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Package Deal

Harness the power of packaging to push your product

You've developed a prototype, worked out all the bugs in your invention and even found a manufacturer. Are you ready to roll? Not yet. There's still one crucial component of success you need to work on: packaging.

Marc Hodosh, 25, an inventor in Brookline, Massachusetts, has sold more than 10,000 extra-large laundry bags at college bookstores and in retail stores, including Bed, Bath & Beyond. Hodosh invented the HOOSH (Hands-free, One & Only, Super Huge) laundry bag--a large bag with shoulder straps--because he thought college students needed a better way to carry dirty clothes to the laundromat. In addition to having a good idea, Hodosh has succeeded because he has a great package.

Like many entrepreneurs, Hodosh discovered that creating a high-performing package can actually take longer and cost more than developing the product. But a good package is worth the extra cost; for many products, the package is the reason the product sells.

A good package design performs these five important tasks:

1. Shows the product's purpose. The ideal way to present any product is to show someone using it. A picture of the product alone doesn't work nearly as well as a photograph of a person using it. The HOOSH comes in a clear, 11-by-16-inch package with a glossy insert. Almost half the insert is a photograph of a young woman carrying a stuffed HOOSH. The photo showcases the product's benefits: shoulder straps, which the woman is holding; rear compartments, which carry a magazine and a bottle of detergent; and the bag's large size (it looks as if it contains three weeks' worth of dirty clothes). The package also highlights the product's other uses; the bottom corner of the insert features a photograph of a young man taking sports equipment out of the HOOSH.

2. Identifies the product's target customer. One reason I like to include people in a picture is, it helps consumers recognize products designed for their needs. Hodosh used college-aged people on his package insert, people who are likely to use a laundromat or need to carry substantial amounts of gear.

3. Clearly shows the product's benefits. The HOOSH's main benefit is that it folds into a small bundle but can expand into a large bag. The packaging is clear plastic, so buyers can look at the product and see for themselves how it folds to a flat rectangle, half an inch thick. The photograph on the insert indicates the HOOSH's size when unfolded: It shows the bag stretching from the young woman's shoulders to about six inches below her waist and extending out so it appears to be two or three times the diameter of her waist. A nice added touch is that the girl is smiling as if the bag is comfortable to carry because of the shoulder straps.

The insert also has call-outs describing individual features of the product. Hodosh made a critical decision when creating his package. He used the photograph of the product as the main visual focus of his package. The call-outs are in light blue ink and visible only to someone looking closely at the insert. From a store aisle, people see the dominant visual image of the bag. Many inventors make the mistake of placing too much emphasis on individual features, and potential buyers lose sight of the product's overall benefit. Your main feature is what inspires people to look at your package, and that feature should dominate your packaging.

4. Establishes that the product is different. The HOOSH could easily be perceived as just another laundry bag. That's why Hodosh's first step in creating a package was to look at similar products. He found that most products were simple, large bags; their packaging consisted basically of a hang tag attached to the top.

To establish that his product was different, Hodosh chose a three-phase strategy. First, he packaged the product inside a plastic bag with a large, glossy insert. Second, he chose an unusual name, the HOOSH. HOOSH is actually Hodosh's college nickname, but he turned it into an acronym that emphasized his product's features: the Hands-free, One & Only, Super Huge bag. Finally, Hodosh worked with a graphic designer to find a special font to make the product's name stand out. The top left-hand corner of the bag features the product name in large, red print.

Hodosh used two important tactics to design an attention-getting package: 1. He made sure his package looked significantly different from competitive products' packages; and 2. He chose his product's name as part of his packaging strategy. Inventors who fail to differentiate their products will have a difficult time getting shelf space in retail stores. Stores typically won't carry an item from a small, single-product company unless it offers customers a product choice they don't already have.

5. Creates a price point in the consumer's mind. A successful package communicates the product's approximate value. The HOOSH has a suggested retail price of $19.95. As a rule, lower-priced products in any category have lower-quality packaging, while high-priced products have high-quality packaging. Buyers use packaging as one criterion in selecting which products they buy.

Hodosh found that lower-quality laundry bags were simply packaged with hang tags. He needed a package that conveyed more perceived value than a simple tag while still not appearing too expensive. The plastic bag with an insert is a common low- to mid-priced packaging device. It indicates to consumers that, while the HOOSH is priced higher, it is higher in quality than the lower-priced bags.

Hodosh also had to be sure his product's packaging fit the requirements of the distribution channel. Before marketing the HOOSH, Hodosh visited two stores and talked to their managers about whether they would stock the product. The managers liked the product and had no objections to the package's look or size. I recommend a more extensive market survey before finalizing a product's packaging, as many of the larger store chains closely evaluate a package's size in relation to their available shelf space. Fortunately, the HOOSH's package size was not a deterrent.

Should you get professional assistance with packaging? Although Hodosh's designer did a great job of creating a visually appealing insert, Hodosh sometimes felt the designer was more interested in creating an attractive look than in crafting a package that sold the product. This is a common problem. No one knows your product and the benefits that should be highlighted better than you. It's up to you to direct the designer and speak up if you're not happy. Hodosh's care in ensuring the right message was delivered played an important role in his success.

Hodosh spent three and a half months developing his packaging design--time well spent. A package isn't a last-minute detail; it's a vital component in a product's success. If your product is worth introducing, it's worth doing right, so take the time to be sure your package accomplishes all five of the key packaging tasks.


Don Debelak, author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95, 800-225-5945), is a marketing consultant specializing in bringing new products to market.

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