Companies that think they can ignore social media are missing a golden opportunity to connect with consumers about their product and packaging innovations. They also are ignoring a communications arena that has become a critical element in determining product success or failure.
That was the message that packaging consultant JoAnn Hines delivered to those in attendance at the Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010 conference in Atlanta.
The packaging community has been slow to embrace social media, but it is really important for the consumer products goods companies to understand what social media is all about, said Hines, who founded and heads www.packaging diva.com.
There are a number of key players [in social media] driving what's happening in the innovation community, and innovations hit them well before they ever hit any of the mainstream media. Any company that plans to be successful in the future with new product introductions must engage in social media.
That means companies must understand how social media works whether it's Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or something else, she said.
You don't just get on there and start talking about how wonderful you are, how wonderful your company is, or how wonderful your products are, said Hines. You need to actually engage the consumer and get the consumer to understand who you are and what you bring to the table and why it's important.
Hines cited TerraCycle Inc. in Trenton, N.J., as one company that has done just that with its collection brigades at schools. TerraCycle which calls itself an upcycler partners with schools and consumer goods companies to recycle items like candy wrappers, juice pouches, yogurt containers, toothpaste tubes, shredded cheese bags and snack bags and turn what otherwise would be waste into consumer products such as insulated coolers, recycling bins and fences.
Social media is a growing opportunity for you. It can be a powerful tool and a way for you to connect with the consumer and tap into how they think about sustainability, green issues and what they want from a product or packaging, Hines said.
It also is important for companies to tap into social media so they don't lose light of the consumer perspective and so they get insight into what the consumer is thinking about when it comes to sustainable packaging, which Hines said could help prevent packaging failures.
That is especially true since social media today can often launch a product to success or just as quickly doom it, as it did with the ill-fated Frito-Lay SunChips compostable bags made from plant-based resin. The bag proved unpopular with consumers because it didn't decompose as quickly as consumers expected and noise levels from the bag were unacceptable to many consumers.
Both stories spread quickly via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, causing Frito-Lay to discontinue the bags on all but its SunChips original packages less than six months after its much ballyhooed debut.
Those are the unintended consequences that can occur as companies try to develop new packages that are more sustainable, said Hines. The negative buzz from packaging decisions will outweigh the positive buzz. Social media loves bad stories and that floods out what one good package did.
But companies can learn from packaging failures, whether they are triggered by social media or something else, she said.
When a company fails with a new packaging innovation, there are some great lessons to be learned, said Hines. It's not actually about what worked, it's about what didn't work.
The one thing that most companies fail to understand and fail to incorporate into their packaging development is the consumer, Hines said. It is the consumer who ultimately purchases the product and is the one who is going to make or break the success of a given packaging innovation, she said.
The bottom line is that no matter how innovative a product is, if it is not embraced by the consumer, it is not going to be a success, said Hines. Consumers say they want green. But they seize on certain buzzwords, don't really understand what those words mean, and often what they 'want' didn't equate to what they got in the packaging.
Consumers care about results, Hines said. They care about finding an innovation that works for them, that solves a problem, or that fits an unmet need that hasn't been previously addressed.
It's not enough to say I've come up with this wonderful idea and this wonderful concept, she said. You have to see what consumers are actually thinking about and meet their needs.
Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010 was sponsored by Plastics News Global Group.