Just look across any major category of packaged goods. You’re sure to find competing products presented in surprisingly similar containers with copycat color schemes. While I understand that it’s difficult to justify the costs associated with the distinctive features of proprietary packaging, it’s very difficult to achieve significant sales performance and market growth with a “me too” approach.
Let’s Go Shopping
One of the techniques I rely upon to overcome sameness is marketplace research. I’m not talking about the accumulation of statistical data, conducting focus groups or the evaluation of available competitor data. While these are useful and can provide an overview of the competitive landscape and consumer preferences, I’m talking about visiting stores and walking aisles. When you consider that the majority of purchasing decisions are made in the aisles, it makes sense to know what these selling environments look like, what merchandising schemes are in use, and what sorts of products will be sitting next to yours.
Toys & Games
It doesn’t matter what industry or style of packaged goods you are involved with. I’ve found that many of the same ideas, concepts and design solutions used in one product category or industry can also influence and/or be successfully borrowed for use in another.
On my latest research expedition, I wanted to see what advances in packaging and brand presentations had been made in the toy and game industry. I expected that I would find a spectacular assortment of shapes and materials that would capture my imagination and magnify the notion of "fun" and "play" that each product had to offer.
To my surprise, the packaging I encountered was mostly traditional and relied primarily on the tried and true rectangular box. No matter how many shops I visited, the rectangular box was a hands down winner. While hang-sell blister packs and clam shells were also prevalent, the containers themselves were, for the most part, traditional and conceptually uninspired.
When I made the effort to examine some of these products up close, I discovered that innovation was hidden in the details. Many packages integrated some form of window and utilized dimensional point-of-sale techniques ordinarily associated with much larger display structures. All sorts of specialty folds, die cuts, internal wrappers, vacuum forming, stapling and binding were part of these presentations. Hang sell products made excellent use of die-cut patterns and the see-through advantages of plastic. The depth of engineering that was employed within many of these structures was, quite simply, amazing.
Considerable benefits were also achieved through well-conceived surface treatments. Branding and product identifiers embraced a broad spectrum of eye-popping color combinations, energized typographic designs, action oriented illustrations, computer-generated photographic illusions and contemporary printing technologies including specialty foil laminates and holography. Without a doubt, these images are hard to miss and remind me of the dizzying visual displays of outdoor billboards in downtown New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
There are lots of creative strategies and tactics you can learn from a trip to the toy store. Toy and game manufacturers are hardly ignorant to the value of packaging. While it may seem that many more opportunities for structural innovation remain untapped, there are probably other issues at work. Considerations such as cost of manufacturing, competitive pricing and shelf life all influence what can or cannot be used in the development of packaging and what we’ll see in the stores. I know from experience that all sorts of great and wonderful ideas end up in the trash on a regular basis due to competitive and manufacturing realities.
The experiences I’ve just described can also be gained from a visit to the hardware, grocery, department or liquor store. I know. I’ve been there too. Wherever there are packaged goods competing for space and attention, there is something you can learn. And while these discoveries may not be earth shattering, they may provide just the right spark of inspiration you need.
The next time you’re in search of that great new idea, do what I do. Go shopping.