What makes shoppers pick one product over another when they’re staring at shelves full of choices in a store? Assuming they don’t have exclusive loyalty to one brand or that one doesn’t have a big price advantage, the packaging often plays a huge role.
As you know if you sell a product, it’s not always easy to figure out what to put on the box, bag or wrapper. When private equity firm Brynwood Partners bought the Balance Bar company from Kraft in November 2009, it brought in CEO Michael Sands, who had been chief marketing officer of both Snapple and Ben & Jerry’s, to turn around the brand, now based in Valhalla, New York. A big part of his job is improving the nutrition bars’ packaging—from the foil wrappers to the cardboard boxes for multi-packs.
Similar to redesigning a website, this has been a gradual process. Balance Bar has made a series of small changes, then taken stock of the results to see if they are helping the company to get its message across to consumers. “You don’t always get it on your first effort,” Sands says. “You’re always looking to improve.” It looks like Balance Bar’s efforts are starting to work. After declining for six straight years, according to Sands, the 14-employee company, which has close to $100 million in sales, experienced flat sales in the first year under its new ownership.
You may not have the resources of Balance Bar to invest in your own packaging, but you can learn from its strategies. Here are some that you can try, even on a tight budget:
Understand the product attributes that matter to consumers.
These are what you’ll want to emphasize on your packaging. For instance, Sands realized from looking at market research on his target consumers that there are a few selling points that are very important to them beyond the fact that the bars taste good.
For instance, Balance Bars contain 14 grams of protein, have a particular ratio of protein, fats and carbohydrates, are all natural and are low on the glycemic index (meaning they don’t cause the jump in blood sugar that eating a candy bar might). Sands emphasized these points more in the new design to help the consumer who had a mental checklist of such requirements to easily see that the product met all of them. When you’re standing in the aisle deciding whether or not to buy a bar, he says, “I need to get your head to nod three or four times.”
Make your brand name easy to read.
That may seem obvious, but lettering that appears clear to you and your design team might not seem that way to someone staring down a crowded aisle. To make sure Balance Bar’s brand name is clear, Sands switched to a different font in the logo. “We made it more legible, so people could read it,” he says.
Make it inspirational—but still reasonable.
Balance Bar’s boxes include an icon that has a picture embodying a healthy lifestyle. Sands wanted to include an image that would convey the idea that the bars help consumers in their quest for a healthy life balance, but not make that way of life look too far out of reach. “It’s someone running on a beach in a beautiful area,” he says. “It’s not like you’re running a marathon.”
If it’s new, say so.
Balance Bar added a new red stripe to its packaging, saying “New look!” “Consumers love the word new,” says Sands. Not to mention that if you’ve changed the look of a favorite product, adding the word “new” will tell consumers that they’re not accidentally buying a different one.
Know what to show.
Sands knows that a food product won’t sell if consumers don’t think it tastes good. Balance Bar has improved the recipes of many of its bars, but conveying this to consumers isn’t easy. “We did not do a great job getting across the appetite appeal of our bars in the product photography,” says Sands.
To turn the situation around, the company has hired product photographers to reshoot the entire line, he says. “Next quarter you’re going to see improved product quality shots,” he says.
As Sands well knows, the job of fine-tuning your packaging isn’t done until your product is flying off the shelves.
Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist specializing in entrepreneurship whose work has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, BNET, Crainís New York Business, CBS Moneywatch, Good Housekeeping, Inc., Working Mother and many other publications. A former senior editor of Fortune Small Business magazine and editor of its website, she does editorial consulting for online and print publications.