1. Why should product packaging not change too much?
Brand managers tend to change packaging as one of the first things, as it is the first point of contact with the consumer, and they want to make their mark. The cost of changing packaging is nothing compared to that of a new advertising campaign. However, when packaging is changed often, consumers may lose track. With 10,000 - 20,000 products in a supermarket, they want to differentiate the product from the competition, in how it has more vitamins or less sugar, but it is much more important for consumers to be able to find the product.
To stand out from all those other products, a product should build and keep its distinctive features over time. Globally successful brands are typically those that never dramatically change their look.
2. What if the packaging is not working? Is this about getting it right from the start?
For new products, designing the right pack is a process that incorporates many (un)conscious decisions. It is partly art, but it is mostly about following the right process of testing: exploring the options, screening a range of solutions, and validating the winners. And still then, success is not guaranteed in the “real world”.
3. What products do you consider distinct?
German cars are very distinct. Over the last 40 years, the new generation of Mercedes, BMW and Audi cars have been evolutions of their previous models. They have included improvements, but some characteristics have not changed.
These brands have created memory structures in consumers’ minds that these cars never fail and drive pretty good, so the manufacturers have kept their possession of those domains by only adapting the cars.
If you look at French cars in the last 30 years, every generation has been substantially different. It is one big fuzzy mess. You cannot separate a Korean car from a French car nowadays, but you will always recognise a German one. That is not to say that German cars are better. But they are distinct.
4. Would you not say that French car makers were more innovative or creative?
It is about innovation and creativity within borders. When your product is associated with strong purchase drivers in consumers’ minds, you build structures around certain domains. For cars that may be quality and status, while for beer it might be craftsmanship, freedom or masculinity.
When you possess a domain, it does not matter if your car or beer is ten times better, or if it is made of any special ingredient. It is much more about the emotional value that is connected to your product. If you change this, you lose the connection with the consumer. You need to do research to understand what characteristics you own as a brand and what is driving purchase intent. It is hard to possess a new domain; it is much easier to push on one you already own and make sure to stay relevant in the category. That is the trick. Work on the strengths that are relevant to consumers and translate them into packaging