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10 cost-effective and innovative packaging ideas

Get consumers to take a second look
By Jimbo Owen B. Gulle |

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of packaging to a product or service. Especially for products like food, it’s the packaging that gives the customer the first impression about the product. In fact, as most of us know, many people judge a product by its packaging.

Great packaging can lure more customers and turn first-time buyers into repeat customers and loyal brand followers. For this reason, some manufacturers spend a lot of money to glamorize the package—sometimes even more money than what they spend on its contents. They do this knowing that the package is the final marketing message the buyer sees before making a purchase decision.

“The truth is that packaging is the total image of the product before it is brought out to the consumer,” says the chief executive (CEO) of a local packaging company that has been supplying the needs of the country’s top consumer-product makers over the last three decades.

“Since it’s image-driven, you have to make your packaging so sensible that the consumer can’t help but notice it,” explains the CEO, who requested to remain anonymous.

But with hundreds of brands competing for a customer’s attention in the marketplace, it is not enough for a product’s packaging to be simply good. It has to be truly different—and this, according to the packaging executive, is where innovative packaging that “transcends the traditional” comes in.

Peter Renton, founder of Lightning Labels Inc., says that innovative packaging “gets the product noticed, helps build your brand, and will give your product some personality.” Renton is an expert in digital label printing and writes a regular blog about the US packaging industry.

For all its importance, though, innovative packaging need not be expensive. According to Renton, a resourceful entrepreneur can come up with great packaging for a product without paying a fortune to a packaging design company.

He lists the following 10 ideas for creating innovative but cost-efficient packaging:

1. Create a reusable package.
Renton cites a tea maker in the US that has packaged its product in a regular tall drinking glass with a lid and a clear shrink-wrap label, and then put this statement on the label: “Remove the label, keep the glass.” He comments: “No need to worry about recycling here--you get to reuse the packaging.”

2. Add a little extra to your packaging.
A pasta sauce maker, says Renton, puts paper and a gold bow over the lid of the jars containing his product. “It looks like the way your grandmother would package it, and you can’t go down the aisle of pasta sauces without noticing it,” he says.

3. Make design the focus of your packaging.
While most people think about the product first and the packaging second, a cleaning-products maker turned that idea around by focusing on packaging from the very beginning, creating packaging that, Renton says, “you could display in the kitchen or bathroom like a home accessory.”

4. Create fun packaging.
The bright colors and unusual shapes in products for kids can work in adult products as well, but they usually need a more subtle approach, says Renton. For instance, wine lovers may not be ready for penguin-shaped bottles, but pictures of animals on the labels can make the wines stand out from the more conservative wine brands.

5. Let your true colors shine through.
Renton’s example is a big candle maker that uses striking colors, often with multilayered candles that shine through the simple clear jars. Their simple label on a white background also emphasizes the colors.

6. Extend your labels with sandwich printing.
If you are selling a clear liquid in a clear bottle, Renton says, printing at the back of your labels can give you more packaging space for very little extra cost. You can’t put regulatory information on the back of your labels, but you can give customers more information about the product without detracting from the presentation of your package.

7. Try the metallic look.
While most labels are printed on clear or white material, using metallic foil for labels or packaging with a good design can produce a very striking look “and isn’t that much more expensive,” Renton says.

8. Focus your packaging on a specific target.
While targeting a very specific audience of young men from age 18 to 35, Unilever, maker of the Axe brand of personal-care products, created a container for its shower gel line that, Renton says, “looks like it could just as easily contain motor oil as shower gel. Its rugged appearance appeals directly to the demographic.”

9. Merge two packaging concepts.
One big US beer-maker produced a concept that was “so simple it is amazing no one had done it before,” says Renton. The concept? The aluminum bottle, combining the shape of a glass beer bottle and the convenience of a beer can. “It was different, it looked classy and eye-catching, and it was 100 percent recyclable,” he says.

10. Look to nature for inspiration.
Nature has some amazing examples of elegant, efficient, and beautiful packaging—the banana, the pea pod, the kangaroo pouch, the pine cone. “So next time you go for a walk in the woods,” Renton says, “take a look around you and marvel at the innovative packaging created by nature.”

The bottom line to success in the marketplace, Renton says, is to focus on your packaging and to create something truly unique for your company. One important thing to remember, though: “Good packaging can never correct a bad product,” says the packaging CEO interviewed by Entrepreneur. “It only hastens the product’s removal from the market.”

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