The Decline of Physical Media – a self fulfilling prophecy?

From my frame of reference as a packaging designer, I’ve had a fairly close connection with the media and home entertainment (HE) industry for several years now. I have always been a keen music lover both as an amateur performer and avid collector. It is with this in mind along with the recent news of the impending HMV administration that I thought I’d express some of my concerns about the state and future of physical media.

HMV

It was at a recent National Trust visit that I realised how far the heritage and familiar logo of HMV (His Master’s Voice) spans. As purveyors of music playing devices since 1899, the Gramophone company opened a music shop in London in 1921. Following acquisition by RCA, HMV were also instrumental in building well known brands such as EMI and JVC in the 60’s and 70’s.

Aside from continued growth during the 90’s and some unsuccessful attempts at innovation, I witnessed, along with everyone of my generation a much more rapid decline in the availability of music in disc format over the coming years.

After a sales peak in 2001 fuelled by the popularity of CDs – and as my music buying appetite began to flourish, there grew an air of doom and gloom across the industry as talk of piracy and internet downloads (and of course supermarkets) threatened physical sales. Not constrained to music, film, TV and games also felt the impact of internet technologies. Although difficult to identify, I wonder how much of this decline was due to demand and how much was availability against convenience?

Record Shop

In my parents’ generation, going to the music store was an event. My Mum will recount stories of travelling with her mates into the local record shop to listen to music, grab a milkshake or coffee and choose albums to take home. Even as I was growing up, I had a wide variety of choice – Tower Records, Our Price, Virgin Megastore, I would travel into the city and spend 4-5 hours listening to the ever diminishing vinyl sections and be really proud of myself when I found a great record before it became popular through radio airplay. As time went on, and the internet age overtook, Vinyls and listening stations vanished from the high street to be replaced with everything from clothes to fruit-bars to headphones. A modern HMV store would struggle to boast more than 25% of floor space devoted to music. So even as a committed fan of the shopping experience, I find it increasingly difficult to satisfy my (admittedly eclectic) taste.

listening booth

If I talk to a marketer from any other industry sector they would start by telling me that one of the key motivators of their trade is buyer behaviour. Although there is now a generation of consumers who have never experienced the listening booth, I’m not sure their needs are any different to mine – I buy music over the internet too, in fact I purchase through several channels – music on subscription, music downloads, physical media purchase through the internet and shopping in store. I listen to the radio for recommendations, I also like the ‘listen’ buttons on websites – and my favourite feature of internet shopping is the “you might like this” suggestions. These features used to be available in-store although I fear that this added value and personal touch was too difficult to quantify against sales in a demanding retail environment. What I am very sad to have lost through internet shopping is the additional content, the artwork, booklets and inserts (and obviously packaging) which for me was very much a part of the whole purchase experience.

sgt peppers lonely hearts club band

With its self-fulfilling prophecy, I worry that the music industry and HE sector in general has lost sight of what’s important for the consumer. I will personally be very sad to see the demise of music on the high street, and would love to see a wave of innovation which sets to improve the terrible audible quality that people seem to tolerate for convenience sake. For now, however, I leave you with some hope that I will at least cling on to:

2012 Vinyl Sales grew by 39% in the UK (similar figures reflected in US) – about 15x growth since 1993
Digital downloads reflect less than 1/3rd of all album sales
Even with a 13-14% decline in sales last year – we bought 43.6 million CDs in the UK (86 million US)

Even in the high turnaround, impersonal world of modern music, our appetite is greater than ever.
Provided the industry pulls itself back together and re-invigorates its focus, I am optimistic for the future of physical media.

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Cohesive Packaging Design

These days, you don’t have to look far to find a blog about packaging design. There seem to be hundreds of people from various walks of life giving their top tips about how to create great packaging. Living in the world of 2D, it is easy to forget the stuff that makes the packaging. Many designers aren’t aware of the constraints or capabilities in manufacturing and find it difficult to look beyond the on-screen graphical representation.

Packaging is a tangible thing which you can pick up, hold and open. I wanted to talk about this; the assembled bones and flesh that make up the creative design in the real world. It’s important that all the elements of a design are considered together. The way they interact, look and feel is as important as the pictures and type placed upon them. I have always believed that it is the little details that make a big difference. A minor change can really affect the overall feel of the end result. If, when developing an idea, the designer (or project manager) considers all the following elements, the end result will be a truly cohesive packaging design:

but before I start…

…I realised, while writing, that each element could independently become a huge topic, so over the coming weeks I will start to expand on these component parts along with several sub-headings which have evolved in my notes. In the meantime, however, I will try to summarize as a pre-cursor.

Shape or Structure

The shape is important for many reasons; identification, style, size, mechanics of storage and display. The shape can also determine the ease at which the product is dispensed. Structure for me is the method by which the shape is constructed. Whether it’s the position of a seam line or method of opening, a simple change can be the difference between nice clean lines or low-cost alternative.

Materials

From cost to weight ratio, strength and security through to nice ‘touchy feeliness,’ the substrate plays a huge part in the final result. Carefully choosing materials which complement the design in a consistent way can really help the final message. In dealing with large global projects, the availability and environmental impact of the material is also a really important consideration. Poorly managed choices can adversely affect brand consistency, corporate image and cost.

Print Method

Whether a single colour flexo identity stamp or a complex gravure security label, the method by which we apply our text and graphics (although somewhat determined by material and volume) can help ensure our artwork is presented as intended. Rather than making a compromise because of supply constraints, by understanding the benefits and performance of each technique, we can apply our artwork both effectively and efficiently.

Finishes & Techniques

After print comes ‘finishing.’ The generic term for what might be described as the final enhancement. From in-tool embossing to glitter varnish, these enchanting augmentations can easily lead to a garish tackiness if badly executed. With careful consideration, however, they can also be the little detail that you can’t quite put your finger on; an indefinable quality.

10 Things you need to know about packaging design

In its overuse, most people dislike the phrase “thinking outside the box” and there are countless packaging companies using similarly un-inventive tag-lines. You don’t have to search too far to find a blog by a branding or design agency discussing the merits of “brand communication” and “consumer engagement”. Today, however, I wanted to pick out what I feel to be the important aspects of packaging design and how they relate to the real world of packaging manufacture…

In plain terms, here are my packaging design top 10 dos:

1) Think about the contents.

Contents

Whatever anyone tells you, and however “loose” the creative brief, the MOST important thing about a piece of packaging is what goes in it. Packaging in its most basic state is created to contain something, so in order to consider the design, we really need to understand the product which it has to contain. The contents will therefore determine for us, at least, the minimum size, weight and shape, and in turn the method of opening.

2) Understand the function.

Burgopak

In 1896 Louis Sullivan posed the term “form follows function” which became a maxim for the modernist movement. This idea is therefore not a new one, but it is very important. Although there are some great examples of clever and unique packaging inventions, just creating something that’s different is not in my mind good enough. In order to create truly great packaging we really need to justify our design by relating the shape, materials and all the other elements, firstly to the content, and secondly the journey through which the product will travel. If we can answer the question, what function does this packaging need to serve (whether it’s strength, ease of use or so on) we can then create a truly meaningful design.

3) Be mindful of the supply chain.

A great example of why the supply chain is important is the success of shelf ready packaging (SRP) over recent years. In the world of the supermarket, product would be delivered to a distributer in a box, then shipped to the store in a box (sometimes a smaller one) then removed from the box, and placed onto the shelf loose or on another display unit or box. So some clever people decided that by designing the outer packaging in a better way, you could do 3 things – reduce the time to shelf in store, reduce the amount of wasted packaging, and improve and enhance the brand message during the journey of the product, while giving better protection. If we think about the way the product is stored and transported, we can help to minimise the impact of our design on the wider world.

4) Establish the brand message.

Once we’ve considered the product and its function, we should design our packaging in a way which helps to enhance the message which the brand intends to portray. By selectively choosing the materials, shape and images we can help to communicate the brand to the buyer both consciously and subconsciously. Every element of design from quality and texture through to the strength and complexity can augment our idea.

5) Add an element of security and safety.

Whether attempting to subvert thieves in store, or minimising the risk of loss or damage in the post, if we can add a security feature to our packaging, we will help to improve its market effectiveness. There are many forms of in-store protection in the forms of labels tags and cases, but unfortunately many of these are uncompromising or ugly. By adding an element of “benefit denial” using intelligent materials or design, not only can we improve the look and feel of our product, we can enhance the effectiveness of the packaging as a product in its own right.

6) Research the materials and techniques.

Part of my draw to the packaging industry is the range and speed at which modern technologies are evolving. Even in my relatively short career I have seen some massive shifts in techniques and materials. I could in fact write a new blog about this subject in itself. By really understanding the tools available to us, whether it’s a clever printing technique or a new material technology, we can start to enhance our design in a unique way which works hand in hand with the processes available to us, rather than being limited by our own knowledge.

7) Design the opening experience.

This is my favourite bit of design. It may be true that success isn’t really measured beyond the shelf, but by getting in the head of the end-user and thinking about how they feel as they open the box, we can enhance our product by taking our customer through an experience which is easy and fun rather than annoying and frustrating. You don’t have to search far on twitter to find someone talking about a clamshell pack they couldn’t get into or a product that disappointed them on arrival due to a badly packaged state. If we can improve what I like to call the opening experience, we can begin to convert the sometimes negative image of packaging.

8) Be creative.

Ultimately, what we’re really trying to do here is to come up with something unique that people are going to talk about, or be interested in. If it’s a product on a shelf or delivered via online shopping, we need to design our packaging with words like impact and outstanding in the forefront of our minds. The world is becoming busier and louder, so it’s our job to help our design stand out.

9) Realize the Product/Brand extension.

Marketers call packaging the “silent salesman.” In many cases, for example toothpaste, the packaging is or has become the product. If we think of the packaging as an extension of its contents, we can help present it in a coherent way. Not only can we make a dull product desirable, we can engage the consumer by expanding the uses or features of the product by delivering it in clever ways or combining with other products to create new uses. Some brands even join forces to enhance one another’s image – for example, Jean Paul Gaultier and Coca-Cola (both of whom already have iconic packaging) have merged their brands for this promotion to create something unique and interesting.

10) Don’t forget to Develop.

Just because you’ve created a great idea now, doesn’t mean it will always be great. In order for a design to be relevant and up to date, it should continue to evolve. By considering this at the outset, we can even program ideas into our design so that we can add seasonal or promotional elements to help enhance the message in the future.

Procure! for procurement sake

Although politicians have been avoiding phrases like “green shoots” in recent months, the general consensus seems to be that the economy is once again starting to cultivate. Whether spending or saving is the best route to recovery, many companies have been erring towards caution by cutting as many ‘unnecessary’ costs as possible. I wanted to reflect on how this has affected the packaging industry.

First some facts…

P&G known as the biggest spender in the world of marketing implemented a 5.4% budget reduction between 2010 and 2011 having already reduced their advertising spend by 20% in 2009. At the same time General Motors reduced its yearly marketing budget by 16%, while concurrently channelling 15.7% towards online methods.
Even within the world of media, ironically, there is a reported drop of 11% in marketing spend across the board.
(sources: Times Business, Research-live.com, EHow.co.uk)

The general trend is to spend more effectively by targeting consumers covertly through social marketing campaigns. Analysts therefore predict that marketing using online channels will overtake all other streams by 2016.

“P&G lay off 1600 staff members after discovering it’s free to advertise on Facebook”

So how does this affect packaging?

One of the prevalent strategies that companies seem to have adopted is to re-focus this spend in areas such as procurement. In the boom years, the driving force behind packaging sourcing and spend was the marketing department whereas in recent times, there seems to have been a significant increase of incumbent procurement companies and departments. There have been many new agencies offering these services on behalf of brand owners, while existing print management companies such as WilliamsLee-Tag and HH-Global have been diverting their attention to the world of packaging.

“Why you should consider a career in procurement”

If we can reduce cost of goods and increase competition in the world of packaging this is a good thing, although sometimes the ‘cheaper’ solution isn’t always the most cost-effective.

When outsourcing packaging, it is easy to reduce the cost of materials (e.g. weight reduction or material conversion strategies) or simply remove additional supply chain costs such as print enhancements, reducing the amount of component parts or offering a ‘generic’ branding alternative across territories or form factors. These kind of cost savings are quick hit and easy to quantify.

The Procurement Strategy

The problem with cost reduction strategies is that even when comparing direct campaign effectiveness, the long-term benefits of brand quality can be difficult to measure when trying to gain trust and recognition in the new world of social media. Cost inherently (but not always) affects quality so it is important when designing packaging that we fully understand the benefits and effectiveness of the plethora of finishes and materials in our toolbox.

The good news is that many of the manufacturers, meeting the challenge by being careful with costs and reducing spend during the recession have started to see comfortable balance sheets leading to new investment in premises, technology and machinery.

The packaging holy grail…

I’ve always believed that it’s the little details that count in the battle between good and mediocre design. By understanding the brand message and intended usage it becomes easier to convey this through use of materials and design. But even then, it is important to involve the right people throughout the supply chain from marketing through to manufacturing to ensure that the initial message is communicated in an effective and coherent way.

If you’re looking to promote a product through the viral effects of social marketing, the way it looks on shelf (or tiny .gif thumbnail) is no longer enough. In order to achieve the holy grail of a “YouTube unboxing moment” we must consider the whole opening experience. The unquantifiable and subjective ‘look, feel and quality aspects’ are key to the “I want one of those” effect. It is therefore important, while being conscious of price, to consider all the elements of the packaging such as material choice and design style during the evaluation stage. This way we can begin to really understand the wider effects of packaging upon brand effectiveness and customer opinion.