Packaging Products The 'Happy Meal' Way

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More and more, marketers are delivering hot, fresh products with only a twist of individuality. Why? Because of the McDonaldization of society. Whether it's burgers or the latest productivity suite, consumers, even smart ones, are opting for products that fit the "Happy Meal" profile.


On the surface, this may seem a little irritating and counterintuitive, but there are excellent reasons why you may want to consider doing more of this type of product packaging.


Much of this probably has come from our increasingly complicated lives, where time has become a precious commodity. Computers and the Internet have done nothing to save time; they just allow us to do higher volumes of more complex work in the same period of time. Add into that mix the move to a service economy where specialization has become the norm, and you've created an environment conducive to accepting the core propositions of the happy meal.


Happy Meals can be broken down into their basic parts, which, when applied to many industries, will allow you to create your own Happy Meal/suite/solution. Let's assume you're providing a quality product, though remember even the Happy Meal isn't made out of filet mignon. The key factors in any Happy Meal approach are as follows:


Seven or fewer basic variations. Someone once said that part of the reason we have seven digits in a phone number is because it is the largest manageable number from a memorization perspective. While there is no scientific evidence to support this, theoretically, the same concept could hold true in creating solutions or suites. Giving a consumer 50 versions of a product doesn't give him any time or likely cost savings. Keep it to a minimum, because the more choices you give, the harder it can be to decide, and the harder it is to close the deal.


Some degree of customization. Even though Happy Meals are prepackaged, the consumer always has the ability to affect the outcome. This is important because consumers never want to feel like they're getting exactly what everyone else has. Whether it's a cheeseburger vs. a hamburger or a beanie baby vs. a "Toy Story" action figure, you get choice. In the end you get a sandwich, fries, a drink, a toy and a colorful box. You always want the customer to walk away feeling like he's getting what he wanted, even if it was your idea.


Discount pricing. MSRP, what a joke. No one ever sells at MSRP, but everyone talks about the discount off MSRP they sell at, as if someone else was actually selling at that price (I know, government regulations). That's because consumers love a good deal, and it's not just Americans. In the Thailand markets every price is negotiable. The same thing applies here. Everyone is watching the bottom line and everyone wants to get high quality for a good price.


Eighty percent functionality. Anyone who's ever shopped for anything knows that it's highly unlikely to find a product that will provide 100 percent of the functionality that they need, let alone want. So it goes that most people who are looking for a product are most concerned with getting something that will provide around 80 percent of the functionality needed. Even happy meals provide most of what people want: meat, bread, toys and soda, even if it doesn't include dessert.


Saves time. Since your assumption is that consumers are walking into this decision under time constraints, you know that part of what you offer them is something that, at a minimum, doesn't create more work. Ideally, you want to offer something that will save some time, being both fast and convenient. Especially in complex or business-to-business sales, time can be as important a factor as price.


That being said, there is no perfect truth or absolutes, especially in marketing. In order to effectively use the happy meal theory, you will need to create variations on these themes based on whether the product is simple or complex (actually, in the case of cars, the more costly they are the less options you have). You also will need to carefully look at the profile of your customer because some items from the above list need to be highlighted more than others. But one truth holds: the happy meal is king.


So what about the future? As technologies become more complex and easier to manipulate, you will begin to see the next generation of product configuration technologies. Using these products, business managers will be able to create business rules and predictive models that will take into account customer profiles and desires, market conditions, product offerings and company expertise to create a unique product offering that is completely customized to the consumer in real time.


Based on the consumer response to that offer, company systems also can create up to seven other alternatives, keeping to the telephone rule and not allowing consumers to get consumed with choices.


• Marcos Sanchez is senior director of marketing at Black Pearl, San Francisco. Reach him at marcos.sanchez@blackpearl.com.
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