Simple Packaging Innovation Leads to Big Brand Rewards


National brands are generally the end result of big investment, big ideas and big marketing. So why am I finding that my own consumer choices are being increasingly influenced and determined by niggly little things instead of the big picture?

One of the little things that got hammered this revelation home for me what the security seals on meal replacements. Both Ensure and Boost are nationally advertised, similar tasting and priced about the same. One has simple perforated plastic ring that you break when you twist off the cap. The other has a foil seal with teeny tiny tabs that you remove with your fingernails if they’re strong enough to apply about 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. If they’re not, you have to stab the seal with a knife. It may seem like a small thing. But, when you think about it, this is product category primarily focused on an older demographic that is even less dextrous than me. Why put these consumers through hassle when the whole point of your product is to make their lives easier?

Getting to the actual product in the package is the ultimate pay-off for every brand. Which is why I don’t buy loose charcoal for the barbecue anymore. Why hunt for scissors to cut open a bag and then pour out the briquettes in a storm cloud of charcoal dust when I can choose a brand that lets me toss the whole bag into the barbecue and use one match on the bag to light it? This is brilliant. I am betting the idea came from a product manager who actually has a charcoal barbecue and uses it.

And while I’m on the subject of barbecuing, I want to commend the people at Maple Leaf who had the foresight to package Prime Chicken in leak-proof trays. Thanks to food safety experts, we  know that handling raw chicken and plutonium are about equally deadly, but many grocery stores continue to wrap their chicken trays so the raw chicken juice manages to leak out the bottom. With Prime, I can confidently purchase poultry without a hazmat suit.

After investing mightily in what’s in the package and on the package, I would encourage brands to invest more time in thinking about how consumers open the package; which is one of your product’s most important brand touch-points. It may be a small thing, but I suspect it influences more purchasing decisions than they believe.

Maybe it’s time to refocus some focus groups on collecting insights about that moment of truth when consumers experience products for the first time. After all, the product experience outweighs all of the brilliant and cunning marketing that gets them to the point of trying it. The real beating heart of innovation is simply answering the unmet need. It doesn’t have to be a big unmet need. But if that unmet need you’ve met is something your competition isn’t doing, you will win.

I will buy a battery with a best-before date on it before a battery that makes me guess. I will choose a network provider that continually tells me how much bandwidth I have left for the same reason. People are only loyal to brands as long as the brands work for them. As soon as your brand creates angst in my life, I’m unfriending you faster than you can say salmonella.

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What do ‘most hated’ brands have in common?

Worst Brands

I recently read a list of America’s least favourite brands on and was surprised that all ten of them are either financial institutions or communications providers?  But, should I be surprised?  What kind of evil do financial institutions, cable, satellite and cell phone carriers have in common that ticks off so many of us?

It’s the fine print.   When a company woos you to enter a relationship with promises in 16 point type, and then hits you with cancellation fees, service charges and conditions in teeny tiny 4 point type, it’s not surprising that you might suffer from a little read rage.

I know that these love them or hate them brand lists proliferate and aren’t all exactly what you’d called peer-reviewed, but they do give us a window into consumer discontent, which in the world of social media is an increasingly explosive performance indicator.  Unhappy customers now have the technology to tell their 30 friends and 30,000 browsers on the web about their bad experiences.

A representative of the bottom ten companies might remind us that the terms and conditions for cable, credit cards, satellite TV, bank accounts and mobile devices are clearly spelled out.  And legally, I suppose that’s completely accurate.  But I’m talking about building brands, not court cases.  I’m talking about consumer expectations.  And when you surprise consumers with leg hold traps in the fine print, you end up with a relationship that’s headed for the rocks.

So, what would I recommend to a financial services or communication provider client?  I’d suggest that three years isn’t a long term relationship.  Aim for a life-long relationship.  And don’t think of a cancellation fee as a source of revenue but rather a financial settlement of a divorce with a consumer who’s never coming back.  Contracts may bind us together legally, but they don’t really keep us together.  The only thing that does that is wanting to be together.   The same principal applies in branding.  You may have a contract with your customers, but if they’re unhappy, you’re sleeping on the couch.


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Epic Brand Fail!


I read in a recent New York Times article (published October 15, 2012) that a Blackberry user, Rachel Crosby, said she no longer takes out her BlackBerry at parties and conferences, and in meetings she hides it beneath her iPad for fear clients will see it and judge her. “I am ashamed of it,” she said. Ouch! That is so not cool. We know BlackBerry’s troubles over the last four years and its drought of innovation since its supernova days and a market cap of $78 billion (June 2008). Today, it’s at $4.4 billion and the brand is in free-fall.

The connection between a corporation’s value and brand is not covered by standard accounting practices. As Roy Sieben, partner at SB Partners accounting firm explains, “Generally accepted accounting principles do not report the value of internally generated goodwill (as opposed to purchased goodwill) despite the fact that such goodwill can be a significant part of a corporation’s overall value.”

Luckily, there are firms (Interbrand) that measure the value of brands and rank the top 100. The results are a striking reminder to all of us in business of how important brand is to the long-term of the business assets that we are building.

In 2012, guess who was #1? No, not Apple; it was Coke, coming in at a value of $77.8 billion, up 8% from 2011. Apple was a close #2, at $76.8 billion, up 129%. And guess who was down at #93? Blackberry at $3.9 billion, down 39%. Another tech competitor, Microsoft, was #5 at $57.8 billion, down 2%.

Not surprisingly, in this group, there is a general correlation between the company’s market capitalization and brand value. Between January 2011 and November 2012, the up or down change in market cap is mirrored in 2012’s brand value:

Apple: Market cap rose from $296 to $510 billion and brand value jumped 129%
Blackberry: Market cap crashed from $34 to $4.4 billion and brand value fell 39%
Microsoft: Market cap dropped from $238 to $227 billion and brand value fell 2%
Coca-Cola: Market cap rose from $152 to $162 billion and brand value rose 8%

Accountants may not put brand value and innovation on the balance sheet but you can probably get pretty good odds from any savvy investor that a strong brand and continuous innovation are intangible items to be considered “on” the balance sheet. Leaders of the most successful corporations know it.

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