A Candy Bar Teaches Product Managers Lessons About Redesigning Product Packaging

by drjim on July 29, 2013

Product packaging is different, but is it better?

Product packaging is different, but is it better?
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Imagine for just a moment that you were the product manager who was in charge of a candy bar. Let’s say that that candy bar had been invented a long time ago, say 1920 or so, and its packaging was starting to look old. This was never part of your product development definition. How would you go about updating your product’s “look”?

What Not To Do When Changing Your Product’s Packaging

As product managers we can often get too close to our products – we end up just seeing what we don’t like and we’re tempted to change everything to make it a better product. Although we might think that this is going to look good on our product manager resume, what it does to our product won’t look so good. Something similar happened after chocolate manufacturer Goldenberg’s sold their company to Just Born in 2003. Included in the sale was “Goldenberg’s Original Peanut Chews” which had been made since the 1920’s

In 2005 Just Born decided that this product needed a new look in order to be more successful. They redesigned the packaging and did a big launch. It failed. New customers were not attracted to the product and existing customers were no longer able to find it.

A number of mistakes had been made in the new product packaging. One of the biggest was that the name “Goldenberg” had been removed from the package. It turns out that customers often asked for the product as “Goldberg or Goldenberger”. Now they could no longer find the product that they wanted. The colors were also dramatically changed. The red and brown colors of the original packaging were replaced by a red package and yellow text. The new package looked nothing like the old one.

What To Do When Changing Your Product’s Packaging

What the product managers at Just Born had forgotten is that nostalgia means a lot to your customers. Just because you want to change things, does not mean that they want you to change things. The first thing that the product manager should have done was to test more than one design in the markets where the chocolate bar traditionally sold well. The designs that were well received could then have been tested in an even larger market.

Secondly, the product manager needed to identify what parts of the old packaging most appealed to customers. In this case, the name “Goldenerg” and the star design were both closely associated with the product in customer’s minds. This means that both of these design elements needed to be prominently included in the new design.

For an old-school product, the product manager needs to tap into your customer’s need for nostalgia. This can be done a number of different ways when it comes to packaging. One of the most important of these is the typography that you end up using. Selecting the right font to use can go a long way in telling your customers the story that you want them to hear.

What All Of This Means For You

Change is a constant part of every product manager’s career – it’s a part of our product manager job description. How we package our products can play a key role in how our customers view the product. We may be tempted to change or update our product packaging in order to boost sales. However, we need to be very careful when we do this.

It’s very easy to make mistakes when you change your product’s packaging. You make too many dramatic changes that cause your customers to not to be able to recognize the product that they’ve come to know and love. Instead, a better way to go about doing this is to test multiple design changes in areas that are popular for your product. Then expand the test using the most popular designs. Make sure that you use typography to capture the nostalgia of your product’s old packaging.

The good news is that it is possible to change how your product is packaged. By doing this you can breathe new life into an older product. However, proceed carefully – make sure that how you package the product going forward is still recognizable by your most loyal customers.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What criteria do you think that we should use in order to determine that a product packaging redesign is called for?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So you are a product manager? Just exactly what does that mean? I can tell you that it’s not all about creating the perfect product development definition. I mean, sure you are in charge of a product, but in order to get your job done you need to work with other people and get them to do what you need them to do for you. Just exactly how are you supposed to do that?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Faucheux August 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm

It should also not be overlooked in this instance that “Peanut Chews” is likely too generic of a term to serve as an effective brand name; hence, most consumers were wont to identify the product by the only truly differentiating name on the package. The auditory interaction between consumers regarding a product, especially in FMCG categories, is a key factor in product selections. When making packaging and graphics changes, I’d recommend considering not only the graphic treatment, but also the uniqueness of the brand name and the descriptor words (which should be what the marketer considers to be the brand name but often isn’t as in this case) that consumers will use to verbally identify the product. Packaging and graphic treatments are important, but the brand name, whether intended or perceived, is equally important.

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Dr. Jim Anderson August 9, 2013 at 8:18 am

Scott: you bring up some really good points. Because the old name has such a strong identify, I wonder if the company should keep the existing product as it is and introduct the same product under a new name using the suggestions that you made? Identical product, two different packages…

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