Much has been written about capturing the hearts and minds of consumers in the digital age with customization and personalization playing a significant role in the struggle for brand awareness. However, when it comes to packaged goods in food and beverage segments, customization, personalization or even individualization may be achievable but only to a limited degree. First of all, it is important to agree on the meaning of customization and personalization – which can be broadly defined as tailoring or creating something unique to accommodate an individual or group.
Second, by the complexity of its varied but interrelated processes and as a mass-production activity, packaging is not a highly responsive medium that is easily or cost-effectively adapted to individuality or uniqueness. Although technology can accelerate the packaging process, it doesn’t change the fact that product development and structural packaging engineering are long-term, high-cost activities that require significant lead times to conclude, the cost of which is then offset in producing and distributing high volumes of product.
Third, concurrent with (if not leading) the graphic design process, branding provides the long-term identity marketers want their consumers to come to recognize, value and be loyal to. While brands evolve over time and as product lines are augmented with new items, they are served best when managed with consistency and continuity. Like product formulation or package structure, it is not advisable (in any context) to constantly tweak a brand image and messaging.
Fourth, packaging is a tool used within an overall marketing strategy – the principal role of packaging is for the identification, containment, and conveyance of product to a consumer. Rarely does packaging exist outside of a formalized marketing strategy, which acts as the super driver of imagery and communication surrounding and supporting a product. The strategy acts as a guide to how a package is shaped, the images and copy used, and their role alongside peripheral marketing activity and materials. The package design helps to reinforce the intent and message behind a brand and act as a vehicle to put that message directly in front of the consumer. So where/when/how do customization and personalization impact packaging?
Previously packaging resided fairly exclusively on a retail shelf or display. Now packaging has to work on a shelf, online, through e-commerce channels or shipped directly to a consumer. Each outlet may require marginally modified structures to meet delivery demands and limitations but the brand and graphic design elements and standards still need to be applied consistently so all channel components work in a unified manner. Messaging may be augmented to suit the channel it is working through but the package is then distributed through specific multiple marketing channels determined to be the most appropriate means to reach a given consumer as a group or individual. This is as truly “personal” or “customized” as it can realistically be.
Customization within the context of commercially printed packaging occurs most frequently as promotional, seasonal or new product packaging targeted to a specific marketing program or consumer profile but generally speaking not at the exclusion of “standard” packaging. Examples might be timed release packaging in conjunction with holidays or sporting events or packaging for products that have been modified for special occasions. Beverage products have released customized packaging featuring commonly accepted names or sporting images as a part of their graphic design.
Tailoring packaging to accommodate an individual or group is primarily found in compound packaging that combines a product or group of products within an individual box or kit that “feels” like a customized gift when the consumer receives it. The only way true customized packaging occurs is in small, hand made or custom products, but it is important to be mindful that products based on individual need are priced to reflect the degree of quality and/or material that goes into making them. Commercially produced packaging for mass distribution occurs in such high volume that customization or personalization is not realistically achievable. What is customizable is the marketing mix used to reach the consumer, which in the contemporary environment is through digital and social outlets.
Data gathered from consumers helps determine how to create a connection, and lest we forget, can provide important statistics on product improvement that can then be incorporated into future packaging and marketing messaging. It is important to remember that packaging, as a tool of marketing, and because of its scale and processes is less capable of incorporating those changes quickly.
If you are thinking of exploring customization or personalization through promotional, seasonal or new product packaging, contact us at [email protected] We’d love to start a discussion with you.