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"WeListen" Blog

Novelty Packaging that Wins: Consumer Participation in Packaging Design

NoveltyPackaging.pngimage credit: mike mozart/flickr cc

Novelty packaging designed with consumer participation is among the most important consumer packaged goods (CPG) concepts today. A recent survey of CPG executives identified the consumer’s digital path to purchase as an industry “megatrend.” Social media and other digital platforms have facilitated real-time, two-way conversations between CPG brands and customers. Recent writings by SupplyChainBrain state real-time communication is a critical tool for “testing new products and reaching out to new consumers.” Organizations with digital savvy are beginning to test CPG packaging that’s designed through consumer participation. This level of response is precisely what modern consumers want from brands. 

Why Big Data Means Big Individualization

The proliferation of big data generated by social media, mobile networks, and sensors has yielded extensive customer insights. Marketing algorithms are now smart enough to know if you’re pregnant before your family does. As a result, consumers expect the level of personalization that Amazon and Netflix deliver on a daily basis. Mass communications and generic marketing messages are out, and highly-relevant recommendations are in. Today’s consumers aren’t just demographic segments. They’re individuals with unique affinities, intent, and identities. 

Among millennial consumers in particular, individuality matters. BCG Perspectives reports that millennials view brands “as extensions of their own values and status.” Consumers born after 1980 believe that purchase decisions are a reflection of who they are, and will spend more on companies that share their values and “engage them as individuals.”

As both retailers and customers shift away from the mass marketing models of the past towards more individualized customer experiences, it’s no surprise that consumer participation is a CPG trend. Brands who commit to a relevant consumer experience to the level of customer-designed, novelty packaging are likely to lead CPG in the years to come. 

Cheerios' Custom Boxes: a Case Study

General Mills has made recent efforts to engage lifestyle and health bloggers in marketing campaigns. While personal recommendations matter most to all age groups of consumers, millennials in particular are swayed by personal recommendations from friends, family, and familiar public figures. Recommendations from a familiar individual have a bigger impact on millennials than endorsements from an unfamiliar expert, like a Physician.

General Mill’s recent blogger engagement efforts have included sharing personalized Cheerios boxes with bloggers who share their values. Prominent health blogger RunEatRepeat recently shared a gift from Cheerios, a box printed with her name, “Monica.” While similarly customized boxes are not listed for purchase on the Cheerios brand website, the point of the campaign is clear. Cheerios cares about their customers on an individual level, to the point of printing custom boxes for brand ambassadors. While this is just one example of customer engagement in novelty packaging, it’s a sharp one.

Shifting to Customer-Driven Packaging Design

Traditionally, brands have introduced new products and packaging concepts based on market research. This could have included voice of the customer (VOC) surveying, focus groups, and other forms of qualitative and quantitative research. However, for brands with the willingness to listen and pay attention, social media has introduced abundant opportunity for observing products in use.

Packaging Europe recently wrote that “real life observation” is crucial to understanding how your product is used and how it performs. Instagram snapshots that showcase your company’s product in use aren’t just brand ambassadorship or charming user-generated content. They’re real-world examples of how your CPG packaging fits into your customer’s lives. Your client’s might not have the savvy to request a sturdier package design that holds up in a lunchbox, or barriers in a box to separate individual serving sizes. However, if you’re willing to observe a need for these details, you can develop novelty packaging that’s primed for your customer’s lives.

An outstanding example of novelty packaging that was driven by consumer engagement include Chobani’s recent release of “flip top yogurts.” Consumers are able to flip chocolate chunks, granola, or other add-ons into the main yogurt compartment immediately before consumption. It’s a novelty feature, but it’s a feature designed for busy, health-conscious individuals who often pack yogurt hours before they’re ready to eat it. Chobani realized their customers often packed add-ons to mix into their yogurt later, and developed convenient packaging.

The Future of Customer Engagement and Novelty Packaging

Accenture Research defines successful innovation as activities that drive value for both brands and their customers. The CPG packaging tactics that win in the future will be developed in clear response to customer behaviors as a way to deliver convenience, sustainability, cost-savings, or any number of other priorities.

Being able to launch “the next big thing” in CPG novelty packaging will hinge directly on brand’s abilities to quickly observe customer behavior, and create concepts that fit seamlessly into their client’s lives. Per Accenture, Procter & Gamble’s approach to open innovation has certainly resulted in countless failures, but it’s also yielded novelty packaging concepts that were quickly adopted by consumers. Their recent novelty packaging developments include the Swiffer, and single-use Tide pods.

The drastic increase in internet of things (IoT) enabled-devices in retail environments over the next several years will yield even richer insights about consumer segments, behaviors, and preferences. Brands can gain insight into how customers travel stores, the length of purchase decisions in aisles, and how technology is used in CPG purchase decisions. This will facilitate new opportunities for customer engagement in novelty packaging design for brands with the savvy to integrate these insights.


Ultimately, your customers all want the same thing. They desire packaging that fits their lifestyle and values, delivered by brands that value them as individuals. As organizations develop and release innovative packaging concepts in direct response to consumer need, the CPG space will experience remarkable innovations. However, the brands who get customer engagement right in packaging design have nothing to fear in the future.

Click to download our free PKG Book Chapter: "Package Design and the Role of  the Consumer"


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