Packaging in the Millennial Factor

Start with the Basics

Let’s start with a few basic assumptions: The most influential group of buyers in today’s consumer market do not drive your father’s Oldsmobile, do not share the same unequivocal commitment to “work at all costs” as generations past. They place far more value in the “feeling” they get from a particular product than in its function, and are substantially more committed to sustainability than any generation that preceded them.

Smart marketers understand that this generation – Millennials - have surpassed baby boomers to become the largest generation in U.S. history. As a result, this group of 21 to 39 year olds, which comprises nearly 25% of the US population, has a significant influence on product development and packaging, decisions made by consumer goods manufacturers. 

Marketing to the new Millennial Generation

Marketing has always been closely tied to social sciences. Consumer product companies continually battle to win, and maintain, new business. Today, competition continues to intensify as younger consumers increasingly demand more from the brands they buy. There is a greater sense of well-being, a link between the brand and personal identity, and a connection to those non-financial factors, like sustainability, that are held in high regard. Research indicates that Millennials seek the latest and greatest products – those that strike a chord with them, fuel a passion for a hobby, satisfy a commitment to wellness or a help fulfill a sustainability promise. Industry experts believe that Millennials are more likely to purchase a product if it makes them feel special - either through some personal connection, or the idea of exclusivity.

Packaging Solution's Increasing Role in the Buying Process

Certainly, the product itself plays a substantial role in fulfilling the consumer’s wants. It is the product that the consumer is buying, after all. While it may be true that the product must ultimately deliver on the manufacturer’s promise – whatever that might be, today’s consumers are increasingly more dependent on product packaging for critical buying information. Unfortunately, all too often, we see innovation, quality, and design undermined at the shelf due to mundane or uninspiring packaging to keep the cost of packaging low.

Millennials, in particular, are a driving force behind the increasing role of developing new packaging solutions. Its’ time to differentiate your brand with creative and unique packaging. Much of the information that a consumer uses to make a purchase decision comes directly from the package, forming the initial impression that may make, or break, a potential sale.

According to Supermarket News, “Specialty products, like those making non-GMO (genetically modified organisms), all natural, organic or gluten free claims, are particularly popular with Millennials. But quality ingredients aren't always enough to woo these shoppers. When it comes to this generation, what's on the outside also counts.”

The Transition from Package Cost to Package Investment – Will it Happen?

Package design and licensing program design expert Bob Lilienfeld offers this simple statement:  

“If we go on this premise—the packaging is the product, and it should create consumer value and brand value—we will not fail to properly invest in it. It’s time to stop seeing package design as an expense, but rather as an important brand investment.”

Over the years, marketers and package designers along the supply chain have fought an uphill battle in selling management on this view of packaging as investment. In most companies, management tends to view the package as purely a functional tool, even though independent research clearly documents that packaging is as crucial, if not more so, to the success of a product at retail – particularly when so many products are perceived as similar.

Today’s market presents perhaps more rapidly evolving or changing consumer demands than at any time in the past.  According to industry experts, Millennials - a generation that demands more from the brands they purchase - are setting the precedent when it comes to the most innovative products and product packaging. Perhaps by understanding their influence, and investing in the right packaging solutions, companies can better keep up with the pace of change.

Everything Old is New Again

Decades ago, marketer Louis Cheskin talked about sensation transference. As he studied consumers, he became convinced that people’s sensations (perceptions) about packaging were transferred to the products themselves. He believed that consumers don’t make an unconscious distinction between product and packaging; that the product = product + packaging combined. Cheskin proved it over and over again by successfully refreshing poorly-performing packaging, as well as launching influential new product packaging.

Interestingly, just as in Cheskin’s day, many companies continue to plow more dollars into marketing and advertising at the expense of their packaging budgets. Equally interesting is that much of the advertising and marketing has kept up with technology – digital marketing is the norm and social media is a standard in advertising. Yet, at a time when people are experiencing sensory overload and consumers are often overwhelmed by the barrage of technology, marketers usually incorporate product packaging as the key element of the hi-tech digital message. Does the package support or conflict with the message?  

The largest and most influential generation in history is demanding innovation that is changing the way brands approach their packaging – when will manufacturers get the message?

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