Why Packaging Matters
Marketing gurus generally look at packaging as one of the most significant aspects of brand strategy. The general reasons cited include the importance of visual aesthetics, product protection, and brand communication. The first refers to the ‘wow’ factor – the first impression made when a customer sees the product in-store or online. The second, on the other hand, serves the important task of preserving the product and the third reason, sees packaging as an extension of the brand.
While achieving the first and the second are more straightforward, it is not always the obvious choice for many sellers – a hard lesson to learn in sales. As an example, farmers of Kiwis from the north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh often lose out to India’s massive imports of Kiwi from New Zealand, Chile and other countries amounting to a whopping imported value of $53.51 mn in 2020 alone. One of the key issues here is packaging. Kiwi farmers in Arunachal Pradesh often try to reduce costs in the short term by avoiding trays or using second-hand boxes. But eventually, these practices have left high losses in the form of wastages as the Kiwis are not protected enough during transportation. Further, when presented without sorting and proper packaging, they finally skip large buyers and aggregators only to land in the local markets after prices are slashed.
This goes to show that packaging design from visual appearance and feel to function and sustainability to story and costs matter in the effort of bringing a brand to life. For the marketing expert at a corporate giant, this information has neither novelty nor originality. Yet, brand communication remains the most complex for many, especially at the grassroots level. In a way, one could say that the knowledge and ability to communicate brand identity is often still limited to multinational corporations, elite start-up ecosystems and the like. Local artisans and indigenous producers often fail to compete in establishing effective brand identities in the face of larger competition.
The Kannauj Attar Model
Under the ‘One District, One Product’ (ODOP) Initiative, field visits around the country allowed the Invest India’s ODOP team to gain insight into the challenges in the value and supply chain of various indigenous products. One of our findings has been the lack of proper packaging and branding for many. Thus, with the mandate of balanced regional development and a mission to harness the export potential of local products, an imbalance in the branding stories of prompted us to action.
Attar, traditional oil-based perfumes from Uttar Pradesh’s Kannauj district became the first product we worked on to improve brand identity. Representative of ancient perfumery, Kannuaj attar is a natural eco-friendly alternative to modern perfumes. In fact, the art of making the attar has been perfected over four hundred years and it brings with it, an old-world charm and pleasant fragrances of rose, sandalwood, musk, saffron, and more. Yet, in modern times, not enough people have been drawn to the product.
Thus, we envisioned a pilot project in order to improve its attractiveness to the consumer. A simple market survey was undertaken and our observations brought to light issues related to the way Kannauj attar was being packaged and presented. Antiquated wooden boxes with large mirrors, almost resembling jewelry boxes, had been used as packaging. This would further increase the overall cost of the product. Beyond this, the perfume bottles were of low quality, and no product story or instructions for use came with the box.
We partnered with a perfume shop in 26th Edition of Hunar Haat, New Delhi in our efforts at brand communication. Bottles were swapped for improved quality and aesthetic value. Boxes were changed to smaller carved wooden ones, removing unnecessary costs such as mirrors and decorations. Along with these, story cards were printed, highlighting the uniqueness of the Kannauj attar and the techniques on how to use it. Finally, shop attendants were trained to improve their sales pitch – focusing on the benefits of attar on health and environment.
Cost of original packaging
Cost after intervention
(Sourced from a single vendor)
(Cost reduction as elements of packaging were sourced separately and assembled later eliminating unnecessary costs enhancing use and aesthetic value of packaging)
A month later, we found that we were able to increase weekly sales by 96% in the pilot. The factors included both the improved packaging as well as the introduction of a key brand identity for the product. It goes to prove once again that small actions can lead to big results.
The way forward
The Kannuaj attar model provides a starting point that helps us lay down a way forward for the overall improvement and promotion of products across the ODOP initiative and beyond. The Kannauj attar story remains an unfinished one. It is a proof of concept for why packaging matters and helps us lay the blueprint as we work towards scaling interventions for all products under the ODOP initiative.
As the ODOP team looks towards making further interventions in product and sales improvement for indigenous products from the districts and up, the action points may be summarised as the following:
- Collaborative initiatives with key institutes like the Indian Institute of Packaging.
- Workshops for packaging and product improvement.
- Upskilling and capacity building workshops.
- Onboarding of the products onto e-commerce platforms to improve visibility and market access.