If the packaging does not communicate all the things the concept described, it will not “sell.”

Packaging effectiveness has gained a lot of attention the last few years. New product experts understand that packaging must not only break through on the shelf and protect the product, but must also communicate and function well in order to “sell the benefits” of the product.

All true, but does this really represent what packaging is all about?

No. Packaging, at least for the first purchase, is the product. Therefore, it must completely communicate the product’s benefits, features, points of difference and reasons-to-believe, as well as set a taste or performance expectation and establish or reinforce the brand’s equity.

It must also communicate on an emotional level as well as a rational one.

AcuPOLL, a Cincinnati-based market research firm, works with Packaging & Technology Integrated Solutions, LLC (PTIS), a Kalamazoo, Mich., strategic packaging consultancy company, to provide a more complete packaging research solution. PTIS has long preached that the primary measure of success for packaging is not appeal, but purchase interest. Packaging is the product and should be measured in the same way we measure interest in products or concepts.

According to AcuPOLL, those measures include purchase probability (likelihood to buy), new and different (uniqueness) and price (value).

However, while developing packaging testing criteria, it’s important to understand that 75-90% of new products fail in the marketplace (depending on who you want to believe). Let’s take the lower number-75%-for example. That’s a huge failure rate, especially given the rigorous testing that takes place early in the idea and product screening process.

A lot of this failure comes from execution of the idea through the development and introductory process. Some, of course, comes from not getting the awareness or distribution levels that are necessary to secure trial. However, part of the problem is simply that the packaging is not selling well enough. If the package does not “sell” the benefits, it does not convince consumers that it will work as promised.

In short, if it does not communicate all the things the concept described, it will not “sell.”

As a result, we investigated concept-to-packaging communication transitions to help understand how well ideas are translated in packaging. Not surprisingly, we found a wide range of the degrees of translation. Some ideas are translated perfectly; and, at least in the case of many of
AcuPOLL’s clients, this has resulted in pretty good product introductions.

But, some new products have either changed during the development process (probably as products could not deliver on concept promises due to manufacturing or packaging restrictions) or have just failed to communicate well. In these instances, the products have not done as well in the marketplace.

In applying this learning to a useful packaging testing protocol, the challenge becomes one of holistically testing the package for all the learnings gathered on the concept and/or product.
By testing for the same product measures, we are able to see if the packaging fails to match concept/product performance and where it falls short.

Packaging volumetrics
It is common to apply volumetric modeling to both concepts and products. Concepts are often modeled for their ability to deliver on brand needs in order to get the funding to continue development. Products are modeled to determine their ability to deliver the promises of the concept, and to determine manufacturing needs in the first year of introduction (distribution builds, etc.).

In fact, consumer package goods manufacturing companies spend tens of millions of dollars a year quantitatively testing and modeling their concepts and products to ensure consumer acceptance of their new products. But many of these same companies qualitatively test, or ask questions regarding the appeal of packaging.

Packaging testing should face the same rigor as concepts, possibly testing multiple choices and gaining an understanding of consumer intent to purchase, AcuPOLL says. And, if companies are planning introductory volume needs and distribution builds, wouldn’t it be great to know if consumers intend to buy your product in the package to the same degree they wanted to buy your concept/product? After all, the “product” is packaged, and the package graphic and structural design elements create real and perceived expectations that ultimately the product and package experience must deliver on.

Volume modeling on packaging can help identify the actual gap between concept appeal and the appeal of the final packaged product. In testing, we have seen actual volume increases as the packaging became more focused than the concept at selling the key benefit, and as much as a 35% decrease in likely volume when claims and support were changed between the concept and the package.

The purpose is not to argue against volumetric predictions at the concept stage as these can be valuable in focusing corporate energies on the potentially big ideas, but rather to demonstrate the importance of the final package, not just rational and emotional communication, but to the selling proposition as a whole.

Comparing concept to packaging volumes in this way is both easy and an affordable way to double-check the final communication of your product just before it hits the shelf.

About the author
Jack Gordon is president of AcuPOLL Research, Inc., a Cincinnati-based new product and packaging research company. AcuPOLL offers “Packaging Optimizer,” a product used to determine the value and holistic appeal of packaging (rational, communication and emotional performance). AcuPOLL helps clients find insights and understand the emotional appeal of advertising, branding and packaging, in addition to helping them understand both rational appeal and communications issues. AcuPOLL also offers workshops on new product insights, concept development and package development.