I’m an eager recipient each week of a Newsletter by a consultant called Peter Roper.  I like Peter. He’s from the UK Midlands, my part of the world and he’s a “good talker”, by which I ‘m not inferring that he doesn’t deliver, but that he’s a great presenter, an award-winning public speaker in fact.  You should try him out sometime, but as a “trailer” you can sample his Peppermint Wednesday weekly video blogs.

Anyway, Peter has a really neat niche.  He specialises in providing advice to “family businesses”. Now there’s a worthy cause!  I’ve worked for family businesses that would dwarf many investor-held companies.  People like the Belgian Dehaize Group who are the fifth biggest supermarket chain in the world and Zohoor Alreef with 250 perfume and bodycare stores and a manufacturing plant in France. Family businesses have a lot going for them, not the least of which is a responsiveness that comes from not having go to shareholders to get permission to do anything.  Yet despite the fact that nine million people in the UK alone work for them, too many family businesses still use the term as short-hand for “a bunch on bloody amateurs”, so I think he’s looking at a lifetime of potential clients there and his advice, from what I have seen and heard, is just what is needed to turn a hobby business into a worthwhile venture.

This week in his Spearmint Saturday newsletter (Its something to do with flavoured tea. Not my thing but, hey, dif’rent strokes …!) he talks about a visit to an event in his local town (Actually Worcester might technically be a City, but if you blink as you drive down the M5 you’d miss it) where he bought a hot-dog that wasn’t what it said on the label from one of the stalls (I’m not going to tell the whole story. You’ll have no reason to go to his page if I do). His point is the nonchalance with which the stallholders greeted the news that they’d almost poisoned him (He has allergies. Poor thing!). It seems that, like the many “family businesses” I mentioned earlier, they seemed to think that not being MacDonald’s gave them license be sloppy about their business.

The “keep them guessing” approach to labelling isn’t confined to small firms, of course.  I demonstrated to Zohoor Alreef recently, that they were losing sales because their customers didn’t understand their products. Bodycare is simple enough to explain you might think, but in their core Middle East markets where the juxtaposition of ‘French” and “cosmetics” adds up to quality the manufacturer had chosen to get their French-ness across by labelling all of their products in French, supported by English. In countries where the language bears no resemblance to French and many people don’t speak English this is tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot. What is this “Eau Fraiche pour le corps”? I hear them cry (apart from being more type than should sensibly be printed on a small spray bottle).

The problem isn’t just one of language though. Packaging is an essential short-hand to communicating a whole lot about your product, your brand and your business and in this competitive world, where every sale has to be fought for, you can’t afford to overlook any contribution that your pack design can make. I’ve been involved in more package design projects than I could count and the challenge is always to squeeze everything you can from your design. It will tell you in words and pictures what you are buying. Not just the practical stuff, but all the “soft” strategic messages as well. The simple introduction of an adjective for example, can convey product benefits.  For example the product name ,”Body Lotion” is given a new dimension by adding the word “moisturising” to make “Moisturising Body Lotion”. Instant added-value! In another recent example I added a line (admittedly long, but in this case we had the space on the pack and a great designer) to convey brand character, raise the company’s authority as manufacturers, underline the quality of the product and highlight the fact that this was part of a range, to the company’s perfume packs – “Another great perfume produced in France by Zohoor Alreef” – four wins that a simple “Made in France” wasn’t giving them.

The quality of packaging is also important. We all judge a book by its cover, so don’t put your products in rubbish packs. I’ve seen some criminally bad images and awful colour reproduction on some food products. Why would anybody buy food or anything for that matter, that looks tired and old?

Family businesses aren’t all corner shops content just to earn a living and in my experience many would improve their performance just by improving their “packaging”. (That would include all their collateral not just the box). I’ve heard family businessmen use their familly-ness as a rationale for not doing a proper job on this.  “Our customers don’t expect us to have all that stuff” is a response I’ve heard many times – rubbish! A message to small businesses everywhere – every major international business I have dealt with considers small local businesses to be competitors and if you weren’t just outside their priority list, nine times out of ten, they’d remove you from the equation just by presenting their smartly-packaged product to your customers, so get it right.

Don’t hire the cheap local graphic designer either, unless you really know what you are doing and can drive the design process yourself, but be sure you are ready for the day when you slip inside the big boys’ field of vision. Besides, many perfectly viable products have failed because their packaging was pants and even some “so-so” products become big successes when they are packaged well. Believe me, family business or international concern, don’t ignore the power of packaging!

Phil Darby
December 11, 2013

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