It is undeniable that the decisive battleground for consumer product brands is the retail shelf. Everything brands do – making better products, communicating more effectively, expanding availability, or addressing new, emerging need spaces through portfolio extensions - is eventually tied to one ultimate goal: winning at the shelf – The First Moment of Truth.
Brands can survive and grow only if consumers go back again and again to make the same choice in a sea of ever-expanding options...
Brand packaging is at the heart of the battle kit consumer brands have at their disposal. But the question is, how can brand packaging make the consumer repeat the choice at the shelf?
The emergence of sharper, new categories, and an explosion in the choice of brands available to consumers, is however, making it increasingly difficult for brands to remain the preferred choice. For instance, a search for "ready-to-eat foods” on Amazon India throws up over 25 brands. "Male grooming” – a relatively new category that has seen tremendous growth in the last 3-5 years has dozens of brands vying for shopper attention. A cluttered shelf is a recurring theme across virtually every conceivable consumer product category.
And that’s just on Amazon...
In as early as 2018, Nielsen research pointed out that shoppers expect brands to play a different & bigger role in their daily lives. Consumers now demand personal and lifestyle benefits from brands like ‘this makes my life easier’ or, ‘this saves me time’.
In this new milieu, brand packaging’s goals have expanded beyond just the need to achieve visual differentiation.
So, what exactly has changed? In my opinion, a combination of two fundamental factors is shaping the new landscape where brands must now operate and win.
More than ever before, today’s consumers are "aware consumers”. Specifically, across F&B and personal care categories, choices for products are skewed towards those that enable a better quality of life – convenience, health, safety rather than those that speak loudest in the media. Today, "Good for me/ my family” messaging such as "organic”, "gluten-free”, "sugar-free”, "parabens-free”, "no chemicals” etc., communicated with clarity & substantiation is almost table stakes.
Triggered by the digital revolution and accelerated by the pandemic over the past 24 months, consumer lifestyles and behaviours have undergone massive upheavals. More time at home, less time consuming in stores and restaurants, greater integration of online and in-store shopping, heightened health and safety concerns have all driven shifts in behaviour and attitudes to brands that are likely to stay and strengthen. A sharper appreciation and expectation for post-purchase experiences that enhance and enrich the new lifestyle demands for convenience, safety, health is the new norm.
Differentiated packaging that marries visual aesthetics with form, function, and enhanced user experience is becoming critical. So is the need for packaging to resonate with consumer value systems & beliefs.
Standout examples include L’Oreal’s recent innovation of a paper bottle to drive home the sustainable beauty routine or Lush Cosmetics’ packaging that come in fabric knot-wraps, recyclable cardboard boxes or reusable metal tins: no matter which one you receive, its packaging is recyclable or reusable. With environmental consciousness at an all-time high and issues such as plastic waste a serious concern, championing responsible consumerism and being cause-based are certainly, winning stances for brands to take.
In the F&B space, Chai Point’s innovative product packaging with their heat-retaining disposable chai delivery flasks serves as a great example of packaging that attempts to truly deliver a hot tea experience. Yet another example is ID Fresh’s ‘transformer pouch’ packaging that addresses both utility & convenience to enrich consumer experience of the product. Its zip lock and flat bottom packs helps users avoid transferring the batter into another household container, thereby allowing storage of the product as-is in the fridge. Paper Boat’s success built around packaging that strikes an emotional chord with nostalgia-inducing messaging while delivering the product in an innovative pack format that shatters category conventions is well-documented.
The second significant shift that’s happened is the emergence of a new class of brands – digital-first or D2C (direct-to-consumer) brands. Fueled by rampant digital commerce adoption, reliable delivery logistics and easier access to funding, D2C brands have mushroomed across every category. Significant drivers of brand growth within digital-first brands are:
At the retail end, rapid adoption of digital shopping and strong buying & fulfillment experiences have strengthened consumer sentiment around the convenience and safety of online shopping. The retail shelf in now, increasingly digital and brand packaging must deliver shopping experiences in newer ways…
Coupled with growth in retail private labels, mass brands have witnessed a new, hyper-competitive environment where the mandate for brand packaging has changed.
Traditionally, brand packaging’s role has been focused on "dressing up the brand” to signal distinctiveness of identity, stimulate shopper/ consumer curiosity, drive preference & trigger purchase.
That’s clearly, no longer enough. Brand building conventions established by legacy, mass brands built on advertising and distribution excellence are being challenged by a new breed of products that ride on packaging’s ability to deliver richer experiences.
Today, packaging must dial up consumer-appropriate values not just through visual messaging and structural packaging innovations that help stand out on the shelf - the first moment of truth - but through experiential reinforcements that delight at every moment of consumption and conversation.
In short, winning packaging does more than dress up the brand for the retail shelf. Instead, it delivers at Every Moment of Truth.