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Ten years of working closely with the world’s biggest FMCG brands taught me a very valuable lesson: never leave packaging research to the end of the product development process. If you do, it will cost you a lot of money! At Cambridge Design Partnership we have been working hard to develop the right mechanisms to help our global FMCG clients avoid such costly outcomes.

Let me elaborate:

What is packaging? Packaging is a design system that has a multifaceted role to play. It is a brand ambassador, a sales canvas, a product protector and solely responsible for delivering an exquisite consumption and usage experience, in other words, packaging is more than merely a container or a collage of pretty imagery and graphics.

However, in my many years of working with the FMCG industry I have come across a considerable number of executives who treated packaging as an expense, rather than an opportunity to innovate and deliver a pleasurable experience to consumers. For that reason, packaging is often neglected at the early stages of product development projects and only receives attention near the end of the process. Whilst this sounds like a fairly reasonable strategy for something that is classed as ‘necessary evil’, the danger with this tactic is that if you get packaging wrong at the back end of your development process, you will never have enough resource left to recover.

Going back to the drawing board when there are tight trade deadlines to meet and high shareholder expectations to exceed is simply not an option. One of my global clients once shared with me some very compelling statistics which suggested that 80% of new packaging either fails or adds no value at all. This is the aftermath of leaving packaging research to the end of the product development process. Packaging that gets lost amongst the competition on shelf, packaging that struggles to convey a story that resonates with consumers and packaging that underperforms at the point of use.  

The solution is fairly straightforward but requires willingness for cross-functional collaboration and a genuine desire to place consumers at the heart of the packaging innovation process by bringing them in as early as possible. The early stages of the development process – what we designers like to call the ‘front end’ – crucially determine the success of any project. Building the front-end landscape involves eliciting and prioritising the functional and emotional needs of key stakeholders, including consumers and business associates, as well as understanding technology capabilities and limitations. It allows you to define key screening criteria and action standards early on to help you frame your design strategy and allocate the right resources to the subsequent design and development phases. After all, the output of any process will only be as good as the input, and tackling the front-end will guarantee that you will get packaging right the first time, avoiding nasty surprises at launch.

Conceptually, all the above may seem simple to implement. In practice, however, tackling the front-end of packaging innovation is not as trivial. It requires specialist knowledge and a considerable amount  of practical experience in a commercial context. It requires close collaboration between highly skilled researchers and strongly qualified designers and engineers and strong communication and understanding between practitioners of those disciplines. My observation is that FMCG companies start accepting that it is such blend of expertise that leads to successful packaging innovation at reasonable costs and timescales. At Cambridge Design Partnership we are amongst the first globally to have spotted this industrial need and we have invested in building relevant in-house capability to support our global FMCG clients deliver meaningful packaging innovations that result into breakthrough consumption experiences.

Stergios Bititsios – Cambridge Design Partnership FMCG, Packaging & Consumer Research Leader

Blog developed for the Latin American publication specialized in packaging and converting technologies
El Empaque+Conversión B2B Portales, Carvajal Información.

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