Podcast: Pack Designs — What Works and What Doesn’t

In this episode of the Our Best Behavior Podcast, Ian Elmer (US Managing Director of Behaviorally) shares a behind-the-scenes look and further insights from our new e-book “The Power of Packaging to Drive Shopper Growth.” This resource compiles over 50-years of best practices learnings on pack design into one reference tool.

Have you downloaded your copy yet?


Matt Salem (Senior Vice President, Client Development) hosts The Our Best Behavior Podcast.

Read more on the Behaviorally Blog (behaviorally.com/blog/).

Matt Salem

 Hi everyone. I’m your host, Matt Salem, and you have tuned into another episode of Our Best Behavior. A podcast brought to you by Behaviorally. Behaviorally, formally PRS helps brands improve shopper and consumer experiences by defining and diagnosing the behaviors that drive shopper growth.

Each month, we produce a podcast to share industry insights on trending topics designed to help you make better shopper marketing decisions. Today we are joined by Ian Elmer, US managing director at Behaviorally. Ian, great to have you on with us.


Ian Elmer

Thanks, Matt. Great to be here.


Matt Salem

 So, Ian, this is not your first rodeo, as I recall. You’ve, uh, you’ve actually had an interesting past when it comes to not necessarily podcasts, but broadcasting. I’d love to just hear a bit about that.


Ian Elmer

That’s correct. Many, many, many years ago, before I found my way into the wonderful world of market research, I actually did a bit of broadcasting back in the UK. I used to work for a commercial radio station, reading the news, and then my favorite thing, which was going to soccer games and doing like half-time and full-time reports from soccer games. It was, it was a lot of fun.


Matt Salem

 Well, you could tell that you’ve been in the US for a while now because you’re actually referring to it as soccer. So,


Ian Elmer

I still have to force myself to do that here. It will always be football to me.


Matt Salem

 Well, thanks for joining us again, and I’m really excited to have you today to talk about the newest launch from Behaviorally, not a product, not a service, but an e-book, which is called “the power of packaging to drive shopper growth.” And I was hoping you could start by just telling us a bit about how that came to fruition and how the book was developed.


Ian Elmer

Yeah. So, it’s, it’s a, it’s an exciting piece of work. And it’s really part of a celebration. I would say. A celebration of us reaching our first anniversary as Behaviorally, uh, but primarily for the purposes of this book, a celebration of 50 years of understanding consumer behavior and understanding what makes great pack design. And to celebrate those milestones, we thought what better way to mark the occasion than port, a lot of the things that we’ve learned over that time into one resource for our clients to use that will really answer a lot of common questions that we get day in, day out. And you all have had these many times Matt, yourself, as to some of the tips and tricks of what makes packaging design effective.


Matt Salem

 Sounds great to have that all in one place. I can only imagine the effort that went into developing something that is as succinct as an e-book yet covers 50 years’ worth of learning. Can you tell me a bit about what sparked the idea originally and then the process to get there?


Ian Elmer

Yeah. So, the original spark really was kind of like an acknowledgment that we get asked the same questions quite a lot of times by different clients. And we have a lot of knowledge from our database. We’ve got a huge database of pack designs from which we’ve been able to really learn a lot over 50 years in terms of what works and what doesn’t work.

And we spend a lot of time working with our clients and consulting with our clients and sharing this insight with them. But we’ve never really put it all in one place. Never really consolidated it all into one compendium that people can use as a reference guide to answer those, those common questions that always come up.

So, that was the spark really was kind of like this, we’ve got this celebration coming up, let’s mark it by putting all that information, putting all that insight in one place and sharing it with everybody So, that they can use it as a reference guide. And the process was a fascinating one to go through. As you can imagine, it’s kind of a lot of information, a lot of data, and a lot of insight that we’re working with.

A lot of the heavy lifting had been done over the years by people mining the database to find answers to some of these common questions. So, I think what I found the most challenging piece of it was finding a way to synthesize that all into one book. Deciding what should go in and what stays out was a process in and of itself as well.

And then, over the course of time, things change. And what we wanted to do was make sure that for every chapter and every theme, we had current examples and reference points in case studies for people to look at. Because those things really help bring it to life. When you can actually see a visualization of the point that we’re talking about it, it just, it just makes it resonate So, much more.

So, we spent a lot of time thinking about, okay, we’ve known this insight for a while. We’re referencing some cases that are maybe five, 10, even 15 years old. In some cases, we need to refresh that. We need to bring that up to date. We need to find current examples that bring these truths to life. Because, what’s, what’s really interesting is that over the 50 years, a lot of the common principles and truths, it’s still the same. They haven’t really changed that much. What has changed is kind of like the way they manifest themselves and visualize themselves in the world today.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I think in, in being here for quite a bit of time myself, I’ve seen that over time that the truths are there, the truths remain. There’s just the need to think about the way that we’re communicating them in today’s day and age to our clients. Now, those truths ended up becoming ten chapters in this book, a variety of topics that are covered.

Some of them that I particularly enjoyed when I was reading through the book was one about Four S’s, which is really the four key principles that become an underlying theme and an underlying premise throughout the book, which is to be seen, shoppable, seductive, and selected. And hopefully, those that are listening right now.

Go to the e-book after listening to this podcast and read a bit more there, but essentially four core areas that are going to be important for any packaging when it’s introduced or when it’s restaged within the marketplace. And then another chapter that I particularly enjoyed, given all the work that we’ve done as Behaviorally is one tied to sustainability and what makes good sustainability-related packaging.


Matt Salem

 So, if you want to communicate that, what are the table stakes? What are the costs of entry? What do you need to keep in mind? What are some of the trade-offs, and what can you expect in being a sustainable offering within any given category. Ian wanted to hear from you. Maybe those are your favorites. Maybe there are some others, but are there any particular chapters or topics that you enjoyed when you were working on the book, creating it, reading through it after it was completed?


Ian Elmer

Yeah, definitely. And I mean, first of all, I would say, I agree with you that kind of the first chapter about the four S’s is a really important one because that’s the thing that really grounds everything that follows that, because that is all about, is about kind of the behavior that you’re looking for from shoppers when they’re in the physical or digital shopping environment.

So, if you, if you succeed on those things, you’ve got a winner. If you fail on those things, you’ve got a loser. It really does boil down to that at the end of the day. But I think for me, my personal interest with some of the chapters is probably tied a little bit to my background in the industry, which was a lot in brand and communications research.

And one of them is the chapter that’s on color and the whole concept of color being a really distinctive asset for your product on the shelf and something that people are instantly attracted to. And as a real heuristic, a real mental shortcut for the shopper in making their purchase decisions. So, I love that chapter because it goes into depth about how, when you change colors, the risk involved in that is that you disrupt those distinctive brand assets. So, that you’re, you’re taking away some of those mental shortcuts. Um, So, that, that for me was really interesting, wanted to get into. And the other one that fascinated me as well is, um, the chapter that’s really focused on what we call evolution versus revolution, which is like, how far do you take a pack design? If it’s a restage of an existing product or an existing design, how far can you really push the envelope? And if you’re a new entrant into the market, what can you do that’s pretty radical to disrupt the category and really give yourself visibility on shelf and create a name for yourself?

And again, a lot of that is tied down to the extent to which you’re brave enough to change what you’ve relied on for So, long in the past. And uh, really break with convention and push the envelope. And there’s a really high-risk, high-reward mechanism at play there.


Matt Salem

 Yeah, I like those chapters as well. And the thing that struck me again here and struck me as I was reading through the book myself is that a number of these topics overlap and intertwine.

So, when you think about evolution versus revolution, and you think about the impact that color can have on a shopping experience and behavior, really brands, when they’re looking to make revolutionary changes, oftentimes think about the color that they’re using on pack. And even if there is some latent visual equity within the color that they’re using, they may choose to emphasize that further or deemphasize it in an effort to extend the brand into new variants in an effort to think about a competitive environment and how they need to change to adapt. So, it really is a book that you can read through multiple times because I think some of these connections start to interweave and come through as you read it the second time around, the third time around. Color interplays with evolution and revolution. Both are tied into being seen as shoppable, seductive, and selected.

So, it’s, it’s worth flipping through as a reference, but it’s also worth reading cover to cover and rethinking through the various chapters and how they interrelate to one.


Ian Elmer

That’s right. But they really do. And that was quite actually quite a challenge as we were putting it together was to kind of like segregate these things in a way that sometimes they don’t naturally kind of lend themselves to that sort of segregation because it all is intertwined.

And there is an interplay between structure and color and text and pictures. and It’s not always easy to break down into bite-sized chunks. And again, this is where the benefit of our database was really helpful because, because we’ve taken the time over the years to really code on things that we’ve tested, what has changed, we can look at kind of different elements individually. But also, can combine those things as well. So. Okay. So, what happens when you change structure and color? Does that usually work, or does it not usually work? So, there’s a lot of mileage we can get from that database that really informed this book. And I think you’re right in terms of the way you read it.

It’s I think it’s done in a way that you can dip. To an individual chapter, to get some great insight on a very specific topic, but as you go through it, particularly with the 4-S framework in mind, that’s the common thread along with our kind of behavioral framework of benefits and barriers that really helps link it all together.

And you, you can see from one chapter to the next where things kind of interplay with each other.


Matt Salem

 Absolutely. And mentioning the database, 30,000 designs in the database, 15 million shoppers in the database. Who had the luxury of going through all of this data? And I wonder, was there any help from AI?


Ian Elmer

Well, that’s a great, great question, Matt. I mean, it’s, um, it’s a mix of all of the above, really. We do have some great AI tools that allow us to kind of really mind the database and now at a visual level, as well as kind of like a data or a numbers level as well. A lot of where we started with this was actually kind of—a little bit more basic than that.

And spec-ing out kind of what questions we really wanted to find answers to. And then, we can use the database that we can run the analysis on the database to find those answers. So, it was a combination I’d say of using what we can automate and use artificial intelligence for, to kind of like, just find great examples and then kind of like a more manual process of thinking, okay, what question do we want to, do we want to answer? And then. Do we want a mine in the database to find the answer to that question?


Matt Salem

 Would you say, Ian, that there was anything surprising that came about during the development of the book? Whether it’s the data itself, whether it’s an interpretation of a data point or. Maybe even a challenge that arose when you were culminating all of the topics and putting them together?


Ian Elmer

Maybe not a surprise because I think we all ready and intrinsically knew this to a large degree, but it really does just emphasize what a very difficult job it is to move the needle on a pack design. If you want to take it to the next level, in terms of being selected or being seen or being shoppable, it is not easy. It really is not easy, which is why you should always test and learn. Right? Because there’s a lot at risk if you don’t.

But I think it also highlighted that. Kind of anything is possible. You get the combination right, and you pull the right leavers. You can be completely revolutionary and be successful.

You can also be completely revolutionary and be a disaster. Um, but, but all outcomes are possible. And the database confirms that right. That you can with the right thought and the right learning and the right insight from directly from the shopper, you can achieve anything that you want to achieve. You just have to do it diligently and thoroughly and be cognizant of the leavers to pull.

They’re going to work in your favor, and the leavers to kind of leave alone if you like because if you change them, they’re going to be too disruptive and cause you problems.


Matt Salem

 Well said, and I’ve long had conversations with our clients around the potential for packaging to have such a significantly positive impact.

Yet on the flip side, you have to be very careful because small changes even can make big differences. And we want to make sure that we’re protecting our brands, that we’re protecting our visual assets when we’re changing them in an evolutionary or revolutionary fashion. And it’s very hard to drive behavioral change when we’re looking at packaging and isolation as the sole variable of change within our research.

There’s no other support in terms of marketing advertising. At that point, we’re really trying to isolate the impact of packaging. So, it can be difficult for brands. But it can be achieved at the same time.


Ian Elmer

It can. And the last chapter is an interesting one because that’s about avoiding the pitfalls of a packaging design. And one of the things that always makes me smile is that it is that we don’t always ask the question at the start. Why are we doing this? What is, what is the purpose of this? Because if you don’t ask that question right at the start, the likelihood is the outcome you get won’t be the one you want.

And it’s a. It’s a really good grounding. And it comes right at the end of the book. It’s kind of like. We go through all these, all these great insights about the things that make packaging successful and make packaging design work. And then we kind of really bring you back down to earth with a bump and say, you need to even think about whether you should be doing it in the first place.

This is the first question you should ask. And if you are going to do it, why are you doing it? Because if you don’t ask yourself that fundamental question, you’re going to have a hard time achieving what you want to achieve.


Matt Salem

 Sure. Well, as I try to visualize our audience’s reactions, listening to the podcast right now, I see a lot of pent-up demand for the book. Where can they get the book? How do they get the e-book?


Ian Elmer

Well, they can go to our website behaviourally.com, and they can access it there. They can always contact us as well. One thing that we are very keen on looking forward to doing is really getting out and sharing this with our clients—and using it, um, as a, as a mechanism to have conversations with clients about their, their challenges, what they struggle with, what they need more information on.

And I really see this as kind of like just the start, really. It’s like I said earlier, it was, it was a process to determine what should go in and what should stay out. So, there’s, there’s, there’s a lot more depth we can go into on each of the subjects featured in the book. And who knows, maybe, maybe there’s a volume two, maybe that when we get to a hundred years, Matt when, when you’re still, you’re still doing the podcast in 50 years’ time.


Matt Salem

 God-willing, God willing, I will be. Well, I always like to end and close with some random sort of question. And I guess for you. I’ll harken back to the very beginning of today’s conversation and ask, what was your favorite broadcasting experience aside from what is now your favorite broadcasting experience, which is appearing on the, Our Best Behavior podcast?


Ian Elmer

This is certainly the pinnacle of my broadcasting career. That is, that is absolutely true. But before that, I would say. I’m going to; I’m going to say two things. There are two things. The first, which was a real kind of milestone for me, was my first ever news bulletin that I read on a commercial radio station in the UK because that was a scary moment.

Let me, let me tell you, that was a very, very—scary moment. You might be sitting in a room on your own and just talking into a microphone. But I was very scared.


Matt Salem

 Was that on the BBC? Where was that?


Ian Elmer

That all of a sudden, suddenly not, it was commercial radio, our local radio station in the UK near my home town. So, I never reached the heady heights of the BBC, sadly.

Um, So, that was the first one. And the second one was, uh, something that really plays into my passion for football or soccer, as we were talking about earlier, and I had the. I had the opportunity to do match reports for the team that I support, a team called Coventry City. And by doing that, I got to interview some of the players, um, interview the manager.

And I was like a kid in a candy shop. That was just the most amazing experience for me was something that had never been beaten until today. And then this podcast.


Matt Salem

 You are too kind. Thank you. And in Coventry City sounds a lot better than being a Mets and a Jets fan, but I’ll stop there. Well, I’d like to thank everyone for listening to Our Best Behavior and tuning in today.

I’d like to thank our guest, Ian. Ian, thanks a lot for coming on and talking with us about the book and to our audience. We’ll catch you next time.

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