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Unwrapping Success: Getting Packaging Design Right

What is packaging?

Okay, let’s first get the basics out of the way. Packaging is a product’s exterior; you know, the thing which contains, protects, and helps transport the product. So it could be a box, can, bottle, tube, etc.

If we take a step back from the product shoppers ultimately end up putting in their trolleys, packaging design can relate to any number of wide and varied forms as it passes through the supply chain. Ensuring the product is in optimal condition and saleable is obviously quite important to business success (!), so a key element of packaging design relates to preventing the product from being damaged prior to the shopper taking possession of it. But its significance goes far beyond its functional role. Packaging can make or break a brand.

Explore our Packaging Effectiveness Playbook

What elements are fundamental to good packaging design?

The elements of good packaging design fit neatly into two buckets: ‘Form’ and ‘Function’.

Both are equally important. While for packaging to be effective it’s essential that it has a functional purpose which aligns with the product’s intended usage, it’s just as important that it has an appealing and compelling form.

While our packaging success factors largely focus on ‘Form’ and the packaging’s visual characteristics when presented on shelf, these two elements aren’t always discrete. For example, material choice and the eco-friendliness of packaging is fast rising up shoppers’ priority lists, with consumers (particularly younger ones) increasingly rejecting brands that aren’t playing their part when it comes to sustainability. Choice of materials often says as much about the brand’s values as any visual cue or explicit call-out possibly could.

Good packaging design should complement the brand, not overshadow it.

Good packaging design requires solid brand foundations prior to any design work commencing. This means packaging design shouldn’t be the first time a business starts thinking about branding. (If it is, the results will likely be sub-optimal!)

Whether it’s your logo, typography, colors, graphics, etc., what’s important is that these elements harmonize with the brand’s already established positioning, thus ensuring the packaging is easily identifiable for your brand and your brand only.

This also means that brand custodians should tread carefully when undertaking a brand refresh or considering significant design alterations. (Or, more to the point, thinking long and hard about whether changes are necessary in the first place.) Thoughtful, considered, careful evolution should be the directive for those overseeing such critical undertakings, being mindful of not indiscriminately throwing away established branding properties and disrupting consumers’ ingrained ‘search and grab’ shopping routines. The world doesn’t need another Tropicana case study, right?!

What are the factors which underpin good packaging ‘Form’?

Effective packaging Captivates, Connects, and Compels shoppers. It stands out on shelf and grabs busy shoppers’ attention, immediately informs them of who the brand is, makes them curious to investigate the product further, and ultimately persuades them to put the product in their shopping trolley.

Given packaging is one of only a handful of a brand’s ‘always-on’ broadcast channels, making a good first impression is understandably quite important. What’s also important is not forgetting that packaging doesn’t just exist to look pretty; it must also persuasively communicate the brand’s promise.

With minimalism in vogue, marketers should be mindful that on-pack claims are critical for triggering shopper need states and putting forward convincing arguments as to why your brand is worth choosing over competitors. While it’s true much shopping is done on ‘autopilot’ with written benefits and claims often quickly filtered out by shoppers, there are times where this does become more important (e.g., for entirely new products or when consumers’ regular shopping routines are disrupted).

By the same token, packaging which overwhelms shoppers with excess information and competing claims will also lead to suboptimal outcomes. Clear, single-minded messaging — combined with some good old-fashioned persuasive copy — can give shoppers the last little nudge they need to put the product in their shopping basket (regardless of whether it’s their first interaction with the brand or they’re habitual shoppers).

Being ‘market orientated’ gives packaging redesigns the best chance of success.

Marketers (and their agency partners) should keep in mind that they aren’t their customer, and attempting to put themselves in shoppers’ shoes and seeing things from the customer’s perspective is challenging to say the least.

It can be humbling for marketers and their agency partners to acknowledge this fact given most are deeply passionate about their industry, are immersed in all the latest happenings, and keep a keen eye on wider trends in the design world.

Our own experience shows that the majority of packaging redesigns fail to outperform their incumbents. Why? Because new designs generally place added emphasis on things marketers believe to be important (the reason for the redesign in the first place!), which invariably leads to existing elements being deprioritized. It later turns out customers actually cared about the things which were disposed of, ultimately playing an important role in motivating purchase.

It’s for these reasons, as well as lots of others, that we advocate for all new designs to be thoroughly tested amongst consumers. This provides marketers with the confidence to know that changes will have the desired effect prior to being rolled out in-market.

When getting consumer validation costs as little as $2k, (and you can receive a tailored report containing in-depth insights and clear actions within 48 hours,) it’s easier than ever for marketers to involve consumers in critical business decisions.

Learn more about our Packaging Testing solution or Get in Touch to chat with a member of our team.