Sensory packaging

What is the role of seeing, hearing, touching and smelling in brand communication? In a recent presentation at the joint Pro Carton and PROPAK Austria marketing event in Vienna, brand consultant Prof. Dr. Karsten Kilian had the following to say about brand management: a focus on more than one of the senses, allows for successful differentiation from competitors. Here are some of the most essential statements from his presentation.

Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling in brand communication

Here in Baden Wuerttemberg there is an automobile manufacturer who says: "The best remedy against being identical is: identity." A very powerful brand which is successful via its design: "The 911. Our identity. Design which is unique." How can you tell that a Porsche 911 is a sports car, other than by its shape and sound? Every time you sit in the car you notice this by a number of items, one of which stands out: the starter button on the left-hand side. This goes back to the days of the Le Mans start, where it was practical for drivers to start the car with their left hand whilst engaging the gears with their right hand. This racing sport tradition has been continued at Porsche. And those are precisely the small signals which count, also for packaging. Anyone who has ever heard this story enjoys the memory – "Le Mans and me!" Now, this does not change the product, but it certainly affects our subjective perception of the product. And that is what makes up the brand, by combining these attributes under a brand name. Hence: sensory packaging is brand communication via all the senses.

Concrete brand messages

Many companies have not clearly outlined their brand messages. When asked, they will present their design manual, colours, shapes and fonts. It would be far more important to ask: why do you exist, what do you represent, what are you actually doing here? Some companies try to reflect quality and tradition via brand scorecards and corresponding systems, but that costs a lot of time and money. Brand scorecards tend to be a rather theoretical exercise. I do not believe in them, and instead I believe in something more pointed, which I call the C.O.R.E brand values. The objective is to check possible brand values as to whether they are
  • concrete, e.g. significant and inspiring,
  • original, in other words, based on the company,
  • relevant for customers and
  • exceptional (compared to the competition).

Motion brand actions

My colleagues from the University of Wuppertal, Tobias Langner and Alexander Fischer, have defined "Motion brand actions" as "brand-specific motion procedures developed by companies to guide consumers during the consumption process of a brand." For example, the swipe motion on mobile phones or tablets – meanwhile three-year olds are trying to copy this on TV sets. Apple even tried to have the unique hand movement on smartphone screens protected, but without success. In addition, one can also activate other senses, create noises, tactile experiences or activate fragrances. Other differentiation features include the Mercedes foot-operated handbrake, or the shower gel bottle shaped like a handgrip. It can be done via the name, for example, Bahlsen "Dip it!", ideally with the appropriate packaging. Kinder surprise eggs are also fantastic; holding them to the ear and celebrating their unpacking: they are a little chocolate and a little plastic, sold at a high price. From a purely rational point of view, nobody would buy that, but it is the excitement and experience which count.

Packaging delivers added value

When we discuss the differentiating criterion for packaging, most buyers talk about the price. Instead, we should be attempting to point out that packaging is one of the most powerful sales aids available – also in the after-sales phase. There are a large number of packs which guide us through their use and send out messages for hours. We need to make product differences visible, and if there are no product differences, then differentiation can be achieved via design. The question also arises as to how packaging can offer an added value to make the product more interesting and create a value in its own right. For example, this could be in terms of convenience, or another good example is unboxing. The opening ritual for the iPhone was discussed for months - what comes when and how it is handled. A further aspect is the credibility factor of the packaging; an interesting new aspect which has also been elegantly confirmed in a study: Messages on the packaging which are very close to the product have a far greater effect than advertising that is more remote from the product. If I am mentally and physically close to the product, then advertising works more effectively, particularly when the message also fits the product. If the consumer has little knowledge about a product category, then the effect is even more pronounced. Therefore, a claim on a pack is more powerful than on a billboard or even TV advertising. I see packaging as being more of a stage. We need to get away from extreme cost-cutting and think more about how we can arouse desires, ideally even feelings of happiness, with packaging which orchestrates actors on a stage - in this case the product. I believe there is still considerable room for improvement here. Packaging is the second product feature, in many cases the even more potent one.

Sensual catalysts

Packaging is a multi-sensory medium. Think about how often and how long you look at packaging and possibly also hear it when opening and closing. For example, Manner biscuits have a typical tearing sound on opening, which is very well thought out. And the nice thing is, you can protect design, even as a 3D trademark - as is the case for Toblerone - and monopolise it as long as you pay the fees. Nerve cells are definitely more active when several senses are activated, which is also referred to as hyperadditive. Two or three perceptions do not lead to a triple effect, but to a five or eight-fold effect, and in extreme cases even up to ten or twelve-fold activation. And this is exactly what activation is all about; someone wants to have the product, and their brain likes it because a large number of signals are moving in the same direction. All sensory events should supplement each other as our brain simply appreciates harmony. Together with the direct and matching relevance to the brand, brand preference is influenced considerably. That is the process, and at the end of the process is the experience. That is unboxing, using the packaging; users are happy when it is designed usefully, for example, for resealing. My colleague, Matthias Horx, recently said: "Human beings are not digital. We are and will remain creatures made of flesh and blood, who orient themselves in an analogue world, the sensory world." Packaging for products therefore has a fantastic future. In the end it gives brands a unique sensory profile that creates clear preferences. LINKS