Helene Karmasin: The role of packaging is strongly underestimated.
Dr. Helene Karmasin describes in her latest book how packaging is designed so that customers can access it. In the interview, the motif researcher reveals the actual state of packaging design, why sustainable packaging is a double-edged sword and why consumers do not necessarily automatically use new technological possibilities.
Question: If you look into the shelves of the domestic trade - are the product packaging already good seducers - or is there still potential there?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: There's still plenty of room for improvement. The packages are too similar. The designers are simply not thinking enough. A package must be something independent, and it must be different from others. Just like brands do. Typical mistakes that packaging designers make time and again are the overfilling of packages with information, and the fact that they still use color codes far too rarely.
Question: Is the role of packaging in the purchase decision still underestimated today?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: Immediately before the purchase, the customer sees the packaging - it plays a key role in the purchase decision. At the point of sale, the consumer decides within fractions of a second whether or not to buy something. Today, advertising is very much concerned with digital media. This is certainly important. But far too little attention is still paid to the packaging that ultimately tempts buyers to buy. As I said, there is still a lot to be done here.
Question: Can you give an example of a very successful packaging?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: I can think of an example from the refrigerator. There is very little difference between milk packaging. This also has a lot to do with the visual code. The consumer recognises from this code that it is milk. Such codes must be taken into account in the design: you could certainly design a black milk carton with golden lettering and they would certainly attract attention. However, many buyers would not buy this milk. Because that's not what milk looks like to her. For some time now, JA!natürlich has been offering a "hay flower milk". I find the packaging for this remarkable because it corresponds to the current code for milk on the one hand and signals exactly what is in the package on the other. You see hay flowers in the outlines of a cow. The eyes of the animal form two daisies. The message is clear: this milk comes from a cow whose body is full of hay flowers. This is a very refined condensation that clearly conveys the content to the consumer.
Question: Did the packaging serve its purpose when the consumer bought the product?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: No, only part of it. The consumer is surrounded by packages at home and these are all small advertising pillars that can inspire a new purchase. In addition, packages must also be practical and make the use of the product as easy as possible for the consumer. If the packaging takes over other useful functions, these offer further arguments for the consumer to buy the product again. A packaging for batteries that indicates the state of charge would be an example of an additional function. Or glass packaging that the buyer can continue to use in the household. But: This role, this second life of packaging after purchase - packaging designers still think far too little about this.
Question: Online business is booming. The consumer can look at the product, but cannot touch it. What has to be considered when designing the packaging?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: In online retailing, there is not only a lack of packaging, but also of staging the goods in the web shop itself. But especially in e-commerce, optics is more important than in business. Because the consumer can only look at the goods and not attack them. But the feel of the packaging also plays a central role on the web, when the customer receives the order. In online retailing, however, there are hardly any providers who are concerned about packaging. Because these are usually designed completely loveless. The orders usually reach the consumer in the same way as a delivery of office supplies to a company. Unboxing, for example, would clearly show how important packaging is for consumers. Here unpacking becomes a sensual act of its own: the recipient removes cover after cover like a gift.
Question: Sustainability is an ever-increasing trend. Packaging is not necessarily considered sustainable by the general public - the image of packaging could have deteriorated as a result. How should or have the packaging designers reacted to this?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: Many consumers regard packaging as garbage. Yet really only very few people go shopping with their own containers. The vast majority therefore use packaging. Cleverly designed packages can signal to the consumer that it is a sustainable product. However, the subject of "sustainable packaging" is very complex: complex packaging protects and preserves the product. If a different, more easily recyclable material were used, the contents would spoil more quickly and end up in the garbage. This would not be consistent with the idea of sustainability if the packaging is recyclable but the contents become unusable more quickly. Consumers cannot really check whether packaging material is really sustainable.
Question: The combination of QR code and smartphone allows the consumer and packaging to communicate rudimentarily with each other: If the user scans the code of the product, further information is provided. However, this code has not become a real hit. What's the problem here?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: The consumer does not want to stand in the supermarket for hours and scan the QR codes of various products. Consumers have little time and are actually lazy: they want to know as quickly as possible, preferably via visual codes, whether or not the products meet the criteria they set when buying them. Dealing with smartphones and codes in the supermarket is too tedious for many people. The group that deals with a product in great detail when shopping is not very large.
Question: RFID, NFC, printed electronics - these technologies increase usability and allow a dialogue between consumers and products. What opportunities do you see for these technologies?
Dr. Helene Karmasin: This will only become established if it is actually quick and easy for the consumer. But I don't believe that buyer and product will enter into an extensive dialogue - neither in the supermarket nor at home. Imagine your bathroom with a lot of products in it and everyone talking to you. Who wants to?
Thank you for the interview.
Dr. Helene Karmasin heads the Institute Karmasin Behavioural Insights, which applies the behavioural economics approach to market research and strategic planning for the first time in Austria. Karmasin specialises in qualitative market research and semiotic analyses and has been advising international branded goods and service companies for years on strategy, implementation and empirical tests. She is particularly interested in embedding products and brands in the culture of contemporary societies. Karmasin has already written several books - most recently "Verpackung ist Verführung. The decryption of package codes." In it Karmasin proves that packaging is much more than just a cover and that in the end we do not buy products but packages.
picture source: (c) Karmasin Behavioural Insights
Born in the Salzkammergut. After working for Shell and Porsche, he concentrated on innovation management as a study assistant at the Innovation Department of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. In 2003 he founded LEAD Innovation and manages the company as Managing Partner. Lectures at MIT, in front of companies like Google or NASA.