Tweet, Pin, Post, Text and Buy: The Role of Product Packaging in the Digital Marketplace

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"As consumers become increasingly savvy, they are identifying and leveraging many different sources of information channels to optimize their own shopping experience. The SoMoLo (social, mobile, local) consumer, for example, makes purchasing decisions with the input of a powerful network of contacts."

At The Dieline Package Design Conference 2013 keynote speaker Steve Kazanjian, Vice President of Global Creative for MeadWestvaco (MWV), gave an alarming talk in how CPG sales are expected to grow at a 25% compound annual rate from 2012 to 2015. Now more than ever, the emergence of new hybrid retail channels will forever redefine the role of packaging in a dynamic and evolving marketplace. Read on to learn more about the role of product packaging in the digital marketplace.

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Brought on by evolving technology and an influx of interactive devices and mobile apps, the retail industry has reached a tipping point. Online engagement is profoundly changing consumers’ shopping behavior and -- in many cases -- replacing the traditional in-store experience with e-commerce. In fact, Forrester says that 192 million U.S. consumers will shop online in 2016, up 15 percent in 2012.

You would think this would mean product packaging – the “brick-and-mortar” around the package, if you will – would decrease in importance. It’s actually just the opposite.

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As consumers become increasingly savvy, they are identifying and leveraging many different sources of information channels to optimize their own shopping experience. The SoMoLo (social, mobile, local) consumer, for example, makes purchasing decisions with the input of a powerful network of contacts.

Today, brick-and-mortar stores are simply one element in a matrix of paths that a consumer may take to purchase products. The virtual marketplace offers consumers the flexibility to control and create a customized experience. Technology has also afforded greater access to information. Shoppers don’t have to rely exclusively on the brand messaging anymore. In fact, they often don’t trust it until it’s validated by third parties. Can you think of the last time you made a substantial purchase in an actual store that didn’t involve some sort of online research?

As more purchase decisions are made online, much of the current marketing communications mix, like signage and point-of-sale displays, is being replaced by customer reviews, tweets and Facebook likes. These social platforms have allowed consumers to grow their social circles exponentially, involving potentially hundreds of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, all of whom have opinions about the brands they use.

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In this era of free-flowing communication, the one part of the current marketing communications mix that remains untouched, and has even increased in importance, is packaging. In an online environment, consumers won’t have the opportunity to examine a product face-to-face. Instead, a product is selected based on its unique shape or color scheme from a one-half inch jpeg online that communicates the product’s features. It is crucial in that moment that perception is aligned with reality.

In the absence of physical interaction with the product at the initial purchase decision point, structural packaging now plays a much larger role. Think of brands like Coca-Cola that can be identified through their unique packaging and how that distinguishing characteristic leads to higher brand awareness and, ultimately, higher brand loyalty. This is all amplified in an online world.

As the retail shelf becomes less important, packaging’s structural features will become more important, as the “unboxing” at home is now the consumer’s first interaction with the product. Did it arrive intact, or did it spill? Is it easy to store at home? Can you get the last drop out? If the product package doesn’t meet consumers’ requirements, you can be sure there won’t be a repeat purchase.

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The online world re-enters the equation here, raising the stakes even higher. When product packaging fails, consumers often take to the internet to verbalize their displeasure. If a product arrives and the packaging is broken or consumers have a bad experience, their first outlet to express their frustration is on the product’s review section or the brand’s Twitter or Facebook page. And those comments live online and in consumers minds’ forever.

But this is an opportunity, too. For brands that recognize the increased importance of packaging in the savvy social consumer’s product experience, there can be a ripple effect. We’ve seen it through tweets, YouTube videos and Facebook posts of happy consumers singing the praises of our customers’ brands because of positive experiences enhanced by packaging.

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Our research shows that earning this “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” can be a make–or-break moment for a brand, especially in terms of repeat purchase and loyalty. And making a connection with a digitally savvy consumer means getting in front of their social media followers, too.

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About Steve Kazanjian

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Steve Kazanjian is the Vice President of Global Creative for MeadWestvaco (MWV). A Fortune 500 global leader in consumer packaging and with revenue in excess of $5 billion, MWV operates in more than 30 countries and creates compelling consumer packaging across as Food, Beverage, Consumer Electronics, Healthcare, Home & Garden, and Beauty & Personal Care. As the creative lead for MWV’s most valuable brand-focused projects, Steve has developed a comprehensive packaging brand strategy methodology: connecting a brand’s core emotional context with consumer purchasing behaviors. He currently spearheads innovation workshops for key global brands focused on these pioneering methods.