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ne of the major obligations of the packaging R&D function is to help manage, identify, and mitigate all of the risk areas in a project, one by one. The goal isn’t to eliminate risk; rather it’s to decide which risks are worth taking and how best to mitigate them. With the excitement and momentum of  bringing newly developed disruptive innovations, new materials, and new package formats to market with pace, there’s a need to continuously balance the risk of the first to market win against the potential price of commercial market failure.  

1. Test the waters.

There are as many approaches to market-testing new packages as there are companies. One well-known retailer, for instance, skips consumer testing entirely when launching new private-label packaging. Instead, it just launches new packages. The package’s success or failure in the marketplace is the test. Another consumer packaged goods company purposely invents temporary brands to test new concepts without risking any damage to the real brand’s equity. If the package format succeeds, the temporary brand is replaced with the actual brand. Many large brand owners have the luxury of testing out new packaging ideas in foreign markets. The risks on the downside are much less, and there’s less self-cannibalization of the parent brand. To help manage risk, some brand owners elect to perform a test market, ahead of moving forward with a national launch.  

A trending method captured in “The Lean Startup” book by Eric Ries’ is to utilize validated learning—meaning learn more about what the consumer actually wants and create what is called a “minimum viable product” (MVP).  The MVP is a prototype concept of the final product and has deficiencies, imperfections, flaws, unknown challenges, and takes a fraction of the time to develop than a polished final product. From that validated learning method, you may decide to “persevere” through launch or  “pivot” your product concept with a change in direction or simply stopping work. Credit- Taken from Eric Ries’ best selling book “The Lean Startup”.

2. Proceed slowly, with confidence.

When trying new or unproven technologies, find similar examples that make a strong case for experimentation. Precedents can encourage relaxing standards with risk mitigations, or at least strict adherence to past practices, in the name of innovation. The best advice is to build in time to work through any risk areas that could: have unforeseen kinks, need incremental trials or testing, require DOE’s to assemble appropriate data sets, require support from a Subject Matter Expert (SME).

3. Compare apples to apples.

Comparing a promising new technology to a mature one that’s had 30 years of cost engineered out of it is unrealistic. New technology always has inherent risks that may or may not be known or solved yet. Balance the risk against the benefits.

4. Find a receptive audience.

Which companies are most likely to blaze a trail? Innovative packaging formats are often implemented by small start-ups, or a manufacturing company looking to create disruptive technology for a competitive edge, or entrepreneurial CPG concerns. This seems to be a byproduct of their agility. It’s easier for a small company to change a packaging or marketing strategy. There’s less to lose and more to gain by taking market share from a larger CPG counterpart. When the proverbial David fells a large CPG Goliath, it’s often because the large firm was unable to bend its infrastructure and older capital assets to the will of a new, large-scale packaging change.

5. Leverage your position.

At the same time, the most powerful innovators in the marketplace are often at the top—or approaching the top—of their field. Many of them can be working on similar ideas, but only one can be first to market. How do they commercialize an innovation quickly? By allowing some risk-taking to coexist with all the research, data, and analysis. Every year, many of the best-planned new products fail. When failure happens, learn from it.

6. Embrace your ambition.

Whether small start-up or established leader, however, the common thread among those that innovate is that they are driven to do so, and willing to take balanced risks in order to reap the rewards. They don’t follow trends so much as make them, because it’s impossible to lead if you’re following—or to be original if you’re copying. Those companies with the ability to drive the market seem to have innovation embedded in their corporate culture. They understand that playing it safe can result in a failure much more devastating than packaging missteps. That is, having your competitors pass you by.

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