David Milliken's Brand Marketing Blog

What You Wear Says A Lot About You – Packaging

Posted in Packaging by dlmilli on December 2, 2009

Packaging is considered, by many, a brand’s most important marketing material. It is the only marketing communication always visible at the point of purchase decision. Per Fred Richards of Interbrand Cincinnati, “The brand’s package seals or kills the deal”.

What, if anything, do these packages communicate? What benefits do they offer?

Today I spent three hours discussing packaging with our supply chain, production, and design teams. We are looking to change our labels from a glossy plastic material to a high quality linen paper – a quality cue to wine shoppers. We will also tweak our graphics to look more modern. Seemingly simple changes.

Wow! How do I get my packaging to break through this overcrowded grocery shelf?

In today’s meeting, we discussed every single step (and there are over 100, from designing the graphics to testing glues) it will take to execute and launch this change. New packaging will be on shelves in just under a year. Believe it or not, our timeline is already extraordinarily tight.

By the end of the meeting we had the ideal outcome. Marketing and our cross-functional partners were aligned on the need for this project and the timeline. Now comes the hard part… we must execute each and every task on time to launch our new labels.

I predict you will hear more about this packaging change. In the meantime, please share your packaging experiences.

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7 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Milliken, Milliken. Milliken said: Packaging blog post http://wp.me/pELJQ-4Q. Fun for the whole family. […]

  2. Brett McLaughlin said, on December 7, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    It’s amazing how important packaging is, on so many levels. I recently took the APICS CSCP (a Supply Chain exam), and presently studying or the CMA, and both go on and on about packaging on SO many levels: It’s a classic “committed cost” (meaning that you commit to the costs when the packaging is designed, even if the costs are only incurred later on), and can have a huge impact upon how a product is distributed, stored, tracked and (of course) sold.

    I think a lot of the time when people notice that certain items are always sold in similar ways (kind of like how most cars, these days, all look pretty much alike), it’s because every company is faced with the same set of trade-offs.

    One issue that’s presently all the rage in Supply Chain is deferring customization to the very last minute: An extreme (and quite impractical) example might be sending multiple labels to the actual liquor stores, and telling them which labels to apply and when.

    But perhaps you could do that farther upstream: Having separate labels for separate seasons,or something like that? For example, for certain seasons, or for different regions of the country or something?

    Have you ever thought about something like that — some way to incorporate customization into the labeling process? (Or is that a really lame idea?)

    Great blog, by the way!

    – Brett

    • dlmilli said, on December 8, 2009 at 6:51 am

      Thank you for your comments which do a great job of demonstrating the importance of packaging. And also how many elements are involved in designing great packaging.

      You make an excellent point about packaging in many categories blending together. There is a herd mentality driven by two primary factors.

      1. Category cues. Consumers create instant associations based on the shapes, sizes, graphic treatments, etc., they see in certain categories. In wine, for example, matte labels indicate a premium versus glossy. This phenomenon also explains why your 10 oz box of cereal is just as big as your 12 oz box. Instead of attempting to overcome category cues, most marketers just follow them.
      2. Efficiency. When a supplier is producing millions of packages for multiple brands, it is hard to justify spending more to obtain a unique shape, size, or material.

      Of course, that provides an opportunity for brands willing to break the “rules”. Coors partially owns its can production plant allowing them to efficiently produce the thinner, taller cans that became known as silver bullets. Ben & Jerry’s containers show full color images that bring personality – on top of appetite appeal – to ice cream. And an infinite number of soft drinks, available in packages more far interesting than the standard Coke can, are leading category growth.

      Seasonal or commemorative packaging can be very powerful in touching consumers’ passion points and driving sales. But there are risks. I recently led a product brainstorm. As stimulus I bought products from a local grocery store, including packs with breast cancer and Halloween graphics. Problem was it was mid November. At Coors, “stale” packaging was such a big concern we would aim for Super Bowl cases to sell through a month before the big game.

      Wine is not a particularly fast moving consumer good so you must be careful. A New Year’s pack could collect a lot of dust before its next chance to sell.

  3. Brett McLaughlin said, on December 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    You raise a good point about inventory cycling: I was thinking that once a date had passed, that that’s *it* — it can’t be used any longer. (For example, cans of beer marked with Super Bowl XX or something — you can’t pass it off as fresh for Super Bowl XXI.)

    One of the main themes of CSCP was that there’s real value in partnering with your supply chain members. I wonder: Have you explored getting a leg up on packaging by partnering with liquor stores to apply packaging stuff at the store itself? (Like bows or something that would be hard to package ahead of time, but easy to put on once it’s there?)

    Hmm…considering that I don’t recall seeing much of that going on at the liquor stores, I’m guessing there’s an entirely good reason why nobody’s doing that. (Maybe quality control: they’d screw up the bows or something? Or maybe there’s no feasible incentive to make it worth their while to do it?)

  4. Brett McLaughlin said, on December 8, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    …Sorry, I started to make a point at the top of my last comment and then jumped to a separate idea: My point was — I suppose that some seasonality stuff could, in fact, be used again if you wanted long enough. A silly example might be a “Thank God It’s Friday” label. I suppose that, like the idea for the ribbon, would require participation from the liquor stores — to either store the not-in-season items (like day-of-the-week-specific wine) or to ship them back (like seasonally-themed wines). They probably wouldn’t be thrilled about either prospect.

    • dlmilli said, on December 9, 2009 at 3:35 pm

      Once again, you bring up a very valid opportunity: in-store customization. Just as your local hardware store can match any paint color, can brands rely on them to customize your packaging thematically at the point of purchase?

      Ideally, the answer is yes. But given the number of brands in any given store, marketers are concerned their products will not get the level of execution they desire at the individual store level. So the tendency is towards self-executing execution, on pack or on display. But through stronger partnerships built on more than just price, reaching that ideal is possible which would benefit brands, retailers, and consumers.

  5. […] we know from our packaging project, walking down the wine aisle is like swimming in a sea of sameness. The goal of today’s session […]


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