This time last year I bought a new guitar.
When I bought my my first instrument buying a guitar by distance means was a big no-no. You bought an instrument from a music shop. You walked in to what often appeared to be a imposing environment: and yes, someone was always thumping out Smoke on the Water in the background! (n.b. many music retailers now ban anyone who starts the infamous riff).
By actually going to a music retailer, you handled the instrument, you played a few notes and you could be assured that the instrument was properly set up.
In those days, mail order guitars, and mail order was the only distance selling route, were seen as poor quality, badly constructed and lacking a set up process which made them difficult to play.
The growth of internet shopping means that the most successful music retailers have a big internet presence. In the UK probably the biggest exponent of this is Andertons, who have grown from a single music shop in Guilford to being the most prominent instrument retailer in the UK on the web.
Manufacturers have recognised that a large proportion of their sales will be through distance selling, so manufacturing standards have risen and instruments arrive properly set up (and even in tune!).
However, I think many retailers and manufacturers in the musical instrument sector are missing a trick when it comes to the marketing of their products. Guitars arrive in plain brown cardboard boxes. They are not leveraging the communications power of their packaging.
What is the role of a products packaging?
Well obviously, packaging holds the goods, it stops them being spilt. It protects goods and stops them from being broken. It can be a barrier to stop goods from spoiling. It can allow for efficient transportation of goods. It can act to prevent theft and is why many small goods such as camera memory cards come in oversize packaging.
But packaging also has a communications role. It can convey information e.g. assembly instructions, safety information and certification marks.
But communication goes beyond simply advising purchasers that goods are safe and how they are to be used. Packaging can be an opportunity to upsell and to advertise acessories.
After all, most guitar manufacturers also make and sell strings, plectrums, amplifiers, effects pedals, T-shirts, lesson packages, tuners, straps, baseball hats, etc, etc, etc…
Packaging has a promotional role. It attracts consumer interest on the supermarket shelf. Why else would packs of breakfast cereal be covered in cartoon characters like Tony the Tiger?
Packaging conveys brand messages and allows consumers to make brand choices. Packaging is an important source of marketing messages particularly with fast-moving consumer goods.
Packaging is particularly important where consumers are making low involvement purchase decisions. It can provide promotional cues. this can be the colour of the packaging e.g. Cadbury purple. It can be an identifiable brand character e.g. Mickey Mouse. It can be logos, fonts, tag lines and colours. Packaging has the power to attract consumers and to hold their attention.
Take as an example a can of Coca Cola. The brand name is in a particular font. The can is a particular colour of red. The can is marked with an identifiable swoosh design. Coca Cola even trademark their distinctive bottle shape. All are distinct brand identifiers and provide strong points of differentiation from those of competitors.
There are cultural aspects of the communication role of packaging. Colour often implies a particular class of product. Dark coloured packaging is often viewed as expensive or classy. Red packaging acts as an appetite stimulant. White packaging implies purity and cleanliness. Blue packaging implies freshness. Green packaging implies environmental concerns.
But colours also have cultural implications. In China, red is the colour of luck and happiness. In Germany, products for infants are often in brightly coloured packaging whilst in the UK it is far more common to see infant products in pastel shades.
Pictures can have cultural implications. In Europe we put a picture of a baby on infant formula and baby foods. In Africa, the practice is to put an image of the contents of the pack on the label. So sales of infant formula did not go well in Africa when a baby is shown on the label.
The shape of packaging can give communications cues. Look at the perfume and fragrances market where perfume bottles come in fancy shapes e.g. high heeled shoes, a fist, a woman’s torso in a corset etc, etc. The packaging of these products becomes an attractive ornament on a dressing table or the bathroom shelf. The packaging of the fragrance becomes a product in its own right.
Attractive packaging get re-used. Fancy biscuit tins have been used for marketing since the days of the Victorians. Who hasn’t got an old jam jar or Lyon’s golden syrup tin repurposed to hold coins, nails, paper clips, pens or other bric-a-brac. Every time you go to put something in the tin you get a reminder of the brand message.
The size of packaging can operate on the basis of Gestalt Theory, i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So you can buy ‘sharing’ bags of sweets and crisps. The message being that our product helps with social coherence. Value packs offer diversity and can influence product desirability. Big containers also take up more shelf space leaving less room for competitors products
Packaging directly affects a products market position. So if you buy a ‘value’ guitar it will be packed in folded cardboard whereas a premium guitar will have a travel case and come with ‘case candy’ owner’s certificates, a cleaning cloth, booklets about the guitar and brand, and even memory cards with photos of your guitar being made.
Cheap goods are sold in cheap packaging whereas expensive goods have glossy and robust packaging. toys and Easter eggs often have packaging that can be used as part of the toy or which includes activities like puzzles and games.
Increasingly, re-useable packaging is increasingly offered by manufacturers of household goods.
Packaging sometimes has to harmonise with the in-store appearance e.g. supermarket own brand labels or Apple electronics.
So your packaging is not just a container for your goods. It offers instructions. It contains regulatory information and compliance marks and it is a promotional tool.
If your packaging is passive, you need extensive and widespread promotional activity.
If your packaging is active it provides its own advertising and promotion. Active packaging works in a synergistic approach to marketing communication.