Lisa has been a packaging journalist since 1982. She's the executive editor of PackagingDigest.com and could not be better placed to take us through what many deem the unsexy world of packaging.
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In this episode we discuss:
[0:00:01] George Reid: Welcome to us, Always Day One. My name is George Reid, a former Amazonian turned amazon consultant. Each week on the podcast you're going to hear industry experts. Brand owners and amazon employees share their answers to the basic yet fundamental questions you should be asking yourself bang your amazon business now, let's jump in. Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to another episode of It's Always Day One Today, I've got lisa Pierce coming to chat to us about packaging. Really excited to dig into this a little bit more lisa. You want to give us a quick 22nd in troy?
[0:00:36] Lisa Pierce: Sure. Hi George. Thank you so much for inviting me, excited to do this. I'm doing what I really love. That's talking about packaging. So I've been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and that puts me at 39 years almost at the big four Oh, um and I'm happy enough to say that I've never been bored, not even a single day in my career, so it's a wonderful industry to cover.
[0:01:06] George Reid: That's that's probably the most long standing person I've ever spoken to in the in the packaging industry and I'm sure when I think I know a little bit about it, I know absolutely nothing. How how did you get into it? There's a bizarre one to kind of get stuck into, right, It's not exactly sexy per se.
[0:01:24] Lisa Pierce: Ah you would be surprised at how packaging can be. Uh Actually that is the response that I get from a lot of people. A lot of people don't really think about packaging because it's just something that's there and something that you use as a consumer um as a consumer, you don't think about it until it either doesn't work or there's something like totally, totally cool about it. It's either one of the two extremes and yet it is a multibillion dollar industry globally and virtually any product that is produced and sold and used requires packaging of some sort, whether it be just to ship it from one point to another or to actually dispense a product.
[0:02:20] George Reid: And what what must brands be thinking about now with their packaging that perhaps has been different or overlooked in the past?
[0:02:28] Lisa Pierce: Well, probably the biggest trend in packaging that has, is really probably a decade old right now. And you think to yourself, how could this be a trend if it's already been out there for about a decade, is it keeps evolving and that's on the sustainability side of things. And we could talk for hours and hours about just packaging and sustainability in general um that maybe it would be good if we kind of um narrowed the topic a little bit and talk about um sustainability with e commerce packaging, which to be a little bit more um fresh over the last year because of the global pandemic, we have been seeing some pretty significant shifts in e commerce packaging, both from a sustainability point of view, as well as from just an economics point of view. Maybe we can talk about both.
[0:03:24] George Reid: So yeah, let's take into that a little bit more than you said there's been big ships, and obviously I'm clearly not in the know, what are some of them changes and how how can brands be thinking about implementing those changes?
[0:03:38] Lisa Pierce: Well, one of the biggest changes over the last 3-5 years, so this is going even before the pandemic, um but it's been um accelerated because of the pandemic, I believe, and the increase in the number of products that are shipping through e commerce and um that has to do with um designing packaging for the channel. So if you think about it, a company has a product, let's just say it's a shampoo, it could be anything. But let's just say for example, it's a shampoo and they're selling it at your at a grocery store there, selling it at a dollar store there, selling it at a uh warehouse store, depending on the outlet, you might have a different package. The dollar store is gonna want a small enough pack to keep the price point down, warehouse store obviously is gonna want like a bulk pack. And so the brand owners have been learning over the years that delicate balance between having a package that's special for either a retailer or an outlet and yet not having so many different types of packages that, from a manufacturing point of view there, um adding too much complexity to their production um and supply chain. And so it's always been for the, you know, there's a cycle that it goes through. Companies come out with new products and then um they um try to optimize their stock keeping unit, also known as skews, and um so we go from there, and during the last couple of years, a lot of the brands have been realizing that e commerce is a new channel that they need to design. Packaging is very specifically for this channel, and Amazon has been leading in this area because as a major e commerce retailer, they're the ones who have been trying to make some packages work for um shipping to consumers in the small parcel environment um that maybe don't really work all that well, and and Amazon does some alterations to a package to get it to ship direct to consumer, as they do, they're gonna charge the vendor back for it. So it's kind of just the evolution of e commerce packaging that um brand owners are starting to design packages specifically for this type of shipment and um George the shipping for e commerce in the United States. And we're basically a U. S. Publication. So I speak from the point of view of the United States that there are um a big differences in shipping, what we call small parcel which is you know, ups Fedex um the United States Postal Service shipping it that way versus the typical um new product distribution system in the United States which which is palette loads, unit ties, palette loads and any time you unit ties a load like that, you're adding some strength and extra protections that the small parcel little box that gets, you know, put on a truck with a million other little boxes. It doesn't have that kind that extra protection value to it. So, um that's a long way of saying that over the course of time, as e commerce sales have grown, we've had this back and forth between packaging and sustainability that e commerce packages use way too much packaging, you know, products that you buy um, on amazon have way too much packaging. Well, there's a reason for that, which I just explain the small parcel environment doesn't have the same protections as a unit ties pallet load, but so not only are brand owners recently within the last three or five years realizing that they need to design packages that fit the e commerce outlet, but they're also realizing that sustainability, keeping in mind sustainability as they're doing this, this design for the e commerce platform.
[0:08:38] George Reid: And what now, does that mean the term sustainable packaging is thrown around a lot.
[0:08:45] Lisa Pierce: It is
[0:08:45] George Reid: you have to put a definition. If you have to put a definition on what that means to you, where would that sit?
[0:08:52] Lisa Pierce: Well, it, uh, thankfully, I'm not the one who has to come up with a definition because exists. The very smart and professional, uh, colleagues that I know at the Sustainable packaging coalition here in the United States have a wonderful definition and I don't know it by heart, but I do know that it embodies a lot of different, um, tactics. It could be reusable, it could be recyclable, it could use recycled content, it could use renewable materials as the raw materials going into it. So, um, it's kind of good news, bad news. The good news is, there's a lot of ways that you can make packaging sustainable bad news is that means it's that much harder to communicate to whoever it is that you want to communicate it to. And it could be, you know, consumers, it could be people who are reading your corporate sustainability report a lot of things. But um there's a lot of different options for brands to make their packaging a little bit more friendly to the earth. And I think at the bottom line, that's what we're trying to do from a sustainability point of view is to um, not damage the environment
[0:10:23] George Reid: are and my follow up. So that would be obviously with all these different options, reusable, recycled, renewable recyclable brands in that product development process, or who are going back to look at existing skews and go, how can we develop this differently? How can we be more sustainable? They're obviously weighing up a number of things in their mind because there comes a cost implement cost factor as well, that needs to be weighed in as well as when that's up against. Okay. Do what do our customers actually care? What examples of that have you seen recently? Where in some industries that the end user perhaps is less conscious of these things, therefore it makes it a little bit harder for them to go, Okay, we can justify spending an extra 5, 10 on our packaging. Um is that something you're hearing a lot of or or people just all in on it?
[0:11:28] Lisa Pierce: Yes and no. Um it was something that we heard a lot of in earlier days and um we've already passed the 50 year mark of the first Earth Day, Which was last year 2020 And a lot of people missed that. Very important anniversary because of the pandemic kind of thunder away from 50 years of Earth Day, unfortunately. But um so it's, it's not anything that is brand spanking new, it's just that like a lot of things in our lives This last year, the COVID-19 virus has disrupted a lot of different areas of our lives and one of them is a lot more people are working from home and because a lot more people are working from home, a lot of the waste that they used to discard maybe at work is not being discarded at home. And all of a sudden a lot of american consumers are like, wow, we generate a lot of garbage, why aren't we recycling more or you know, why, you know, why is it, why why do we have so much garbage? And so that has had a lot of people kind of rethinking their the products that they buy and and the packages that those products come in just because that awareness now of how much waste they're actually generating it is uh you know, a lot more fine since the anthemic campaigned,
[0:13:21] George Reid: I think it's it's in your face a bit more, isn't it? I we don't buy too much, but I know friends of ours and I've been at their house for like, the fifth package around wasn't arrived that day, I feel like this is actually just obscene amounts of packaging, that it's it's Australia, right? So they haven't quite nailed their packaging at amazon internally. Some of the boxes are much bigger than a need to be, but you just look at it and you're like, this is a huge amount and maybe you just don't realize them things, because back in the day, you have been in the office and you would just throw it in the corner with all the other big boxes and the cleaners would come around and that was that done. And you went home with your rucksack filled with some goodies, happy as larry, right?
[0:14:03] Lisa Pierce: Yes, that's happening a lot in a lot of different countries, definitely. And um, the folks that amazon are aware of this and they have been working toward minimizing the amount of packaging for quite some time now, It's been more than 10 years since they started their frustration free packaging program. And that's been a pretty good success. But it was really just a couple of years ago. And um, you know, I was looking into this because I wanted to make sure I got some of this right when they started another program and it's still part of the frustration free packaging program, but it's a little bit different. And this is something that started just in very early 2019. So we're just a couple of years into it. And what Amazon decided to do was to encourage brands to create e commerce friendly packaging, which I I said, you know, it's just the last couple of years that brands have really been working on this, as they realize that e commerce is a large enough portion of their sales, that they really should consider this another outlet and develop packaging specifically for this outlet. And um, Amazon decided to encourage brands to do this by um incentivizing them in a couple of different ways and and one of the ways was to charge incentivizing, um it charged them for products that weren't packaged the way they should be for e commerce, but um but also to reward them for packages that were, and one example of a package that is designed correctly for the e commerce outlet is what they call ships and own container. Oh, you may have seen some packages that you order? Something from amazon and instead of it coming in at brown amazon box, it comes in the brand box depending on what you buy. Like one example could be dog food that instead of it being in the box with the amazon little smile logo on it, that it's in, you know, it looks like Dog food, a dog food car. So that's something that they've just been doing through the last couple of years. And um, it's been a while since I've checked with them on the success of this program. But shortly after it was introduced, like I say in early 2019, um, they had so much activity on it that how could you not deem it a success?
[0:17:07] George Reid: So I'm
[0:17:08] Lisa Pierce: going to call that a success on their part
[0:17:12] George Reid: and this brings us on to kind of another slightly topic of we're thinking about that delivery experience. When I say delivery experience, I'm referring to that unboxing process, the initial reaction of receiving the item, how that makes you feel and this plays into that little bit more because your first touch point with the item isn't necessarily the amazon box anymore, it's now, it's now the brand's own box. So walking brand be thinking about too, improve this overall experience from start to finish, whether that's receiving it as well as an unboxing that unboxing itself, how pain free that is or painful, That is all of these things. What what what are you thinking about at the moment to make that experience as good as possible.
[0:18:04] Lisa Pierce: Well, when the idea was first kind of thrown out there of more brands should be using their own packaging for direct to consumer delivery, whether it's from their own e commerce sales or if it's through a fulfillment house like amazon retailer, um E retailer like amazon um that that initial um thrill that a consumer gets when they get a package in the mail, it's like a gift, it's a gift to yourself. It could be a gift from somebody else, but let's say you ordered it yourself. And the the outside graphics um is your first touch point. It's that visual and there is that elevation and excitement when you see something that you kind of recognize as uh you know, a gift to yourself. Now I know when this um concept was first being bandied about, there were a lot of um naysayers saying that it's going to increase uh huh um theft, uh doorstep theft um because people will know what they, you know what product that you've ordered, It's obvious from the outside packaging, but brands have been very clever about having some kind of branding on the outside of the package without adding to the encouragement of more theft at the doorstep. And um this is a very old example and I'm trying to remember for the life of me, the computer company that had a box that looked like a cow on the outside. Do you remember that with an american only? Um It
[0:19:58] George Reid: never
[0:19:59] Lisa Pierce: it was a white box that had you know, spots on it that made it look like a cow. Uh And you you knew it was that particular computer companies product, but it could be anything inside.
[0:20:12] George Reid: I've got Gateway.
[0:20:14] Lisa Pierce: Uh Maybe it is Gateway. Yes. Okay.
[0:20:17] George Reid: Yeah I've got a picture of the box now, that's quite funny, it just looks like a cow.
[0:20:23] Lisa Pierce: It's
[0:20:24] George Reid: very recognizable but not necessarily something you'd be like, I'm gonna go steal that box over there,
[0:20:30] Lisa Pierce: right. It is recognizable. But again, as you say, you don't know what's inside. So you could be getting, you know, some kind of peripheral that you can't, you can't use with anything, you're going to have to buy a computer to use it or you could be getting a full computer in there. You don't, you never know. But the whole idea of that is there are pros and cons to having a customer recognize the brand from the very instant. And so the rest of that opening experience as you talk about is very much connected to that brand. So it starts with the outside graphics and I understand that there's theft at the doorstep. They do it even with the brown boxes when they have no clue what's inside. And I always, for years and years I've been encouraging brand owners don't let that deter you. The benefits of the, the positive experience that you have with your consumers far outweigh the negatives of potential theft at least in my opinion. So I've been uh, encouraging brands to do that for quite some time now
[0:21:51] George Reid: and once, once they've gone through that process, if we then move on to obviously creating beautiful graphics or recognisable graphics because like you said at the start there, recognizing that gift we can recognize as three amazon boxes sat there and that one of them might be that particular gift you bought for yourself, that you're most looking forward to. But it could be a lucky debt. We've all been there when you open up all three and you think you shit, This isn't the one I wanted, hasn't arrived yet. I'm gonna have to wait till tomorrow or check my tracking again or whatever. This is rubbish. My day is ruined. We've all been in that position, maybe not quite as aggressive as that. Um so the benefits they end up going, you're improving that experience because they can see the colored box like I said, I received in a way, travel bob, it just said away blue on the side and I knew straight away that's what it was. I don't often buy things that are that large. I don't buy loads of stuff that was too challenging for me. I knew what I was getting, but bringing that experience kind of further forwards in some way. I'm trying to describe it, I'm struggling. So they're not moving that guesswork, they're removing that guesswork they see and they can immediately have that kind of added excitement because they can see the thing they bought, they know it straight away and it's that kind of endorphin hit like that's what we're chasing leading on from. That would then be the getting into the box within my mindset. What are you thinking about that?
[0:23:25] Lisa Pierce: Well, consumers have clamored for easy open packaging for eons. I can't even say just decades from the very beginning that we started to have packaging which goes back more than 3000 years ago with um actually glass containers that that protected um products in early early days. Um They have have always wanted it to be easy open and there are so many technology's packaging technologies and packaging designs to aid that these days that it's kind of a shame if a brand owner doesn't take advantage of those types of easy opening, it could be a thumb hole that then uh appeals you're able to peel from perforations to get into a carton. It could be a tear tape that allows you to remove outer, um, film maybe from a carton. Things like that. There are closures now that you can use a little device, a little button that releases the vacuum from, uh, like a spaghetti sauce jar so that
[0:24:48] George Reid: you,
[0:24:49] Lisa Pierce: um, a lot less torque to open a lot less force. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to use a packaging term torque. It's the same thing as forced, a lot less forced to open that jar. And the thing about easy open packaging, is it a lot of times you think that you're doing that for a particular demographic, let's say, an elderly population that maybe has less dexterity in their hands and all. But the thing is easy open packages easy open for anyone. And it's delightful. It's absolutely delightful.
[0:25:26] George Reid: Here's
[0:25:27] Lisa Pierce: where the joining of the graphics and the Easy Open come into play is it should also be intuitive for the consumer to figure out how to open. How do you get into this package, whether through color or, you know, an arrow, something open here, some kind of easy instruction and then making it easy to get into the package. So yeah, that's definitely something else that I think all brands should work should take the time, you know, take an hour or two. I'm being facetious here, it's a lot longer than an hour or two to design a package. Um, but you know, take the time to get that step right
[0:26:15] George Reid: and I think it's taking the time, but also putting in more people's hands from different demographics, whether you give it to your, your two year old child and see how they get on with it and get the old stopwatch going, or whether you give it to your granddad who's got terrible dexterity um, and get him to have a crack at it as well and see how do they solve the problem of where is the key shall we say? Whether it's that little flap and you get it all the time, whether you're opening tea bags, which has got the film around the cardboard box to prevent the dust, you still end up going to the top of it eventually and doing a bit of rip work or have to get a knife, even if the property is some tiny little flap somewhere, which were at least a whole lot with great eats, but it's just not obvious enough. I think a larger percentage of brands cock up a little bit there than those that nail it. Um, in my opinion, because its not intuitive enough. Um, and even with Amazon, I have boxes where they used to have their frustration free was very obvious. I think it's changed maybe just moved from the UK and they've got slightly different packaging gig over here, which would surprise me, but even with them is not as easy. I still requiring knife quite often. So you think I'd be pretty good at it having worked at the space And Amazon has seen enough of
[0:27:44] Lisa Pierce: these boxes that
[0:27:46] George Reid: I'm doing something
[0:27:47] Lisa Pierce: wrong. Um, you're not
[0:27:49] George Reid: George, you're
[0:27:50] Lisa Pierce: not doing anything wrong. You are in the same spot as all consumers are. Um, and it's kind of funny. I used to work with this one gentleman who I was new to the packaging industry, um, initially was new to the packaging
[0:28:07] George Reid: industry and
[0:28:08] Lisa Pierce: after a couple of weeks he was bragging to me that um, he's already an expert because he uses pitching every day.
[0:28:17] George Reid: You
[0:28:19] Lisa Pierce: know, it kind of makes sense. You do. Were we all are packaging experts in a way and we all have our opinions on the types of packages that work and that don't. Um, but you do bring up a good question that it is that, you know, not, not just the time to develop packaging that is easy, open and delights the consumer, but you know, you're, I always say that there's always a reason why a package is the way it is. And it could be something as simple as, that's all the manufacturer could afford. You are weighing the, uh, the cost of what it is that you're doing because it usually does cost a little bit more to make it easy open. I'll give you that.
[0:29:09] George Reid: Yeah, it's been difficult. You're going, is it worth the cost? But it all comes down to how much um, a lot of, a lot of startup brands obviously wrestling with margins, particularly in amazon who scoops such a large amount anyway. Um it can be very tricky to bake that into it, but I think you've gotta work like that. We're baking in a brilliant package. Um and we're looking to position ourselves perhaps is slightly more premium and part of that is the unboxing is fantastic. Once once they've got into this beautiful box, what are we then thinking about inside everything from leaflets, pamphlets, inserts, additional packaging, colored inside the box. What do you think about their where brands are doing it really
[0:30:05] Lisa Pierce: well. Well, I've heard it from two different angles. Um One angle is that consumers really like that personal touch. So you add a handwritten thank you note or you wrap it in such a way that it makes them feel like they're opening a gift. Um Apple is genius at designing their packages for that opening experience. The layers upon layers of uncovering discovering and the emotions that go along with that the positive emotions that go along with that. But as we've already talked about, there are so many consumers out there which who have the reaction of, wow, this is important. My language, this is a shitload of packaging, can't get to the product. Um
[0:31:08] George Reid: it's
[0:31:09] Lisa Pierce: kind of like a balancing act of uh delighting the consumer without having that that negative feeling. And part of it is who it is that you're shipping to. Part of it is the product that you're, that, you know, the brand image of that product. If you're um selling a product that's got a uh, you know, an earthy kind of image to it, minimal packaging is the way to go. Those rumors are going to be a lot more insulted extra packaging than impressed. Um, but then if it's a high priced item, like, you know, maybe going back to this apple example, um, high priced iphone, you're gonna want to, you know, have those layers and layers of packaging, not only for protection but for the, the experience of opening. So it's like, I, I don't have just one answer for you George. I don't have one answer for the brands. It really does depend on the brand and the brand image and knowing how much protection that you're going to need to ship it through an e commerce platform.
[0:32:26] George Reid: I think I really, really like that point there about layers I've never seen described in such a way, but it explains Apple's strategy very well of such a kid at Christmas, if they've got 10 around the trees that are born around the tree there, immediately more exciting. You got more things to open and like you said, uncover discover which is a really nice way of breaking it down again, that some costs come into that and again, some customers don't want that. But I think the follow up or the answer of the solution would be asked them and the more you can involve your audience, your customer base in those, in those decisions, whether that's through little focus groups, through email or little kind of weekly set up, you have with them rather live stream and you're asking these questions is showing them your new ideas and getting them involved and going, what would you like? That's an important part, right, asking them because you can guess all the time, but asking you so much
[0:33:36] Lisa Pierce: more trial and error is okay too. But um, this is an excellent opportunity for us to talk about some new technology in packaging design. Um that's not limited to e commerce products, but actually is being used quite extensively in e commerce packaging these days. And um that's the use of artificial intelligence and or machine design, machine learning in um designing packages for the e commerce outlet. And before we get into that, I wanted to just make a quick note to from the communication point of view you were saying, you know, do they put in a lot of brochures or um you know, information sheets and things like that? Nowadays, a lot of people are so used to the communication being virtual, um whether you have a QR code that to a website that gives you all the the information that you need, uh, instruction sheet or installation guide or something like that. So much of that is is being provided virtually now or, or online. And part of it is to save on packaging and waste and looking for that to be a sustainability advantage. Um, but you have to understand too, that there's a economic advantage for the brand owner as well to be able to provide it electronically instead of physically. And so there's a win win together on that. Not everybody has access to electronic. Um, you know, want to take the time to scan a QR code, but that's up to the consumer, at least the manufacturers providing this information and that
[0:35:37] George Reid: you could always, you kind of go, we're saving the environment, here's a QR code of everything you need to
[0:35:43] Lisa Pierce: know, I'm
[0:35:44] George Reid: done. And if you're struggling to use a QR code or your audience expected to struggle to use that, perhaps you'd introduce mother stuff. Q are becoming a lot more accepted now, given I think I used about 15 times a day to scan into various locations. Um, so they're becoming more accepted. But that's a nice way of doing it. We're saving the environment, here's a QR code. Everything you need to know isn't here your videos, you walk through your um, your warranty etcetera,
[0:36:17] Lisa Pierce: coming
[0:36:18] George Reid: back to uh, gone
[0:36:19] Lisa Pierce: and it's easy to update to make sure that the information is as up to date as possible when you're doing it electronically like that. It's a lot easier
[0:36:28] George Reid: and donor. Absolutely. And if we swing back around and finish off on the ai
[0:36:33] Lisa Pierce: piece,
[0:36:34] George Reid: a little bit about this, of how clever is becoming to get those insights from people in your target demographic without necessarily having or the data to yourself or the first part of data to go ask, what have you been learning about that recently?
[0:36:53] Lisa Pierce: Well, we've done a couple of articles recently on one particular company visit as you had mentioned the V. I. Z. I. T. And um I don't I haven't had an opportunity to use this platform personally myself. I've seen a short demo, but if you don't mind, I would like to throw out a question for us to just talk about in general about the youth of machine learning and or artificial intelligence and the impact on packaging design creativity.
[0:37:36] George Reid: Mm
[0:37:36] Lisa Pierce: So, um, these computer programs, you plug in all these options, all these design options, which is, you know, pretty much what packaging designers learn either on the job or are learned through schooling, education and whatnot. And um, yet this machine, it's kind of methodically and coldly just going through options. Our options the same thing as creativity George are they?
[0:38:15] George Reid: I'd say no. An immediate response short answer. If you wanted a word, I would say no. Um, the work that I do with amazon Creative Facebook Group and the Creative kind of platform are building, it's giving people options, but it's more options to inspire rather than options to choose from. So if you're looking for some packaging options, being able to see all the options is always good. If a machine can see all those options and marry them up to your target audience to narrow down what your audience would like Based on those options now, 100 options. Now down to 10. The designer takes the 10 and then create something bespoke. That is a nice blend of both worlds there where there are there are lots of options and particularly color schemes and stuff like that as well and things think about, there are lots of options. Um, but it also comes down to how good a graphic designer. If you've got a very high quality graphic designer with years of experience, they're going to create better things from scratch if you've got someone up work whose $4 an hour creating your packaging and this is fresh out of university in, let's say, India, for argument's sake. Perhaps they haven't got as a full and full understanding of the target market, the consumers, the type of brand that you are, the type of company you're looking to become, the experience you want to create. Perhaps they don't have that because they haven't got um some have won the kind of the background from being in the local that you're selling in or the background of. We haven't got 10 years experience quoting packaging, so they're not gonna be able to create as many goods suggestions to the brand owner.
[0:40:14] Lisa Pierce: So
[0:40:14] George Reid: I've answered a number of different ways, but interested to see what your thoughts are.
[0:40:20] Lisa Pierce: Well, um I think creativity has to start from somewhere you need as like even just a writer myself, you need some kind of an input, whether it's a idea or a word or uh, emotion. And actually I'm going to target in on that la
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