10 strategies for successful packaging

Leading brand consultancy Elmwood offers 10 essential pieces of advice for making your brand designs fly off the shelves...

There's an old saying: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." This is a perfect packaging metaphor, because the fundamental truth is that the final purchasing decision is made at the shelf edge in store. Many businesses make the mistake of thinking that advertising and sales promotion is what drives the customer's decision-making process and, as a result, this is the area that usually commands the greatest amount of deliberation and debate.

The truth is, no matter how much time and money your marketing team spends on promoting your product or how much effort your sales team puts into getting your product listed in the key retail outlets, if your pack fails to deliver at point of sale because it doesn't look good then all that investment spent elsewhere is largely wasted.

So how do we make the most of all that advertising and promotional work? How do we get people reaching out for our pack on the shelves? Read on for our ten strategies for success...

1. Make your product stand out
First of all, we have to recognise that our products are competing for a few short seconds of attention. In any one supermarket there are around 40,000 different products on display and the average shopper spends no more than an hour in store during their weekly shop. So you'd need to register more than 10 products per second if you were to see every product! The first and most important rule, therefore, is to get your product noticed - it must stand out rather than blend in.

2. Break with convention
Next time you go shopping, take a look at the humble OXO pack and see how something so small fights above its weight. Similarly, think about breaking the rules of a category. Innocent is perhaps an often and overused example but still a great one. When it launched into the highly colourful category of soft drinks, it went with a very white pack as opposed to the category norm of using pictures of fruit with similarly vibrant fruity graphics. Finally, shape is the first thing the human eye recognises, so unique packaging shapes are a great way to help your product stand out - think Perrier and Toilet Duck.

3. Products with purpose
We are seeing a consumer backlash against big corporate fat cats and a growing desire to support real brands with real beliefs and values. What this means is that brands big and small need to have a clear purpose beyond price and demonstrate that they are good corporate citizens. Take the bottled water market, for example, which has recently come under fire from government ministers for being environmentally and socially unethical. Bottled water is shipped around the world, adding to the issue of climate change, when most of us could make do with tap water, especially when so many people in countries such as Africa go without. Cue Thirsty Planet, a new water brand that provides free drinking water for an African child for life, when you purchase just one multi-pack of the water.

4. Add personality
Building on the idea of leveraging a brand's authenticity, the next step is to bring packs to life with a strong personality (what we call 'authentic attitude'). In short, think about language and imagery that helps to tell an engaging story rather than just being matter of fact. Filthy is a new brand of highly indulgent chilled chocolate desserts and its name gives consumers permission to be unashamedly naughty.

5. Feel-good factor
We live in a frightening world, a world of anxiety fuelled by the media's exposure of terrorism, food scares, global warming, child abuse and abduction. An antidote for this is to make people smile and/or remind us of the time when life appeared to be safer. Anything you can do to make your designs resonate with today's anxious consumer will give you an advantage. Competitors may well copy your product specification, but it's much more difficult to copy how your brand makes a customer feel. So packs that bring a smile to faces, like our own new tea brand Make Mine a Builders, complete with builder's cleavage on the 'bottom' of the pack, are the order of the day.

6. Keep it simple
With so much to say about health, nutrition, cooking or usage instructions on your products and yet a desire to cut back on the amount of packaging, the key is to keep things simple. Going back to the principle of 'standout', make sure you don't compromise legibility by overcomplicating packs with too many messages. In a one-second world, less is definitely more.

7. Tiered branding
The own-brand strategy we developed with Coles supermarket in Australia designed to ensure that their stores provide customers with products that meet their everyday needs in every way. The new own brand hierarchy involves three distinct tiers: cheapest on display, mid tier and premium tier. The mid-tier proposition, "You'll love Coles...", is based on the principle that consumers will love Coles products because they make their lives easier. Coles will help them eat better, save money, save time and reduce waste. An important element of the new offer is the use of a product advocate - real customers and colleagues who appear on the packs to highlight the key benefits of the product and give reasons to buy.

8. The cost of transport
Retailers and consumers are ever more obsessed with the green agenda. There's nothing new about recycling, but there are a number of new dimensions to green packaging that relate to transport. In simple terms, the challenge is to 'ship less air'. In other words, you need to make sure your packaging is as minimal as possible because the more products you can get on a pallet, the less trucks will need to be on the road. As well as saving on CO2 emissions, these measures also save on transport costs.

9. Speed to shelf
If there are 40,000 different packs in a store then every second counts in the delivery and stocking process. Just think how many man-hours per day you would save by making your outer shipping case also your 'display on shelf' case. If you can save a retailer just 10 seconds per pack in its time to decant from warehouse to shelf, you will also certainly gain grace and favour too.

10. Protect yourself
If you have a good product at a good price, the competition will try to mimic your success, so make sure you register and patent everything you possibly can. And if you've followed the strategies on these pages, you will almost certainly have protectable equity in your packaging. Good luck and may your horse drink copiously!