We live in a bit of a strange world when it comes to marketing products, especially physical goods. The fact of the matter is products have become more and more generic. The influence of pop culture and social media mean that mental associations are stronger than ever. Green is the colour of dishwashing liquid, red is the colour of fast food and so on. Add to that the increase in online shopping where physical interaction with the product comes after buying it may seem that the importance of packaging is lost. However, as we will see packaging has taken on a new scope in this new world.

Marketing mix

Just as a brief recap the traditional marketing mix taught us that marketing strategies must answer four critical questions; product, price, place and promotion. Known as the 4Ps these have been the staples of any half-decent marketing strategy. An extended version of this marketing mix was later introduced to include 3 more Ps; People, Physical evidence and Processes. All essential to the delivery of the product and critical in modern marketing strategies.

Packaging is the marketing mix

Packaging in times gone by really meant the casing, wrapping or container of the product but things are changing drastically. The packaging is now the entire marketing mix, all 7 Ps or something like it. Allow me to illustrate. From the perspective of your mobile internet provider internet via access data bundles is the product. In the Zimbabwean space in particular data bundles for specific applications such as Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook have become the norm. That is packaging, it’s a little bit more than wrapping, it’s design thinking. It is viewing the way the product will be used by the customer and creating a structure that provides maximum benefit to the customer.

Packaging is not just wrapping, it’s everything

So how does this work in practice? Well, away from the world of technology we can look at fast food. A significant percentage of takeaway food customers would buy the food to eat it at home or elsewhere. The surge in delivery services being offered firstly as in house ancillary services and now as fully-fledged third party distribution channels is testament to this. Without a doubt, pizza has lead the roost but the services are growing. In Zimbabwe, the best of these are still in the house managed but third parties are finding their footing.

Design thinking in packaging

My favourite Steve Jobs quote remains “design is not how something looks, its what it does”. Packaging is really design thinking physically embodied. Design thinking looks at how a product will be used and endeavours to make that process smoother for a person. So when you see a bottle store selling you Vodka banded with a soft drink, that’s design thinking in practice. This makes it an easier decision for the customer as it takes care of the other considerations they would have to make.  It’s not always about discounting it, in many cases, you will notice there is no price saving on combos and banded packs. But it is the simplified process that sells to them.

So, how can I use this?

You’re wondering what’s in it for you? Well, you can use this thinking on packaging to your advantage regardless of what you sell. I’ve already given real-world examples from some very different scenarios. There are really 3 important steps to consider. Firstly, how do your customers use the product? What do they combine it with? Secondly, understanding what value this brings. Dishwashing liquid is a great product which is rendered just about useless without an object to apply it to dishes with. Adding a dish scourer to the package could win you a customer or two.  This is the sort of thinking that could make a difference. Banding your dishwasher with scouring powder is a good bet. Something else that took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic was including sanitiser with most household cleaning products. I encountered one brand that simply repackaged one cleaning product as handwash and sold it in a banded pack with other cleaning products. It worked.

The idea is to move from product thinking to design thinking. Understand that your product does not exist in a vacuum, it is used in peoples lives and likely with other things. When I use the product it always refers to both physical goods and services. Services have packaging considerations too.