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Marketing and selling in tough economic conditions - Article 24:

Increasing sales with effective packaging

Packaging is a silent salesman

Packaging is a very important aspect for marketing success, specially in the case of consumer products. However, the attention given to develop sound packaging is inadequate. This is probably due to the cost of packaging or the lack of understanding of the strategic value of packaging. In my view, packaging should be considered as a separate element of the marketing mix, so that the required attention is provided.

The benefits of packaging

Primarily packaging fulfills two major roles i.e. functional and emotional. Functionally, the package must protect the product and its contents, so that the product is received by the consumer in a satisfactory condition. In general, most organizations are able to achieve this. However, the real strategic value of packaging is the emotional aspect, which helps to increase sales. The emotional dimensions relate to colour, shape, graphics, finish of package, innovativeness etc.,

Packaging levels

The levels of packaging differ mostly in the quantity of their contents and the importance of their communication function. Primary or sales packaging is what usually reaches the consumer. It has the smallest product quantity, and the communication element used is very important. The packaging is in direct contact with the product.

Secondary packaging is primarily used to safely transport several primary packages. The most common example is the corrugated carton. It is generally plain and has little communication function beyond a barcode to identify it.

Tertiary or transport packaging is used for handling and transport of secondary packages, for instance, shrink-wrapped pallets and metal shipping containers. These contain the largest product quantities and have little communication function.

Factors to be considered in making packaging decisions

In the case of global products/brands, a key factor would be whether standard packages are to be used or customized once. The more standardized the packaging, the better recognition worldwide. A good example would be Absolut Vodka.

Package cost must be considered on a total and per unit basis. Total costs can be prohibitive and be a substantial portion of the product's retail price. (Maybe 40 percent in certain instances).

Due care must be taken in choosing the packaging material. In the selection, trade-offs are probably necessary. For instance, cellophane allows products to be attractively displayed, but is highly susceptible to tearing. Paper and cardboard are relatively inexpensive, but can be difficult to open or weatherproof.

Packaging needs to meet legal requirements

Irrespective of which market a product is made available, the packaging has to adhere to certain regulatory requirements. For example in a Sri Lankan context, barcodes, nett weight, maximum retail price, expiry/manufacturing date, list of ingredients, name and address of manufacturer/marketeer are all necessary. The name of the product/brand should be clearly visible and two languages need to be used. If certain quality certifications are available, they should be mentioned. (SLS, ISO, HACCP, Halal etc.,)

Packaging needs to communicate

The communication aspect of packaging is important to increase sales of a product/brand.

An attractive package supports the positioning of a brand. For example, the packaging of 'Gillette' razors, supports the positioning of a premium brand.

The packaging further needs to communicate the details of the product, how it should be used and how the packaging should be disposed of, in an environmentally friendly manner.

In a self-service, modern, trade environment, the package should 'sell' itself. Supermarkets and department stores carry a range of products/brands on their shelves and creative packaging is required to 'stand-out'.

For this to happen, the aesthetics of the packaging should be excellent and compliment the product type.

When the communication aspect of packaging is considered, the colours, designs, graphics are all important.

In certain markets, certain colours are inappropriate, due to cultural reasons. Due care must be given in using colours such as white, black and grey.

Packaging features

There is a wide range of package features from which to choose, depending on the product. These include screw-on tops, hinged lids, see-through bags, pour sprouts to name a few.

Next, the sizes, colours and shapes of packages should be selected. In selecting the package size, the shelf life, convenience and competition must be considered.

By selling small, medium and large sizes, an organization can ensure maximum shelf shape, appeal to different segments and make it difficult for new products to enter.

How innovative must be the package?

This depends on several aspects such as nature of the competition, the uniqueness of the core product, the characteristics of the target customer to name but a few.

Organizations such as Unilever, P&G, Nestle, L'Oreal, General Foods have been very innovative in their packaging and this has resulted in a certain degree of competitive advantage.

Very innovative package shapes can be observed in the cosmetics and personal care industry. Brands such as LV, Christian Dior, Wella, Nina Ricci come readily to mind.

Innovative packaging can also be seen in food products such as cheese (Kraft), beverages (fruits, carbonates) and alcoholic beverages (wines, beer, whisky, champagne).

Packaging and environmental issues

Environmental aspects are critical in packaging design, material selection and disposal of empty containers. Stringent environmental regulations are in force in certain markets, whilst in others newer regulations are being drafted. By developing and marketing eco-friendly packaging, a certain product/brand can achieve a competitive advantage.

Basically, marketeers would do well to consider the disposal issue of used packaging. Glass and paper based packages are more environmentally friendly, as opposed to plastic, polythene and cans. In Sri Lanka we observe the Keells Super chain of supermarkets, initiating a paper based bag, as opposed to plastic. The support of consumers is also needed to ensure that the environment is safeguarded.

Conclusion

There are several aspects to be considered in packaging products/brands. What is fundamental to remember is that the packaging must be compatible and support the rest of the marketing mix. Packaging decisions should not be left to production, QC and finance personnel.

It is imperative that marketeers get actively involved in packaging decisions, since they are finally responsible for the performance of their brands.

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