) based in Arlington, Va. Companies also realize the importance of making an investment in packaging research. "I think companies are seeing the extra little investment as a kind of insurance policy to make sure they are not messing things up with a redesign," adds Jonathan Asher, a senior vice president at Perception Research Services, Fort Lee, N.J.

Coca-Cola employs an array of methods when conducting packaging research, including registering consumer response to the package theme, gauging shelf impact with eye-tracking software, finding out purchase intent and using biofeedback tools to gauge emotional response. "I learn something unexpected on every research project that we do, and we apply that back to how we approach package design," says Motto.

At Mars Chocolate North America, "Packaging communication must work on many levels -- shelf impact, brand communication, functionality, etc.," says Ryan Bowling, spokesperson for the Hackettstown, N.J.-based company, which uses a variety of methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative, for its packaging research.

Bowling cautions against not getting "real" enough with the research. "Packages are three-dimensional objects that compete in crowded retail environments," he says. "The closer research evaluates [the package's journey from shelf to consumer] with accurate prototypes and authentic environments, the better the chance to design and develop successful packaging."

Campbell Soup Co. recreates the retail environment virtually to gauge customer response to packages via eye-tracking and viewing-analysis software. "For our research on our condensed soup line, we used a combination of biometric feedback and eye tracking to better understand the emotional response to the changes we made as well as to track consumers' viewing patterns of the new design," says Suzanne Stumpp, manager of consumer insights for the Camden, N.J.-based company. "Additionally, we have employed virtual testing methods which enable us to test new products and packaging in a more 'real world' environment."

Keep it Simple

Companies use this research to change and modify their packages. For example, consumer research for Campbell revealed that consumers wanted more from their soup labels.

"Our labels and iQ Maximizer gravity-fed shelf system cards were not delivering on these expectations," says Stumpp. "We redesigned the label and Maximizer cards to better celebrate the quality of our food and the origin of our ingredients while maintaining our core iconic brand equity."

Other insights for Campbell included the revelation that the spoon on its condensed soup labels took up too much space without communicating anything to consumers, actually working against the company's goal of trying to show its soup varieties. "We changed the spoon on the label, and added wording and images to our iQ Maximizer cards to better communicate the variety we have in our condensed soup line," says Stumpp.

Campbell's changes underscore the growing trend for simpler packaging. "You have to limit the number of messages you have to get across to the consumer," says Perception Research's Asher. "Use clean and simple packaging."
Wallace Church echoes to keep it simple. "Reducing the elements on the face panel to only those that shoppers need to know in making the purchase decision opens up space and contrast so that even more subtle communication elements have an appropriate level of impact," says Wallace. His company used this approach on the launch of the Mach 3 and Venus razor brands and with the recent redesign of Lean Cuisine.

Coke has embraced simplicity with its package design and continues to use research to refine what it puts on the package. In researching promotional packaging for such initiatives as the Olympics, a Six Flags ticket contest and My Coke Rewards loyalty program, the company discovered that a bright yellow background diluted the brand's equity, lowering the perceived value of the brand.

"That yellow background did not even increase visibility on the shelf," says Motto. "Research helped us figure out what's the most effective way to do these different types of promotions."

Through its research, Kimberly-Clark found how much shoppers were using pictures and colors instead of words when looking at packaging. "That's something we've always known intuitively, but never really had data to back it up," says Hannah.

Digitally Speaking

Advances in technology are making digital inks and other labeling technologies, such as RFID tags, more viable, but the companies interviewed by Shopper Marketing still view these technologies as in the future.

"I believe the emerging trend of customization will be the next packaging driver," says Wallace. "New digital printing will respond to our interactive culture with highly personalized experiences. Soon you will be able to select the graphics and perhaps even the bottle shape of your own personal fragrance, determine your team on a box of cereal, customize your medication vials to dispense the proper dosage, etc."

Mars Chocolate sees a future with digital printing providing customization on shorter package runs, but has not yet added that to any package design.

Coke is exploring digital inks, which would "lend itself nicely to design communications," but it will take time to implement such technology into its product designs, says Motto.

While Kimberly-Clark is looking into using digital inks on its packages, the company is waiting to see how best to utilize that technology with its brands. "We need to use the technology to meet our brand goals," says Hannah.

Sustainable Packaging

When looking at what consumers want in their packaging, research reveals that sustainability tops the list, says Tom Egan, vice president of industry services at PMMI.

"Consumers are certainly more aware and concerned about environmental issues and how packaging needs to play a more positive role," says Ryan Bowling of Mars Chocolate. "This remains our large opportunity, to not only improve sustainability but also to educate consumers."

Kraft Foods Inc. employs "eco-calculator" software that looks at the environmental impact of all new package designs, says Roger Zellner, director of packaging sustainability. "It helps us analyze the impact of the type of material, product-to-package ratio, recyclability and recycled content based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and industry groups," he says. "Packaging is a great place to start [looking at sustainability] because it's the first and last thing consumers interact with when they purchase consumer goods."
Coke developed its Plant Bottle in response to consumer requests for a more sustainable package. The Plant Bottle, made from 100% recyclable plant-based material, is being rolled out across many of its brands.

"Consumers are always looking for products that are packaged in a sustainable way," says Campbell's Suzanne Stumpp. Campbell developed formal sustainable packaging guidelines to help inform decisions associated with materials used to protect its wide range of products.

Published: July 2010

Source: In-Store Marketing Institute/Shopper Marketing