Imagine that a pack could talk. What would it be saying?
Packaging is typically defined and specified by its brand owners, often with scant consideration of actual consumer behaviour. In an attempt to think differently, this chapter looks at the world in which customers operate through the eyes of the packaging box. It might come across a little like Toy Story at first, but hopefully it will help kick start the process of approaching packaging differently.
1. The Grocery Market
Wow, it’s getting hard out there. There used to be a time when I was the leading product in my sector, but now there’s so much competition. Everyone is trying to eat my lunch. Plus, the amount of copying – everyone is copying my design, trying to look just like me and then charging the customer much less. Don’t the customers realise that they are being cheated? They aren’t getting the real McCoy. It really is annoying. Brand, customers are not listening to us anymore. We spend so much money on advertising on TV and radio. Can’t we find a new way to get to them? They need to understand that they are not buying the same thing when they buy cheap imitations. We have spent time on developing our products and making sure that they are the best, yet customers simply go for the newcomers on the shelves, or compromise on price. Are times that tough out there? Can’t they afford us? Why aren’t they buying us as frequently? We can’t afford to sit on our laurels. Wish we could talk with our customers and really understand what they want and why.
2. Retail Stockists
Shops – we seem to spend all our lives here. We never know where we are going to be located. Is it fair to put us on shelves next to a product that looks very similar to us, but costs much less? Is that allowed? Why can retailers’ own brands blatantly copy our success? I am not sure I trust them. Are they getting too strong?
What are our consumers into? I would love to ask them. They seem to be completely preoccupied with smartphones. What are they doing on their phones? How does the retailer know what they are up to? How do the retailers get to know them?
There’s a lot of talk about the retail loyalty cards. Is this a way for the retailer to find out more about the consumers? They certainly seem to launch new products in our sector quickly and the consumers want them. I would love a way to understand our consumers. I feel as if our relationship is getting weaker.
Every three to four years I get a new design. Sometimes my shape and material is changed, but this is rare. Consumers like to feel informed and know what they are buying. They are usually more comfortable when they understand what my product is. That’s why I am always nervous when I have had a redesign, hoping the consumers still recognise me.
Typically, my brand advertises me as much as possible, telling the prospective consumers why I am worth the price they sell me for. Sometimes the brand runs me on campaigns called ‘price promotions’, selling me at a reduced price. For a short period of time I get a lot more notice in the shops because of the low price I am being sold for.
But I am not sure how much damage price promotions do to me. I’m not a fan. They make me feel cheap and undervalued, but apparently they please our retail customers.
Here are the steps a typical customer goes through from my eyes.
The consumer walks down the aisle that I am stocked in. Hopefully they will notice me and buy me.
Often the consumer hovers around the shelf, looking at me and my competitors. This is when I am hoping my design stands out and consumers choose me. Usually shoppers are looking at the fact I’m more expensive than my competitors. It seems like an age before they make their mind up. I wish I could speak, dance or move – anything to persuade them to pick me.
I remember the days when shoppers never hovered; they just picked me up and moved on. The hover phase is getting longer and is really painful – it can take up to five minutes. It’s enough to give me a complex.
It’s a tough business being a pack. We have to have really thick skins, otherwise we would be constantly depressed.
The customer buys me. A feeling of relief. I can relax now as I will soon be scanned and tossed into a shopping bag, but this is getting rarer.
I am in my new home, being unpacked and put away. This is usually nice as my new owner picks me up, touches me, reads my information, turns me around. Away from the busy shopping aisles, into the warmth and comfort of a kitchen, I seem to be treated with more respect. I get most of my love and attention at this stage. It’s flattering. I think I have my customer’s attention here.
The customer uses my product. Often, they’ll read my information again and look at me while they’re preparing the product, and then they’ll throw me, the package, away.
My relationship with my customer is short, but worthwhile. The journey my customer takes from getting to know my brand to buying me and using me is called the ‘path to purchase’. I think we should add ‘post-purchase’ and ‘use’ as well, as these are often the best times I experience with my customers.
We need to study the journey our customers take from buying me and using me.
4. Media Landscape
The advertising landscape has completely changed for me. I remember a time when my brand would simply run a strong advertising campaign on TV and radio and that would be enough for consumers to buy me and stay loyal. This is no longer the case.
The media landscape is now much more fragmented and difficult. ‘Media proliferation’ it’s called – the explosion of media channels. If I was a consumer, I would be suffering from information fatigue. They are bombarded with messages from a large number of channels, there are lots more advertising choices for brands to spend their money on, and it’s not that clear which channel will deliver the results needed. Consumers have access to more information and hence are less reliant on brands as a source of information. Brand communication has to go deeper than the traditional ‘media bribe’.
It can’t be easy for brand marketers to get the ear of target consumers. The increased competition on the shelf is really making it a hostile environment out there. All the media experts talk about ‘relevance’ – finding a subject relevant enough to make the consumer want to engage. One-off connections are not sufficient; brands need a deeper, more meaningful relationship with their consumer. And all this before the consumer buys the product.
Even though there is an increased number of media solutions, media prices are still high and brands can’t keep spending without a clear indication of a return on investment (ROI). On top of conventional media – TV, radio, online and print, retailers are putting pressure on my brand to spend on their media. My brand has to shell out for posters in store, adverts on the back of the till receipt, floor signs, signs on the shelves, adverts in magazines…the works. Brands are almost snookered – they are forced to spend money to maintain exposure, but are failing to achieve the cut- through to consumers they need.
I wish I could help. There must be a better way for my brand and I to attract our customers’ attention than shouting at them, interrupting their favourite TV or radio shows with an advert. Surely the customers then just switch off. Isn’t there something called ‘ad-blocking’ where consumers can download apps that block out ads?
Can’t we find a medium that manages to get our consumers’ attention while remaining affordable?
In January 2016, circa 20% of the UK adult population used ad-blocking. Predictions then indicated that by January 2017 up to 30% of the UK population would be using ad-blocking. Consumers are more and more in control of the media messaging they encounter. Therefore, our packaging printing value as a medium can only go up because of its non-intrusive nature.
5. Retail Landscape
The retail landscape is changing rapidly. Traditional shops are struggling to retain the attention of consumers when they are in store. Consumers seem to come in and go through whilst on their smartphone. They miss shop media that used to catch their attention. Seem to have their mind on other things. Conventional shopper marketing agencies complain that their messaging techniques can no longer cut through. They’re now talking about trying to get into the mind of the consumer before they enter the shop.
Conventional retail channels are increasingly being challenged by online retailers. Amazon’s entry into the grocery market is an indication of this, and the amazing story of Nestlé launching Nespresso directly to the consumer rather than using the conventional retail route to market is an indication of brands wanting to take control. Brands need closer and stronger consumer relationships.
My brand and I need to find ways to build connections and relationships with our consumers fast, regardless of where they buy us.
6. Consumer Engagement
Consumer engagement seems to take central stage in most brand building forums. How can we develop a relationship with our consumers? Interesting question.
Because many consumers spend a lot of time on their smartphones and other devices, they often seem to develop genuine relationships with brands that they buy on the internet. I’ve heard amazing stories of consumers becoming brand ambassadors and sharing a load of stuff with their friends and followers.
Look at the brand Graze that has emerged from consumers subscribing online to a monthly snacking service. The brand knows who its consumers are as they have registered online to a subscription service. This can develop a two-way relationship; the brand can simply ask its consumers questions by sending them an email.
It’s not so easy for the brands in traditional retail stores. We have to second guess what consumers are thinking; we can’t ask them, and so they often just walk away. It’s so frustrating. If only we could have a conversation.
So, it’s not easy out there. The media market is cluttered and becoming more and more fragmented; the retail world is changing; and the path to purchase is full of competing communication that makes it difficult to attract consumers’ attention. Brands have to seriously consider reinventing their model.
Some FMCG brands have led the way in disrupting their models and reinventing themselves. If Nescafé can upgrade from a jar of instant coffee to a premium designer coffee experience delivered direct to the end consumer, what will ice cream be one day? Freshly delivered to your door with different toppings? What about pizza? Will all pizza brands have to deliver hot pizzas from an authentic wood-fired oven?
What can packaging do to help? Packaging is something every brand has, but it cannot afford to be complacent. It must reframe and reinvent itself to contribute as much as it can to help its brand compete in the marketplace.