August 22, 2015

In Greek mythology, Scylla is a six-headed sea monster that eats sailors who sail too close. Charybdis is a whirlpool capable of swallowing your ship whole. The only problem is, you have to sail right between Scylla and Charybdis to discover what’s beyond.

Getting to a new place with your packaging can be a lot like that. On one side if your new package doesn’t retain the identity and appeal of the old one – plus meaningful advantages – unhappy consumers can bite you. On the other side, if manufacturers can’t or won’t retool to produce it, your new package could be sunk before it even reaches the shelf.

Some brands avoid risk and try to chart a safe course. As you can imagine, they’re unlikely to get any further than they’ve already come. Other brands brave the journey of structural innovation, only to be done in by entrenched consumers and manufacturers. But heroic brands find a way through to the future.

Here are four tips for navigating your way to structural packaging innovation.

1. They make flexibility an advantage. The most notable packaging innovation in the last ten years has been the rise of flexible solutions across a wide variety of product categories. Flexible pouches can lower material requirements and reduce energy, printing, transportation and other costs.

But what happens to the brand equity you’ve built into a rigid bottle – that iconic shape, its familiar usability, the feeling that it belongs there, on the store shelf and in the shopper’s home? A classic example of this is baby food. When moms saw the familiar glass jar replaced by flexible pouches in the store, they immediately realized the advantages of a package that’s safer, easier to carry, less messy, and even more enjoyable for baby. For the purpose of feeding babies, the new flexible package was inherently more attractive to shoppers than the old glass jar.

2. They bring consumers into the design process. Ideally, shoppers should recognize your brand in-store, immediately understand the functional benefits of your new package, try it, and never miss the old bottle when they realize how much better your new pouch fits their lives. To make sure that happens you need to get actual consumers involved as early as possible in the product development process.

3. They fail faster and better. When you observe consumers using prototypes the same way they’d use the product at home, you can quickly see where you’re missing the mark, develop new prototypes and test again. Doing this allows you to identify risks and chart a better course. Rinse and repeat until you have a flexible package people are excited about using, with no reservations.

4. They’re not afraid to set sail. Heroic brands are not afraid of their customers. After all, customers aren’t six-headed monsters. Learn from that attitude and let your customers help you. Don’t be afraid of your manufacturer. They’re not an unalterable whirlpool. Get in there and see if you can change the manufacturing flow just enough to make a difference for your brand. Brand change always involves risk, but the bigger risk is not changing at all. To discover your structural packaging innovation, with confidence, everyone on board and set sail.

Download Patterns Issue 1 2015: Innovation Everywhere for more insight from Tim James, Senior Director of Industrial Design and Innovation at Anthem.