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This is a guest post by James Duval.

Your average supermarket carries anywhere between 15,000 and 60,000 individual products and the most people will wander through these fluorescent lit halls of consumerism is once a week and come away with at maximum 30 or 40 items.

The ecommerce environment is just as crowded, with the global B2C market topping $1 trillion for the first time in 2012. Simply typing the word ‘books’ into Amazon will yield you over 44 million search results.

While the internet has provided a potential customer base of millions for even the smallest of local businesses, the flip-side is that these businesses are elevated into a global marketplace. You may have been the only supplier of real ales in your local area, but as soon as your ecommerce site goes live you become one of the thousands and thousands of real ale companies operating around the world.

This kind of competitive environment necessitates the need for smart packaging design that both stands out from the crowd and communicates a deeper message of value about the product to potential consumers.

One of the biggest problems for established brands is the precarious balancing act of maintaining your coherence and focus as a brand while still allowing room for growth, change and modification. No brand is ever perfect and there is always likely to be people that you could appeal to more or an aspect of your message that needs to be amplified.

A risky area for any business is when the realization dawns that their current packaging is not doing as well as it should and that there is a need for a substantial redesign. If you do it well your brand will seem to have been rejuvenated with a new energy and emphasis, but get it wrong and the consequences can be extreme.

So before we get down to the nitty-gritty of how to do a successful packaging redesign, we should start off with a cautionary tale of just how extreme the effects of a poorly received redesign can be.

The Terrible Tale of the Tropicana Redesign

In 2009 Tropicana embarked on what quickly went down in recent history as a spectacularly ill-conceived product redesign, which resulted in its sales dropping by 20% and the company losing millions of dollars.

It may be surprising to some that consumers would react that negatively to a change of packaging, bombarding the company with negativity by email and social media, but that is just to underestimate the attachment people form with their favourite brands.

So just what went wrong? As it turns out, just about everything about this redesign was ill-conceived. The brand name text on the front was upside down and far less immediately noticeable, meaning that consumers had to invest a lot more time and concentration and were unlikely to have that immediate connection. The tone of voice was weird and the typography gave of the air of trying to be hip but coming off cold and corporate. The old image of a ripe, juicy orange was replaced with a stock photo of a glass of indiscriminate orange juice and the old slogan of “why does Tropicana taste so good?” is replaced with the strange sounding “drink in the spirit of the morning.”

The tide of negative reaction caused Tropicana and its parent company PepsiCo to stop the shelf the whole redesign, issue an embarrassing retraction and slink off into the corner to lick its wounds.

Pulling Off a Successful Packaging Redesign

So now we know how not to do a successful package redesign, we can turn our attention to how to successfully reinvigorate your brand while retaining a deep rooted sense of identity. Some examples of the kind of measurable success that a well thought out and implemented redesign can bring to your company are:

The first thing you are going to have to do is to let go of any unhealthy sentimentality you might have about the past and accept the bold possibilities of the future.

The second thing of upmost importance to keep in the forefront of your mind is that you have a core group of loyal customers that you absolutely must not lose. This is the biggest problem that Tropicana ran into, because not only did they not gain many new customers but they actually began to lose customers. The ultimate package redesign will not only entice new customers but will excite these loyal customers as well.

With these two factors in mind, the next thing you are going to have to turn your mind to.

Why Do You Need to Redesign Your Packaging?

Different companies and different brands are going to have different reasons for initiating a packaging redesign. It is important to establish at the start what is driving your need for a redesign, which may be one of the following:

  • Your product has changed in a way that necessitates new packaging
  • You need visual unification between different, previously distinct products
  • Your recent business performance has changed
  • New government regulations or requirements
  • Your expanding into new markets
  • Customer insights and surveys shows that your message or appearance is dated or out of touch with your core customer base or target group

Determining early on why you need to do the redesign in the first place will save a lot of Tropicana-like pain further on down the line.

Evolution or Revolution?

Once you have the reason why you are going to have to redesign your packaging, the next thing you are going to have to figure just how drastic a change you are aiming for. It comes down to the difference between instigating revolution or taking a few steps forward in evolution.

A revolutionary change means that your packaging will be a radically different beast to what it was like before, which opens you to the risk of detaching the emotional connection your core customer base has with your product (and maybe they won’t be able to recognise them on shelves).

Evolutionary change on the other hand, implies that you are simply shedding the parts of your current design that aren’t working and emphasising the parts that are working. Most of the time, you are going to want to be aiming for is evolutionary change because you want to improve the delivery of your brand message rather than simply starting again from scratch.

Undoubtedly, some situations and business climates are going to call for a revolutionary change of focus and root and branch change, but most of the time it is not going to be the whole of the your design that is the problem.

Important Things to Remember

While the actual mechanics of each individual package redesign process will depend on a number of factors that are specific to your product range, your previous design, your core and target demographics and the message you want to emphasise, there are a number of important things that you would do well to remember.

The biggest potential stumbling blocks you could face in this process are:

  • A lack of certainty which leads you to make changes that are too small and inconsequential to matter to consumers or warrant the time and effort put in
  • Making changes that are too big and result in a damaging disconnect between your product and consumers
  • Succumbing too much to “design by committee” or making decisions based on fear or the privileging of personal opinion over verifiable information and objective goals
  • Not understanding how consumers interact with your brand before you start and making decisions which have a negative effect on this
  • Instituting changes because everyone else in your industry is and simply playing follow the leader rather than taking the process seriously

The opportunities for those that get their redesign right are the prizes that come from the successful evolution of their brand, with new possibilities blooming forth, new customers discovering the benefits and a whole gaggle of new avenues for the company to travel down.

Do you have any other golden rules for achieving the tricky feat of a successful package redesign? Can you think of any big successes or failures that would serve as useful examples?


About the Author: James Duval is a tech-obsessed blogger who is a regular contributor for GKBC and a number of other sites such as Payne Worldwide. You can usually find him on Hacker news

Image by: andymangold