Dhananjay Balodi

Packaging's New Mandate: Winning At The Moments of Truth

Good packaging does more than just dress up the brand for the retail shelf, argues our guest author.

It is undeniable that the decisive battleground for consumer brands, is the retail shelf. Everything brands do – from making better products, communicating more effectively, expanding availability, or addressing new, emerging need spaces through portfolio extensions – is eventually tied to one ultimate goal. And, it is winning at the shelf – the first moment of truth.

Brands can survive and grow only if consumers go back, time and again, to make the same choice in a sea of ever-expanding options…

Brand packaging is at the heart of the battle kit that consumer brands have at their disposal. But the question is, how can brand packaging make the consumer repeat the choice at the shelf?

In reality, the emergence of sharper, new categories, and an explosion in the choice of brands available to consumers, are making it increasingly difficult for brands to remain the preferred choice. For instance, a search for ‘ready-to-eat foods’ on Amazon India throws up nearly 60 brands.

‘Male grooming’ – a relatively new category that has seen tremendous growth in the last 3-5 years – has upwards of 30 brands vying for shopper attention. A cluttered shelf is a recurring theme across virtually every conceivable consumer product category. And, that’s just on Amazon.

In as early as 2018, Nielsen research pointed out that shoppers expect brands to play a different and bigger role in their daily lives. Consumers now demand personal and lifestyle benefits from brands like ‘this makes my life easier’ or ‘this saves me time’.

In this new milieu, brand packaging goals have expanded beyond just the need to achieve visual differentiation.

So, in this new landscape for brands, what exactly has changed? In my opinion, a combination of two fundamental factors is shaping the new landscape, where brands must now operate and win.

The changed consumer

More than ever before, today’s consumers are quite ‘aware’. Specifically, across F&B and personal care categories, product choices are skewed towards those that enable a better quality of life – convenience, health, safety rather than those that speak the loudest in the media.

Today, ‘Good for me/good for my family’ messaging, such as organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, parabens-free, no chemicals, etc., communicated with clarity and substantiation, is almost
table stakes.

Triggered by the digital revolution and accelerated by the COVID pandemic over the past 24 months, consumer lifestyles and behaviours have undergone massive upheavals. More time at home, less time in stores and restaurants, greater integration of online and in-store shopping, heightened health and safety concerns, have all driven shifts in behaviour and attitudes to brands that are likely to stay and strengthen.

A sharper appreciation and expectation for post-purchase experiences that enhance and enrich the new lifestyle demands for convenience, safety and health, is the new norm.

A deeper journey: shelf space to mind space to life space

Differentiated packaging that marries visual aesthetics with form, function and enhanced user experience, is becoming critical. So is the need for packaging to resonate with consumers’ value systems and beliefs.

Standout examples include L’Oreal’s recent innovation of a paper bottle to drive home the sustainable beauty routine. Or, Lush Cosmetics’ packaging that comes in fabric knot-wraps, recyclable cardboard boxes or reusable metal tins. No matter which one you receive, its packaging is recyclable or reusable.

With environmental consciousness at an all-time high and issues such as plastic waste a serious concern, championing responsible consumerism and being cause-based are certainly winning stances for brands to take.

In the F&B space, Chai Point’s innovative product packaging, with their heat retaining disposable chai delivery flasks, serves as a great example of packaging that attempts to truly deliver a hot tea experience.

Yet another example is iD Fresh Food’s ‘transformer pouch’ packaging that addresses both utility and convenience to enrich consumer experience of the product. Its zip lock and flat bottom packs help users avoid transferring the batter into another container, thereby allowing storage of the product, as it is, in the fridge.

Paper Boat’s success built around packaging that strikes an emotional chord with nostalgia-inducing messaging, while delivering the product in an innovative pack format that shatters category conventions, is well-documented.

The changed industry

The second significant shift that’s happened is the emergence of a new class of brands – digital-first or D2C (direct-to-consumer) brands. Fueled by rampant digital commerce adoption, reliable delivery logistics and easier access to funding, D2C brands have mushroomed across every category. Significant drivers of brand growth within digital-first brands are:

· Their sharp focus is in delivering a ‘better quality of life’.

· Meeting unique unaddressed need spaces; and

· Distinctive, often innovative, brand packaging that delivers richer user experiences.

At the retail end, rapid adoption of digital shopping and strong buying and fulfillment experiences have strengthened consumer sentiment around the convenience and safety of online shopping. The retail shelf is now increasingly digital and brand packaging must deliver shopping experiences in newer ways.

Coupled with growth in retail private labels, mass brands have witnessed a new, hyper-competitive environment, where the mandate for brand packaging has changed.

Packaging’s new mandate

Traditionally, brand packaging’s role has been focused on ‘dressing up the brand’ to signal distinctiveness of identity, stimulate shopper/consumer curiosity, drive preference and trigger purchase.

That’s clearly no longer enough. Brand building conventions established by legacy, mass brands built on advertising and distribution excellence, are being challenged by a new breed of products that ride on packaging’s ability to deliver richer experiences.

Today, packaging must dial up consumer-appropriate values. And, not just through visual messaging and structural packaging innovations that help stand out on the shelf - the first moment of truth. But through experiential reinforcements that delight at every moment of consumption and conversation.

In short, winning packaging does more than dress up the brand for the retail shelf. Instead, it delivers at every moment of truth.

The author is executive director & CEO, Encept Brand Design.

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