March 2007 - Unwrapping the Art of Packaging

Your product’s packaging performs a wide range of important functions-from protecting the contents to communicating important legal information. Finding the perfect design for your product and budget can be a challenge, but today there are more options than ever before.

By David Lustig

You’ve come up with a first-rate product idea and the engineers have brought it to life, designing exactly what you’d envisioned. The marketing firm you’ve partnered with has produced a doozy of an advertising campaign and the price structure is squarely in the competitive ballpark. Now all you have to do is sit back and let the call center personnel make the sales. Well, not quite. Amid all the furor, you just may have forgotten a very important piece of the promotional pie: product packaging and design.

Packaging should not be looked at as something akin to the decorative wrapping of a Christmas present sitting beneath the tree. Sure, most of us will attack the package with all the zeal of a child tearing open a gift, but the ordered product, once received, must convey a feeling of worth and value-not to mention effectively protecting the product from the bouncing and thumping it will receive en route. Opening the package should delight and relieve the recipient, especially considering that the outer brown cardboard box may have incurred some damage from rough handling.

In addition to protecting the product in transit, packaging should convey a sense of quality, worth and value.

“We try to balance [packaging and design] with practicality,” says Drew Graham, president of Ship-Right Solutions, based in South Portland, Maine. “The product needs to be protected in transit and still maintain perceived value when it’s opened. The cost of the packaging and its effect on the cost of transportation need to be analyzed before any roll out.”

Robert Kelly, project manager, specialty packing of The Jay Group, based in Ronks, Pa., notes that there are two primary considerations: structural and graphical. “The product drives the structural format of the packaging. Is it breakable? Liquid? It also leads to the graphical format, which often is dependent on the product’s price point. Design can be conveyed graphically via printing method, quality of packaging and a variety of other components.”

Gary Traynor, vice president of sales for Somerville, Mass.-based Ames Specialty Packaging, stresses the importance of first defining the function of the packaging-whether it be for a trade show, direct mail, a product launch or some other use. It’s important to know up front whether the components of the package are intended to be stand-alones, or if they will hold a premium or printed matter. And, says Traynor, “it’s essential to create a working prototype to check function and ensure there is enough print area-as well as to allow for final design adjustments.”

“We meet with the client as early as possible,” says Guy Marom, executive vice president of Torrance, Calif.’s AVC Corporation. “This way, we are able to apply our experience to guide the client through the design, tooling and production stages.” Marom adds that it’s important to establish a budget early so packaging can be developed around those guidelines-and not exceed them.

“The choice of materials is of utmost importance and dependent on what our client is packaging,” continues Marom, adding that elements such as perceived value, potential for damage in shipping, size, weight, colors and price must be considered. “And if the client chooses to package environmentally,” he says, “then the materials choice will be even more important.”

According to Ship-Right Solutions’ Graham, it’s safe to say that-especially given the number of suppliers-there’s an option for every objective.

“For direct-to-consumer shipments, corrugated boxes are still king,” he says. “Whether customized, branded or off-the-shelf, corrugated boxes strike the best balance between value and versatility. That being said, there are numerous options for specific types of products and shipments, such as lightweight-yet-protective bubble mailers, resilient DuPont Tyvek and poly bags, as well as many types of form-fitting, self-sealing packaging.”

Text plays an important role, too-especially in the area of perceived value. “It brands your company and its products so that the customer continues to buy from you,” says Graham. “In technical terms, the application of text needs to flow into the final package design so that it aligns cleanly with the overall architecture of the box. Don’t forget that the fulfillment provider needs room for a label: usually 4 by 6 inches, with a minimum of 3 by 5 inches.”

Packaging text performs a variety of functions and usually involves multiple departments. “You have the creative side from the marketing team and then there is the product liability portion, which often involves the company’s legal team,” says Kelly. “The FTC, depending on what type of product you are developing, may define a lot of the text.

“Depending on the type of product, the FDA, DOT and others could also get involved,” says Kelly. “As the designer, I work with those considerations in mind, allowing sufficient space for all brand and legal information.”

The marketer needs to keep pragmatic considerations in mind, like the ease with which a package is put together. Assembly costs are frequently overlooked, as are materials costs which can be volatile and quick-changing.

Common mistakes include poor artwork and color choices. Oftentimes, companies fail to take certain costs-especially assembly costs-into consideration. “You need to design to your budget,” says Kelly. “Developing something that can’t pragmatically be put together is simply impractical.”

Graham says other mistakes made by marketers include failing to involve their fulfillment company soon enough, over-customizing too early in a campaign and neglecting to consider collateral material and other inserts.

“Cost seems to be the driver when it comes to environmental considerations,” says Graham. “If recycled material is available and within the budget, we always recommend it. Fortunately, most of the packaging we see is recyclable anyway. Void fill [cushioning] material is an often-overlooked environmental consideration. We almost always use paper cushioning. No one likes the old Styrofoam packing peanuts due to their cost and environmental impact and, unfortunately, the corn starch variety is not as effective.”

AVC has been heavily involved in the push toward environmental packaging. “We are a member of Wal-Mart’s environmental packaging steering committee,” Marom says. “We have developed numerous patented and patent-pending environmentally sustainable packaging concepts.”

Kelly adds that The Jay Group, whenever possible, assesses the total environmental cost of a product. “This analysis includes not only recycled content, but sustainable packaging as well,” he says. “Sustainable packaging relates to the raw source of the material and whether it is easily replenished. Corrugated shipping cases are one example. Other examples are plastics that are ethanol-based rather than petroleum-based and the use of solvent versus non-solvent inks.”

“Consider assembly costs as well as material costs,” says Marom. “And know what your competition is doing. Think about what will be most convenient for the consumer. Be sure to design packaging that will sustain the rigors of travel without adding too much extra weight.”

“The packaging industry can be very volatile; price increases can be swift and sweeping,” warns Graham. “Rely on your fulfillment partner to bring expertise and economies of scale to the table. Packaging design is trickier and more time consuming than it first appears. Like everything in this business, test first and make sure the numbers work. Involve your fulfillment partner alongside your manufacturer at each phase of the campaign. It can save you lots of time and money.”

Although the planning and design of your packaging requires thoughtful analysis at each step in the process, it’s not nearly as difficult to assess its success or failure. “In many respects, good design is intuitive,” sums up Kelly. “If a package is well designed, you’ll know it.”

David Lustig is a contributing writer to Electronic Retailer magazine. We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, please e-mail the magazine at [email protected].


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