The benefits inherent in beautifully designed packaging are widely understood: telegraphing what the product is and does, helping a product stand out on shelf and differentiating a brand vs. its competition. But packaging can wield so much more power than that.
When you’re launching a product, expanding distribution or modernizing a heritage brand, packaging can be one of your most worthwhile investments and its contribution to the success of your brand shouldn’t be shortchanged. An inspired design grounded in strategic insights can mean the difference between a product that struggles in a crowded competitive set and a brand that experiences explosive growth. We’ve experienced this firsthand with our clients, having helped hundreds of brands disrupt their category.
There’s a statistic from Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen that speaks volumes: 95% of new products introduced each year fail. So what are the key qualities of the brands that succeed?
It may go without saying the product itself is the primary driver of success — whether the product is different enough from everything else available and effectively solves a problem for consumers. But, frequently, some fantastically innovative products don’t manage to thrive and every so often a me-too brand has off-the-charts growth. Often enough, a significant factor is the branding. Whether you’re a not-yet established brand sold directly to consumers or sitting on a crowded retail shelf, first impressions matter and you don’t want your brand to be a shrinking violet.
What are the keys to breakthrough packaging design?
Thinking outside the box
In the food world, packaging is often a consumer’s first interaction with a brand, shaping the brand’s personality and bringing it to life. Packaging can add function to a product and expand the possibilities of consumption opportunities, making it more portable, more exquisite, easier to use, less messy or handier to sneak into a pocket.
Packaging can reimagine use cases and help a product earn placement in a completely different part of the store from its competition, like crackers in the deli or a snack in the produce section. Brands that don’t conform to the norms of the category — like bags of chocolate chips that stand vertically and fresh produce tucked into bright, candy-like boxes — are on a successful path to disruption. At Hatch, we’re forever in pursuit of the never-been-done-before.
Telling the brand’s story
All packaging provides a platform for education. At the most basic level, this is simply information printed on the pack about the product, the company and the brand. But packaging can also telegraph the brand’s values — like sustainability, given the choice of packaging materials. It can use art to indicate its support of women farmers or share its bigger mission to inspire regenerative agriculture. Even with the tiniest products, the packaging can communicate volumes. Done thoughtfully, packaging can serve as the best storyteller for the product, laden with meaning, brand beliefs and opportunities to surprise and delight.
Forging an emotional connection
The most successful brands, regardless of category, have a soul that connects with consumers beyond the product itself. Tapping into emotionally rich territory can create the foundation for packaging that brings the soul of the brand to life, suits the brand perfectly and couldn’t be leveraged by any other brand. And thoughtfully designed packaging that connects with consumers doesn’t just drive sales; it can set the brand up for years of success by creating brand loyalists.
We’ve helped dozens of struggling brands find fresh life simply through a packaging refresh. Simple Mills was a DTC star but struggling to get retail distribution when the founder came to us for help. Her gluten-free baking mix package made a point of exclaiming all the things the product didn’t contain. What was missing, we determined, was the joy of baking that was a key part of the brand’s founding story. Gluten-free or not, people bake because it brings happiness to the baker and those the baker cherishes. Capturing the emotion inherent in the brand via brighter, more colorful packaging, a change in font style and more inviting product imagery made the difference between remaining as a DTC brand and becoming a major player in the retail baking aisle — and not just the gluten-free section.
In another case of using package design to create a connection with the consumer, Hatch was tasked with helping Nature’s Bakery move beyond its perception as “a fig bar brand” that was stunting growth and expand its portfolio. To support Nature’s Bakery evolution into a master brand, we leaned into the vibrancy of its products’ ingredients to communicate nutrition and taste, dialing up the way it feels when you eat the freshest and best. Less than two years following the refresh, Nature’s Bakery jumped up in market share (No. 8 across all outlets and No. 4 at Target), experienced faster growth than the rest of the category (sales up 47%) and was valued at approximately $400 million in an acquisition by KIND last December.
Sometimes, a product’s packaging can disrupt a tired category and appeal to new audiences. KRAVE Jerky, a brand we helped create from scratch, started as great tasting jerky in a plastic bag and turned the meat snacks category on its head when it launched in 2009. Breaking all category conventions, we helped launch the KRAVE brand with a unique take on jerky packaging by highlighting its premium ingredients and pushing against traditionally masculine cues — like the red and brown color palette that has historically signaled jerky. When founder Jon Sebastiani sold the brand to Hershey’s for $218 million, we helped Hershey’s extend the brand into bars, sticks and a veggie line. Last year, Sebastiani acquired the brand back and as he does what he does best — disrupt — we’re continuing to work with him on KRAVE’s next phase of growth.
The real value of packaging is helping thoughtfully conceived products get noticed on a cluttered retail shelf and then get purchased over and over again — for years. Packaging that disrupts on shelf, captures the brand’s story and forges an emotional connection with the consumer can be an incredibly powerful and valuable marketing weapon.