Blog Roderik Sorbi – Senior Client Consultant


Packaging is a strange thing. Opening is sometimes impossible, while others are barely keeping the product together. And then we have the least practical ones, like needing a pair of scissors to open your newly bought scissors. A lot of times it’s about functional aspects and cost-efficiency: how can we produce for the best price possible? I feel as though the impact of packaging is heavily underestimated and often focusing solely on functional aspects, could lead to unsuccessful innovations.


Frictions and frustrations

Packaging innovation can sometimes be complex and dependant on the technology that is offered to you. Recently I attended the Dutch Packaging Event where I got to see a lot of these new techniques in action. Often these new technologies are proposed by the manufacturer in a new design. A new – probably cheaper – material has been developed, which lowers the manufacturing price of the packaging. But you can also look at packaging innovation in an entirely different way. You can look at frictions and frustrations that are apparent around your packaging design. And by taking away these frictions, you can convey a lot more emotion and feeling with your design.


Innovation and frictions

(Cow & Gate and Nutrilon, 2019)

An example of a successful innovation based on friction, is from Nutrilon – known as Cow & Gate in the UK. The company has a very sensitive target group – mothers with young babies. It’s about the emotional connection with your child – giving the bottle is an important event. Before, you had to get the little scoop out with your hands. Brushing it off was quite difficult, and would make a mess. Moms felt insecure about their dosage, and worried about hygiene. So, the company changed their design to a hard box exterior, with a plastic lid, where you can click the spoon into. The inside has an angled piece, making it easy to wipe of excess.

It enabled the brand to cover the frictions of hygiene, scoop-ability and dosage, all in one innovation. The big driver behind it was the brand being able to ask an even more premium price than they were already asking. The decrease in market share was temporarily, after a few months they were back at the same level as before, but with a higher margin. Their innovation is way more than just a functional benefit, it’s an emotional benefit, and they managed to catch the essence of their brand into their packaging.


From ritual to repurchase

This emotional benefit could manifest into a ritual, a part of people’s daily routines. If you can create a ritual with your packaging, there’s a big chance it will lead to repurchase. But on the other hand, it could be harmful for your product if you don’t realise the importance of the ritual, or don’t know of its existence in the first place. I talked to multiple brand managers at the Packaging Event, and noticed that brand managers find it difficult to know what these rituals are, and how they work for consumers.

Because where there’s rituals, there is a risk factor. If you take away a ritual, a part of habitual behaviour, you might risk losing market share. Innovating your packaging from a cost-efficient angle, should be tested. You risk taking away a ritual you haven’t noticed before, or don’t know the strength of. What role does packaging have for people, where does it add something? And where do you accidently take something away in favour of functionality?


Innovation and rituals

Let’s look at an example where such a ritual was overlooked. A brand that makes make-up remover wipes introduced a new packaging design, with a click mechanism, securing the wipes in its packaging. But a couple of months ago, they changed the packaging to an adhesive strip. In order to understand the impact of the changed packaging, we conducted a consumer study in which we typically use storytelling to unlock people’s frictions. I’ve taken 2 stories we stumbled across:


“I really liked the old packaging. The clicking system meant that the wipes were closed off, and that click reminded me that it was actually closed, and the wipes wouldn’t dry out.”

“I prefer the packaging with the click. It gave me a sense of security and confirmation that the product was truly closed. You can close the strip, but you don’t know for sure that it is closed. After a while, the strip doesn’t stick that well anymore, and I feel as though my wipes are dryer than when I first opened the pack.”


In this instance, the brand took away the one thing that customers valued in the design, and took away the ritual of hearing the ‘click’ after closing the product. These elements are the things that could lead to a repeat purchase. By replacing the clicking mechanism with an adhesive strip, they took away their repurchase opportunity.


Discovering the frictions and rituals

A message I would like to say to brand managers is that packaging has a hidden strength that needs to be explored. You must gather personal stories, experiences and associations regarding your packaging. If you conduct a study among a large amount of people, you can come across a lot of different themes. From our Mass Qual technique in combination with storytelling, people can share where irritations lie, and which elements are valued. The analytical skills from the researcher in combination with the insights from a consultant, are very important in the study, where we analyse both all the qualitative elements to learn the various frictions and story classifiers to understand the actual business impact. This requires great expertise.

Marketers should look at frictions and rituals more often, and take their consumers into account before innovating their packaging. Ask them what they value or would rather see changed, so you can innovate and aspire repeat purchase. In other words: favouring a click mechanism over an adhesive strip, and not needing a pair of scissors to open scissors.