Your Packaging Has an Expiration Date – and It’s Sooner Than You Think

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Your Packaging Has an Expiration Date – and It’s Sooner Than You Think

April 6, 2021

Product packaging is the only omnipresent representation of your brand. Promotions, advertising, and sometimes even product formulations are short-lived. But your packaging will always be there to greet your customers on the store shelves and in their own pantries.

That alone should compel you to evaluate your packaging ASAP. But unfortunately, if you’re like most large CPGs, you’re not getting around to improving your packaging often enough.

Maybe packaging is the last place you look for opportunity when sales are down. Or maybe the corporate hierarchy is making it too difficult for you to adjust efficiently. Worse, it could be that the executives see your packaging as their legacy, too precious to touch with any regularity.

No matter the reason for the neglect, it’s time to put structure around your packaging evaluation process – or you risk losing your market share to smaller, fresher, more agile brands.

The Importance of Effective Packaging Design

Having a strong, established brand supports — or even drives — the performance of your marketing initiatives and, ultimately, your sales. And packaging is an important tool in your brand marketing toolkit, which also includes activities like advertising and promotions. If you don’t update each of the tools in your toolkit regularly, your brand will never perform at its peak.

In addition, packaging is a valuable brand communicator in and of itself. After all, your product’s packaging is the most consistent, ever-present touchpoint on any path to purchase.

Packaging is also uniquely positioned to appeal to customers every time they’re on this purchase path, every time they’re shopping. Because, when your latest promotion ends, it’s the packaging that’s left alone to sell your product. Effective, appealing packaging will make your customer think, “This is my brand, and I won’t switch to the competitor or generic version this week even though my brand is no longer on sale.”

The Limitations of Your Go-To Marketing Tactics

Promotions, advertising, social media, sampling — all of these tactics have an important place in your brand marketing toolkit and should work together to sell your product.

That said, we’ve already expressed some limitations of these other tactics. Most importantly, remember that they’re all fleeting. Your social media campaign will end; your BOGO pricing will stop; you won’t offer samples forever. And, we can’t say it enough, your packaging is what’s there at every point of purchase no matter what.

There are other limitations to these forms of marketing that don’t apply to packaging at all. Consider the following:

Advertising Is Cost-Prohibitive

Advertising, particularly traditional media advertising, is costly. For one, the advertising audience is highly fractured. You need to buy multiple media assets to reach your target consumers.

Also, advertising is a complex undertaking. Meaning, putting together any type of advertising campaign requires a whole bunch of people from different departments and companies —marketing, ad agency, creative, producers, media planners, buyers, project managers and so on — to come together. That’s a scheduling and budgeting nightmare. Add production costs to that and you’re suddenly spending tens of thousands of dollars on a print ad and hundreds of thousands on a single commercial.

Social media advertising, and digital advertising in general, isn’t as expensive as traditional media, it’s true. Even so, it adds up. You once again have to consider the number of people needed to get a digital campaign going, let alone keep it running successfully.

A crucial side note on social media: It’s completely reliant on beautiful, modern, captivating imagery. If your packaging and brand image are outdated, savvy digital consumers will scroll right by that ad, dismissing your product outright.

When compared to traditional and digital advertising, packaging is a relatively cost-effective way to renew customer interest in your brand. Think of it this way: Upwards of half the cost of product packaging is already built into the cost of goods. A bill you’re already footing since your company is manufacturing millions of units of product all of the time. Slipping a packaging redesign into an existing and continuous production process is not a huge time or budget suck.

Promotions Devalue Products

You could say that promotions have a leg up over advertising because they are present at the time of purchase. Your customers will see that sale price and it will influence their buying decision, which does matter.

However, promotions are at a disadvantage to all other forms of marketing because they cheapen your brand by their very nature. When you lessen the price of your product for a promotion, even though it’s temporary, you’re telling your customers that your product isn’t worth its full price.

You should still absolutely run promotions. Just know that they can’t be your only sales tactic or you will gradually devalue your product. Hence the need for a balance that includes packaging refreshes.

The Key to Keeping Your Packaging Relevant

Hopefully you’re convinced that packaging deserves more attention than it usually gets. But how do you ensure that your packaging remains fresh?

You need to continually evaluate it. It’s not enough to react to trends or challenges after the fact. You need to proactively change your packaging to speak to that trend (embracing it or strategically bypassing it) or avoid that challenge in the first place.

It’s also not enough to change your packaging every five to seven years, as the old industry standard dictated. Our entire world is too fast-paced and the CPG world is too saturated — consumers will simply move on to another product if your packaging gets stale.

In practice, continuous evaluation means putting a cycle in place that both reminds you and forces you to revisit your packaging regularly. There’s no hard and fast rule for how often packaging should actually change, but you should be looking at it, evaluating it, and thinking about changing it at least once per year.

Evaluating your packaging could involve seeking customer feedback on your existing packaging, testing potential new designs, and comparing your packaging to your competitors’.

No matter the process you establish for your iterative packaging review, know that when the time does come to implement a change, you’ll have much of the legwork done from your continuous evaluation efforts. Above all, you’ll end up with more powerful packaging that’s better positioned to impact brand performance.

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