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A Pretty Little Package

18 Aug, 2010 McKell Naegle

Our own Kevin Perry, creative director at Fluid, was quoted in this article!

Utah CEO

A Pretty Little Package
When it comes to consumers, it’s what’s on the outside that counts.

by Elise Oberliesen, UTAH CEO

Overwhelmed by the plethora of retail products on store shelves today, consumers scan quickly and hope for a good find. Creative packaging with compelling design and strategic messaging can quickly draw consumers in. Done correctly, the package excites consumers enough to pick it up and drop it in their shopping carts. Soon they will be fervently ripping it open to try it out.

Want to grab attention? Then your product packaging had better stand out, tickle the senses and evoke emotion, says Rushford Lee, owner of RED, a Salt Lake City graphic design firm. “We test our own packages to make sure they are working well. By doing this, we can decide what packaging speaks best to the customer,” Lee says.

Clever packaging means products must encapsulate motivating messages that inspire buyers to pull out their wallets. “Packaging gets people to try it once,” Lee says. Too fancy a package on a ho-hum ice cream may not bring the consumer back, and that sets up product manufacturers for the proverbial consumer one-night stand. Gone tomorrow.

Tahitian Noni International is a Salt Lake City-based company that produces a wide variety of products, including bioactive drinks made from noni fruit. When the company redesigned its packaging in February 2010, the bioactive drink bottles underwent a makeover from glass to sleek aluminum. Another packaging change included the Quad, a package for pouring drinks from four-liter boxes, similar to the boxed wine concept.

Since the packaging shift, the company reports an 18 percent sales spike, according to Jeff Wasden, Tahitian Noni’s vice president of global marketing. He says these numbers are a strong indicator that the company will see continued growth across markets worldwide. He attributes sales growth to several factors, packaging included. “We have enhanced the customer experience with new formulations, more convenient packaging and more consumer-friendly design on packaging, our website and catalog,” Wasden says.

Packaging the right message with precision

Want the best-looking packages? Consider working with a specialist. AIGA is the largest national professional association for designers; President Kevin Perry runs the Salt Lake City chapter and works as a creative director at Fluid Studio. Creating classy brochures is not the same thing as working on a four-sided orange juice container. “Packaging design presents different challenges, because of the 3-D nature of the work,” Perry says. “There are many good designers out there — both in print and packaging — but to actually create a successful product, there is value to someone who can think three-dimensionally, while using sustainable thinking to solve problems that protect the environment and provide economic value to the product.”

Message clarity on the package captures the buyers’ attention and gets them thinking. But package space is limited. Consumers make split-second decisions about whether a bathroom cleaner really fights “tough grime” or if twig-like cereals taste better simply because they are pictured amongst beautifully ripened strawberries. “Keep the front of the package simple. You have to be a good designer to bring out key information without having it feel cluttered,” Lee says.

Because Tahitian Noni drinks are widely marketed across divergent audiences, each formula must set itself apart. That’s one reason the bioactive drink bottle packaging is color-coded. “Colors differentiate the different formulas,” Wasden says.

Whether a consumer seeks increased energy or better joint health, Wasden says consumers can quickly identify which formula fits their needs based on details like ingredients listed and the science behind it. He says customers respond well to information sharing. “Today we are sharing more of our science than ever before. Our newly designed packaging helps convey some key scientific information — like the amount of iridoids in each of our bioactive beverages,” Wasden says.

Know the customer well

Before products or their snazzy packaging find buyers, the company must start at square one: homework. Before Lee sends his graphic designers and illustrators out to make pretty packages, he first gets inside the buyer’s mind. Then he listens closely to consumer whisperings to understand their packaging preferences. “A good package has details. You must know the consumer’s top questions,” Lee says. And, he adds, answer them.

Lee gathers about 200 consumer online surveys. Survey data guides the package design process. “We analyze things internally and from a design perspective. Our goal is to understand what they [consumers] think and how that would apply to the design problem we are trying to solve,” Lee says.

Public perception often sways packaging decisions. But remember the goal: compelling packages that sink their hooks into buyers. “Know what the public perceives the product to be and what the [product] benefits are,” Perry says. “Does the public think the product is expensive or generic or something they don’t need?” he says.

It’s also a good idea to be sensitive to change. One example is the recent shift toward double-concentrated detergents undertaken by much of the laundry soap industry. Lee says consumers were initially wary of the change — “Were they really getting more [product] in a smaller container?” The solution was clever use of graphics and skillful copywriting. Finite amounts of packaging space forces designers to consider the impact of each tagline, symbol or logo placement, he says.

Sustainable packaging — when the world demands it — factors into costs

To some, packaging is nothing more than solid waste headed for the landfill or recycling center. According to Freedonia Group Inc., an international industry market research company based in Cleveland, demand for sustainable packaging is growing. “U.S. demand for green packaging — comprised of recycled content, biodegradable and reusable packaging — is projected to increase 3.4 percent annually to $43.9 billion in 2013, using 59 billion pounds of material,” says a Freedonia Group Inc. spokeswoman.

The higher costs associated with sustainable packaging sparks debate no matter how we slice the topic, from excess water and energy consumption during recycling to paper use that slashes pristine forest. “Our new aluminum bottle costs two times more than our glass bottle, but is twice as likely to be recycled, and has a carbon footprint that is over 80 percent smaller than glass,” Wasden says.

Helge Tennø, a design strategist and planner at Scandinavian Design Group in Norway, reminds that change is a slow process. “Mass markets need time to move, and we are just seeing the beginning when it comes to mass market interest in paying more for eco-friendly products,” Tennø says. “Because customers have shown that when it comes to talking, they are all about sustainability, but when it comes to buying, they are all about personal comfort.”

Asking the package to sell the product may be asking a lot. Whether a package boasts about high quality or downplays its simplicity through its design, both create emotion. While the package itself cannot do all the work of making the consumer fall in love with it, the package gets the consumer’s wheels turning. Knowing what consumers want and crafting messages that speak their language can move packages or products into their hands. Next time a new package grabs your attention and you find it on your desk the next day, ask yourself how that clever little package roped you in and motivated the sale.

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