The Art and Science of Product Packaging

The next time you look at a favorite product, look even closer at its packaging. How functional is the container? What shapes are used? What logos and labeling appear on the packaging? What are their colors and font styles?

In short, how does the total package appeal to you, and what does it say about the product and its manufacturer? What promise and benefit does it make to you, the consumer?

Obviously product packaging serves some very basic functions. It protects an item or good during shipping, allows it to be stocked in a warehouse or store facility, and eventually makes its display possible on a retailer’s shelves or direct delivery to its end user. However, in the modern world of marketing, truly effective packaging is about so much more — and its design and execution is every bit as important as the design and manufacturing of the product itself.

In fact, today’s packaging is both an art and a science, and whole businesses are devoted to helping companies conceive and create product containers, shipping cartons and display boxes that function expertly through all phases of the supply chain. These design firms and suppliers often develop their packaging concepts right alongside the product itself to ensure fully integrated marketing. The idea is to unify product and packaging so they work together harmoniously to brand, identify and sell an item, delivering both “promise and performance” to the consumer. In essence, the package becomes a seamless part of the product.

But don’t think that packaging theory is only about an appealing dress-up for an item. Much focus is on strength, durability and adherence to applicable government regulations for product preservation, toxicity and related environmental concerns. Reduced weight and costs are also important considerations, and great thought is put into the raw materials used in a product’s container or boxing.

In recent years scientific advances in plastics have greatly impacted packaging, along with issues of sustainability. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article reports that more than projecting a socially responsible public image, newer materials and “sustainable packaging [can] lower freight and warehouse costs.” It cites the example of Wal-Mart’s work with retailers to simplify packaging and switch from oil-based to corn-based plastics for products the retail chain ships to Japan. According to the article, that modification “cut the packaging’s weight by 25 percent and its cost by 13 percent, saving more than $195,000 a year.” The article also reported that Sears and Target are also in the race to keep up with Wal-Mart’s evolving packaging strategies.

Like these businesses, American Sentinel University also strives to remain on the leading edge of modern packaging theory. Its business and marketing online degree programs include close attention to the role of package design. In particular, American Sentinel’s MKT305 Principles of Marketing course includes the specific objective of discussing and demonstrating understanding the “major concepts of product branding and packaging and how they fit into the strategic marketing and marketing activities of a firm as a whole.”

Package design is a fascinating discipline in the field of marketing, and those who grasp it will discover excellent career opportunities in today’s business world.

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