Communicating the Brand Experience through Packaging Innovation

At Graphic Packaging International (GPI), we’re pleased to say that we’re enjoying a summer of supporting young packaging designers. We kicked things off with the Starpack Awards and this week, we’re welcoming Michigan State University students to our Bardon, Global Innovation Centre. Next month, we’ll also be speaking to our newest full-time recruit, Nicholas Johnson, who started life at GPI as a Starpack Award winner last year. But more on that later. In the meantime, it seems like the perfect opportunity to revisit the following Starpack Sunday Reading article from late 2016, that discusses the value that students add to the packaging innovation process…

The single post image.

Engagement between brands and consumers has never been greater. Modern technology has enabled a new generation of shoppers, who are able to comment on, share and review their experiences in real-time.

Today’s brand marketing needs to be increasingly agile to accommodate this trend in open communication. Brands can no longer expect consumers to buy into a one-dimensional projected brand message when every smartphone user has the ability to manipulate the same message by attaching a simple hashtag to an image or phrase.

A ‘brand experience’ is no longer shaped by the few but by many. The challenge now is for brands to mould the huge amount of multi-faceted data that references their name online to maintain a consistent and positive brand tone of voice and brand image.

Packaging is a valuable engagement tool in a brand’s marketing toolkit. The implications of this to the future of packaging design are twofold; brands now need to engage consumers on a personal level with smart packaging solutions and in return, packaging should add to the brand experience the consumer has in mind.

So how do packaging manufacturers keep up with this rapidly evolving rate of marketing change in order to contribute to a positive brand experience?

Speak the language of today’s consumer


Image by Flower Travelin’ Man via Shutterstock

The first thing to consider is that millennials communicate very differently to previous generations. Expressing emotions visually is now a necessity for a younger generation of consumers who increasingly communicate virtually, rather than face to face. This is highlighted in a 2015 US report by Mintel, which found that younger demographic groups not only prefer to use emojis in their communication but are also interested in buying products with emojis on the packaging.

It’s a demonstration of how emojis have turned communication full circle; from a simple visual digital expression aid to a physically manifested universal language. In order to be fully effective, brand messaging must now integrate both digital and physical communication methods to create an immersive, cohesive experience that resonates with Generation Y and Generation Z.

An example of this type of engagement is Coca-Cola’s South East Asian ‘Share a Feeling’ campaign. The twist on the brand’s personalised ‘Share a Coke’ campaign allowed the brand to integrate a digital and physical message that transcended language barriers and tapped into popular culture in ASEAN markets.

So, integrating digital and physical communication touch points can get a brand off to a great start in creating an experience that resonates with today’s consumer. But how should this be reinforced through packaging design?

Introduce innovation to stay relevant to market and consumer trends

Adnams Can

Image by Viczar

The high-growth craft beer sector is a good example of innovation generating greater relevance to millennials in core products. Retailers wishing to meet consumer demand in line with the craft beer trend are calling on manufacturers to lead with packaging that taps into the convenience-led appeal of graphic print ‘stubby’ cans favoured by young independent brewers such Brew Dog, Magic Rock and Beavertown Brewery.

Co-op is one retailer that is responding to the trend by increasing its craft beer offer, including an Adnams Southwolds Crystal Rye IPA in a striking graphic print can. Established in 1872, Adnams has consistently innovated its offer; reducing the weight of its bottles in 2007 and producing the UK’s first carbon neutral beer in 2008.

Adnam’s foray into the use of metal can packaging demonstrates exactly how established packaging manufacturers can draw on expertise in order to meet market demand, whilst also reducing materials. Ultimately, this leads to a reduction to its impact on the environment. A seemingly win-win situation for all concerned.

Further to this, a clever brand can also reintroduce product innovation back into the digital communication forum by offering consumers the chance to engage with new concepts in real time. Last year, confectionery favourite, Nestlé, opened pop-up KITKAT Chocolatory at The Street, Westfield Stratford City to allow consumers to customise their own premium Kit Kat bar. And, facilitated by touch screen technology, design packaging to go with it.

KitKat did not stop there in adding value to the brand experience, however, the company also created two Signature Edition Kit Kats in collaboration with Michelin-starred chef, Michel O’Hare. This approach allowed the brand to create multiple value-adding touch points to fully enhance the consumer experience.

KITKAT Chocolatory Westfield

Image by Westfield Stratford via @westfieldstrat Instagram

Another way to generate on-trend product engagement has also been demonstrated by 2016 Soho pop-up, Cadbury Crème Egg Café. Specially created restaurant-style dishes, diversified Cadbury’s traditional Crème Egg offer and pushed the boundaries of what ‘Crème Egg’ means to the consumer.

This approach is increasingly adopted by brands in-line with the D.I.Y visual communication methods employed by young consumers, who consistently challenge the norm to prove that, actually, anything is possible if you have a smartphone to capture the moment.

With a full toolkit of communication methods, it should be easy for brands to build successful campaigns that are reinforced with great packaging, right? Well actually, it’s a tougher ask than might be imagined with so many brands vying for attention in the same communication channels. So, the question for brands is, what adds even more value in order to give them a market-leading edge?

Add in a good helping of enthusiasm to create the wow factor

GPI Packaging

According to GPI, the fresh enthusiasm of new talent should be considered as an important catalyst for generating the next level of change in packaging design. Something that is certainly demonstrated in this post about the winners of this year’s GPI-sponsored Starpack Student Award.

GPI certainly doesn’t underestimate the importance of supporting students in order to contribute to its own packaging innovation programme. The company believes that ‘delivering a high level of innovation in convenience packaging is something that students are particularly adept at, offering invaluable disruptive insight to tried and tested methods’.

It does seem to make sense that students – typically at the forefront of societal trends – would have an innate understanding of the best way to innovate packaging in order to add the kind of value that contributes to a robust brand-communication strategy. The enthusiasm, energy and Generation Y consumer insight that students have to offer the design process can be harnessed to create a commercially viable solution in the right hands. Particularly when backed by generations of packaging expertise in a business environment.

Take last year’s winner of GPI sponsored student Starpack brief ‘Barbecue Fun in the Sun!’, Nicholas Johnson of Loughborough University, for example. Nicholas’ easy-carry, natural-look ‘Graze and Griddle Co’ barbecue carton pack delivered on-trend innovation and was described by judges as having also ‘considered the target audience’.

Nicholas Johnson Starpack

Image by Starpack

GPI is no stranger to collaborating on projects to deliver market leading innovation. The company has successfully tailored its solutions to create on-trend, portion-control packaging for its Marks & Spencer (M&S) Vietnamese Style Chicken Wrap, M&S Indian Thali carton and Mini Nom Nom packaging. All three designs were shortlisted at last year’s UK Packaging Awards (2016) in categories relating to consumer convenience and innovation excellence, with the Mini Nom Nom pack winning Innovation of the Year award.

So does expertise combined with enthusiasm really represent the future of packaging design?

In order to keep up with the dizzying pace of change to brand marketing – and offer packaging that contributes to the modern brand experience – the answer from retailers, brand owners, manufacturers and students must surely be a resounding ‘yes’.

For more information on GPI’s commitment to supporting young designers, please get in touch today.


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