By Pauline Tingas
We’ve connected the dots to reveal seven key issues taking shape for you and your packaged-goods marketing peers this year
Trend watching can get dicey. Maybe because, these days, so many people are involved in it: there are so-called futurists, bloggers, book authors, consultants, market researchers, designers and other types vying to figure out the consumer and, perhaps more importantly, to label the next big shift. And they’ve all got plenty to say. Trends are, apparently, a trend.
But the opportunity for such “spotters” seems only to be growing as brand marketers eagerly tap into them, hoping to identify fresh ways to capitalize on the needs of their most coveted consumers.
“In the late 1970s, a trend was defined as something that everyone wanted at the same time. Back then, it was fairly easy for companies to determine the next big trend, and ride it all the way to the bank,” said former Target executive, RW Trend president Robyn Waters in our October 2006 issue (It’s Hip to Contradict, archived at www.brandpackaging.com
). “Today, a thousand different next big things have replaced the one next big thing,” she says. “A cookie cutter approach no longer works.”
To discover what consumers really want, Waters says, you need to ask what’s important, not just what’s next. And what follows is our attempt to do just that. We’ve connected the dots between current trends and your business, and identified emerging patterns that indicate these will be significant issues for you in the coming year.
Let’s start with the idea of simplicity, which seems to be a buzzword for marketers in nearly every sector. In packaging, the concept has mostly been translated as a design aesthetic: pared-down copy, minimal graphics, sparse backgrounds and clean typefaces. And for many brands (Method, POM and Izze quickly come to mind), it’s been a wildly successful way to differentiate on-shelf.
More recently, though, companies have been embedding the concept even further into their DNA. Phillips has a “simplicity advisory board”. And Staples has cut back SKUs, developed an “easy rebate” program and branded the initiative with the now iconic red “easy button”.
Simplicity is evolving, according to market researcher Dr. Robbie Blinkoff of Context-Based Research Group, who says that, while consumers are yearning to uncomplicate their lives, they are also embracing digital technology developments and the pace of life that is quickening like never before.
“There’s clear momentum building toward the convergence of simplicity and complexity,” he says.
Simplicity’s offspring is what Blinkoff is calling simplexity, a term from the tech sector that describes the idea of making complicated technologies easier to use (think Apple or Google). But it holds relevance for consumer packaged goods marketers as well.
For packaging, the challenge is to convey simplicity, multi-function and sophistication with few words, while still harnessing an intuitive ease of use, says Terri Goldstein of The Goldstein Group in New York.
That doesn’t mean simplicity should be translated as plain or boring. You might consolidate multiple solutions into a single package: think bagged salad kits. Or follow the lead of Method or (the UK’s) Innocent Drinks and let your brand story unfold with each customer interaction.
Simplexity doesn’t necessarily warrant trimming down your product line either. It might just require repositioning your product for an unexpected usage occasion or simplifying your brand architecture—people still want to be able to sift and sort through brand choices, but they want the process made easier.
The risk of not living up to consumer expectations? Backlash! And there’s enough of it going on these days to call this our second issue for 2007. The Internet, it seems, has empowered consumers to take most anything or anyone to task—and, with the launch and popularity of social networking sites like YouTube, they’re increasingly more likely to share their critiques with the whole world.
Take “green washing”. There are more than 235,000 Google references to the term—a derogatory label for companies thought to be deceptively marketing an environmentally friendly image.
And it’s not just in the blogosphere. A January 3, 2007, New York Times article called out a number of products, including natural Cheetos, for promoting a “fake environmental ethos” with green-washed packaging elements: an image of a field or farm “to suggest an ample harvest,” animals with “special skills”, “strangely oversized” vegetables or fruits, a little red tractor, family photographs and “subdued” coloring.
“Wheat sheaf by wheat sheaf, sunrise by sunrise, the grocery store shelves had been green-washed,” wrote the author Kim Severson.
Even special interest groups and government are getting in on it. Where’s the Fruit?, a new study from the Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments, chastises food marketers, saying nearly half of the “most aggressively marketed” children’s foods with pictures or names of fruit on the packages contained no fruit at all.
And legislation is a very real risk. There are “more serious threats over a wider range of issues and these threats are more pronounced,” said Daniel Jaffe, executive vice president of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, in a warning to marketers at an advertising law conference in January.
Such sentiments might be the reason DreamWorks’ Shrek character made a recent flip-flop. The popular green ogre has graced boxes of Twinkies and bags of M&Ms, but on February 1, his creators announced a new tact: a partnership with the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services to combat obesity and encourage kids to take time to play.
There’s also growing resentment against marketing altogether. The city of São Paolo has banned all outdoor advertising. Consumers are banding together in “volunteer simplicity” groups that reject consumerism. And futurist Faith Popcorn says consumers will soon start reacting against marketing’s “mental pollution” and demanding brands “reduce the amount of damage they are doing to our minds.”
How to avoid this kind of backlash? Maybe a softer approach is in order. Some brands are trial-ballooning interesting efforts. Phillips is sponsoring ad-free TV programming. And Nokia is setting up “silence booths” at music festivals, so consumers have a quiet place to make calls.
Authenticity will also be key in keeping the “lash” at bay. The ANA’s Jaffe says be vigilant about truthfulness and business ethics, but he also advises marketers to avoid the fate of Big Tobacco and consider the path of self-regulation.
In such a climate, it’s no wonder that the Second Moment of Truth (SMOT), the point where consumers actually use your product, is emerging in 2007 as the battlefield for brands. Consumers are simply demanding more and putting up with less than they ever have: They expect value, shelf presence, good storage capabilities, a satisfying (and perhaps inspiring) in-use experience AND easy disposal abilities from your packaging.
“Customer experience will decide the winners and losers in the years ahead,” says Jeneanne Rae, co-founder of Peer Insights, a consulting firm out of Alexandria, Va.
Competition at retail is one factor. Premium shelf space is increasingly reserved for only the strongest-selling items, and the rise of store brands is limiting the space retailers are willing to dedicate to national brands at all. The decision to purchase or repurchase is increasingly going to be made in consumers’ homes.
Demographics are another cause. Last year marked a major milestone that puts a spotlight on SMOT. Turning 60 were the oldest of the 78.2 million Baby Boomers, a demanding group heralded for reinventing each life stage as they’ve gone through it—don’t expect that they’ll be any less demanding of packaging usability as they age. Just be wary how you market to them—you might bump up the type size or offer better ergonomics, but you don’t want to promote these as features for the aged.
The second moment of truth, though, is something to consider for all ages. Think of ways your packaging can create delight, show consumers new ways of doing things or empower them to do things they never could do very well before.
P&G’s Kandoo brand is a good example. This line of children’s personal care products with packaging designed for little hands and fingers has been successful because it empowers kids to do bathroom basics themselves.
Safe and secure
We’ll also be seeing increased scrutiny towards food safety and security measures in ’07. Last year’s E. coli outbreak, and all of the media coverage it received, is a big factor. Add to that the ongoing debate about the prospect of agricultural terrorism, the rising number of counterfeited goods and the release of new packaging toxicity studies and you have a recipe for heightened anxiety about food safety and packaging.
One thing that’s clear is that you’re going to have to start offering consumers more than just what they want or need: successful brands are going to have to provide some form of reassurance in this age of anxiety.
Until now, the general thought was that safety and security practices should take place under consumers’ radar, so that your message doesn’t inadvertently raise questions.
Tell that to Japan’s Aeon supermarket chain, which is reaching out with a refreshing sense of transparency. Here, each package of domestically produced beef is marked with a “record number” that allows consumers to authenticate the source: where the animals were raised, what they were fed and when they were certified free of disease. On its store brand packaging, Aeon prints QR codes that consumers scan with their cell phones to access the Internet and view the manufacturer’s name and picture and the production record for each farm product.
Aeon says that, “by adding a proven sense of assurance to foods, [we] contribute to the health of our customers”. Here, you get an early sense of the “connected” retailing environment many experts are predicting, where consumers will track and trace the safety record of most any product before they buy it, and retailers and suppliers will be able to quickly identify the production origins should a case of E. coli or other trouble break out.
Consumers will also be placing greater demands on the safety of food packaging itself. Expect to see more freshness indicators, antibacterial films, anti-counterfeiting devices and increasing developments in nanotechnologies that can produce pathogen-resistant packaging.
You also need to consider consumer perceptions about cleanliness. A study at the W.P. Carey School of Business examined how consumers react to so-called “contaminated” products—products that have been soiled not with actual stains or real flaws, but have been tainted in the minds of consumers simply because the products appear to have been touched by others. A similar study by Perception Research Services revealed that consumers begin to question the safety and taste of a food product when the package is even slightly damaged.
Another trend that is expected to skyrocket in 2007 has been years in the making. Ethical consumerism has become the phrase to describe Americans’ penchant for shopping with a conscience. And it’s no longer just about environmentally friendly materials but, now, the consequences of manufacturing and consumption as well.
Brands have responded by significantly stepping up the number of products taking an ethical stance, such as organic, hormone-free, eco-friendly, locally-grown, cruelty-free and other “ethical” claims, according to Ethical Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, a new report from Packaged Facts that says U.S. retail sales of such grocery products will grow to $57 billion by 2011.
So how does this impact packaging? To begin, it points to issues of biodegradability, recyclability, reusability and, even, the reduction of packaging overall—a key point in Wal-Mart’s recent “Sustainability 360” announcement where president and CEO Lee Scott highlighted the company’s intent to work with suppliers to reduce packaging by five percent by 2013.
Brands are now being held much more accountable for their environmental and social practices; if you’re not tuned in to all these ethical demands, you’re simply going to lose out. And many companies are currently in that precarious position. Forty-seven percent of the S&P 500 companies are doing a poor job of disclosing climate change risks to their stockholders, according to the Ceres/Calvert report, a study by 225 global investors with total assets of $31 trillion, which was released on January 31.
Such disclosures will become more and more common, as consumers and investors step up their demands. It’s likely that they’ll also increase the practice of third-party certification. For instance, many brands promoting “fair trade” adopt the widely recognized International Fairtrade Certification Mark to indicate they are following agreed-upon environmental, labor and developmental standards—like a Good Housekeeping seal of the 21st century.
In fact, Faith Popcorn says “enviro-biographies” are going to be attached to just about everything, letting consumers know the entire life story of a product: where the materials were harvested, where it was constructed, how far it traveled, and where it ended up after being thrown away or recycled.
Women are going to be big news this year. A headline in an April 2006 issue of The Economist read, “The future of the world economy lies increasingly in female hands.” And Tom Peters called women the mother of all mega-trends.
It’s likely because women are making enormous strides in the global workforce. They’re also making inroads into corporate boardrooms. And statistics indicate that they are making more than 80 percent of buying decisions in all homes.
That’s certainly reason for the new urgency to capitalize on the women’s opportunity. The key, though, is marketing to women the right way.
“Eighty percent of women feel marketers don’t understand them,” said Dori Molitor, founder and CEO of WomanWise, a marketing and consulting agency. “There is so much clutter that women have just stopped listening.”
Marketers have to become more relevant, and the way to do that is to restage the nature of your dealings with women. “That whole buyer-seller mentality needs to be thrown away,” said Molitor
How to get it right? Look at the success of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which challenged stereotypical views of beauty with ads featuring “real women” in their undergarments. The lesson: work to make connections and develop relationships with women, even if it means bucking category norms.
Within a decade, the companies that “do the best job of marketing to women will dominate every significant product and service category,” says Faith Popcorn.
“Information” will likely be a big part of their strategy. Why? Because the Internet has spoiled your customer. Used to finding information at a glance, or at the very least a few keystrokes away, she is increasingly comparing her hyper-connected online experience to her experience at the shelf. Woe to the package that makes her work too hard or, worse, leaves questions unanswered.
McDonald’s Japan is responding. The company has “QR” codes printed on its wrappers, so consumers can scan them with their phones to instantly connect to an Internet site with all the relevant nutrition and allergy information.
Others are looking to duplicate the online shopping experience in-store. IconNicholson, a retail consulting firm, introduced new technology that allows shoppers to send friends videos of themselves trying on outfits while friends post real-time feedback onto a three-paneled mirror. Called “social retailing,” the technology is an attempt to recreate the immediacy and information exchange inherent to online shopping.
Where to start with your own brand? Consumers will be placing increasing demands for information on your packaging. And while this isn’t a license to clutter your package with more copy (we’re always promoting restraint), it is a call to examine your information architecture and find new ways your packaging might convey the requisite information—quickly, of course.
Timberland’s “Our Footprint” label is a great low-tech example. The label mimics the format of food nutritional labels and does an excellent job of laying out the brand’s social and environmental practices for consumers.
You can also expect many hi-tech options at your disposal for such efforts in the years to come. Smart packaging will play a big role in how you communicate with consumers and the information you provide them. In pharmaceuticals, pill bottles are already telling consumers when and how to take a proper dose. There are also many smart labels in development, like the RipeSense label that tells consumers when their pears are ready to eat.
The caveat here, though, is relevancy. Make sure you’re presenting the information your customers want, when and where they want it. Otherwise, go back and re-read our thoughts on the rise of “backlash” above.
Where to go for more information...
• Trend consulting.
At RW Trend, contact Robyn Waters at www.rwtrend.com
• Consumer research.
At Context- Based Research Group, reach Dr. Robbie Blinkoff at 410.223.3589 or www.contextresearch.com
• Brand consulting and design.
At the Goldstein Group, reach Terri Goldstein at 212.946.2833 or email@example.com
• Where’s the Fruit? study.
Available at www.preventioninstitute.org
• Future consulting.
At BrainReserve, contact Faith Popcorn at 212.772.7787 or www.faithpopcorn.com
• Consumer experience consulting.
At Peer Insights, contact Jeneanne Rae at 703.778.5543 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Consumer Contamination study.
Available through the W.P. Carey School of Business, visit www.wpcarey.asu.edu
and click the research tab
• Ethical Consumers and Corporate Responsibility report.
Available at Packaged Facts, www.packagedfacts.com
• Climate Risk Disclosure
by the S&P 500 report, by Ceres/Calvert. Available at www.cdproject.net
• Women’s market consulting.
At WomenWise, contact Dori Molitor at 952.797.5000 or email@example.com
• Retailing consulting/social retailing technology.
At IconNicholson, call 212.274.0470 or visit www.iconnicholson.com