Guidelines for Effective Innovation
It’s difficult to generalize about “what works” across categories and impossible to reduce packaging innovation to a specific formula. However, successful packaging innovations typically have one or more factors in common:
Address unmet functional needs
Valuable innovations typically start by addressing the functional shortcomings of current packaging. In other words, successful innovation is less about the intrinsic nature of a packaging feature (such as a re-sealable opening) and more tied to whether the new feature or benefit addresses an underlying category-specific need. For example, does a resealable closure address a major source of dissatisfaction? While unmet needs vary widely by category, it is fair to say that product protection (for food products) and ease or dispensing (for non-food products) consistently emerge as primary sources of dissatisfaction with current packaging.
Target specific situations or concerns
Many of the most successful innovations link directly to shoppers’ underlying concerns and decision-making processes. Frequently, it is a matter of developing packaging to link to a specific usage occasion, user type, retail channel and/or concern. The recent spate of “100-calorie” packs are a good example of packaging that “slices” a category in a new way, by directly addressing an underlying need/concern—in this case, for portion control. Similarly, packaging systems designed around very specific objectives—such as General Mills’ Go Bags, designed to extend cereal as a snack (a new usage occasion)—are also frequently successful.
Differentiate from competition on an intuitive level
New packages are perhaps most successful when they use unique shapes or structures to differentiate on an intuitive and visual level. Even from several feet away, they simply look more compelling than the competition, which helps them break through shelf clutter and connect with shoppers on an emotional level.