WD-40 brand shows the power of pack innovation

I was lucky enough to spend this week working with WD-40 Company’s Americas team on their future growth strategy in San Diego. One of my key takeouts was how well the WD-40 brand has used packaging innovation to grow their core brand and business. In the past few years the brand has launched not one but two blockbuster packaging innovations: Smart Straw and more recently EZ Reach. Below I look at why these initiatives have been so effective and what we can learn from their success.

1. Solve a consumer problem

Both packaging innovations solve real consumer issues. Before Smart Straw, the WD-40 brand had a red plastic straw taped on the side of the blue and yellow can. This helped you direct the spray where you needed it, such as inside a sticky lock. The problem was that the little straw often got misplaced. Smart Straw has an integrated Straw that flips up for use; keep it down and you get a bigger spray. EZ Reach has a bendy nozzle that allows you to direct the spray into difficult to reach spaces, such as under a car.

-> Use immersive insight to observe consumes using your product or service to highlight issues and barriers to satisfaction. How could you use pack innovation to solve these issues?

2. Grow the core

When we think of innovation, new product development is  often what comes to mind first. This can of course work well, if the new product meets a new need or usage occasion. However, the downside of adding new products is that they can start to complicate the brand messaging: there are now multiple benefits to communicate on pack, in advertising and at the point of sale.

In contrast, pack innovations like Smart Straw and EZ Reach reinforce the WD-40 brand’s core brand proposition of “Problem solved. Job done right.” They each upgrade the delivery of the core benefit by adding extra, added value functionality and bring new news to keep the brand fresh. Both new formats also reinforce the visual equities of the WD-40 brand shield and the blue and yellow colours. The naming is also in line with the brand’s straightforward, no-nonsense character: each pack innovation “does what it says on the tin”.

> Don’t always press the new product button when thinking about how to innovate on your brand. Look long and hard at your product or service to see how you could upgrade it or find new ways of delivering it through packaging innovation.

3. Drive distinctiveness 

Smart Straw and EZ Reach were challenging to design and produce. The upside of this is that they are also hard to copy. And so far, several years after launch, no other brand has launched a me-to version of either pack format. This creates valuable distinctiveness for the WD-40 brand which is immediately obvious on shelf.

-> If you are working on pack innovation, how can you make it as distinctive as possible? And what are the barriers to copying that will allow you to have a competitive advantage, at least off a few years (patents, unique production  process etc.)?

4. Penetration AND Premiumisation

Both WD-40 brand pack innovations have delivered a ‘double whammy’ of business benefits. First, these new formats have helped drive the penetration that is crucial for share growth. And because they deliver genuine added value to the consumer, Smart Straw and EZ Reach each also support a significant premium price versus the standard WD-40 brand. This helps the brand’s bottom line: even though there is inevitably some ‘cannibalisation’ of standard product sales, the effect is to enhance overall profitability. It also means that retail customers are getting more cash out of the shelf when they stock the new formats.

-> Is your new pack or product innovation adding enough value for consumers to support a premium price versus the standard offering? If not, ask some hard question about how innovative the new launch really is.

In conclusion, the WD-40 brand shows how packaging innovation can be a truly potent way to grow the core brand and business, reinforcing and refreshing what made your brand famous.