It’s a conundrum most retail manufacturers will be familiar with. Most of the budget has already been spent creating and testing the product, getting it ready for the market. “Surely it’s OK to skimp on investing in product packaging isn’t it? Let’s just find a designer who can create the packaging quickly and at the best price?”. Let me interject this anecdotal rambling for a minute, product packaging does matter, here’s why:

Creates first impression

The retail world can be both a superficial and ruthless environment for new products. Much like in the dating realm, the unattractive often get left on the shelf. Beauty is skin deep. So are products. A practical yet beautiful product is cheapened and devalued by poor packaging. Product packaging should highlight the products beauty not destroy it. It’s primarily responsible for the first impression. First impressions last! In such competitive times you need your first impression to be a good one or you’ve lost before you’ve even begun.

Studies show our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 9 largely attributed to the impact of technology and smartphones. Product packaging can hook attention especially in a competitive arena like retail. First impressions count. We often form our purchase decisions in mere seconds based on limited information available. As a side note, Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” is a great read for those interested in how our thinking patterns impact our lives. A product will be subconsciously judged by its visual appearance. As a visual marketing agency, I cannot stress enough, your products appearance better be good.

Positions the product

Many underestimate the impact visual appearance can have on our subconscious mind. The exterior of a products packaging will position the product in the consumers mind. If you know your target market then it is vital your products packaging will grab their attention. Is your product geared towards the lower, middle or upper class? It’s important the packaging reflects the positioning and the market can readily identify if the product is for them. Premium and expensive design shouldn’t be put on a product geared towards the budget conscious. The budget conscious seek minimalistic design where practicality and usefulness is suggested minimising risk aversion.

Save the extravagant design for the upper class who seek “special products” to feed their expensive taste. I’m not suggesting for one moment however that it’s OK to neglect product packaging for the lower/middle class. All packaging must be impressive as consumers today demand and expect the best quality products. The power is with the consumer. But that extra mile and expense should always be taken with products for the upper class. This ties in with the positioning of the product, it must scream uniqueness and quality. Consequently product packaging creates product differentiation in the marketplace.

Primes the customer

If it looks good, it must taste good right? There is a subconscious association with great packaging and great tasting food. If the product looks delicious on the packaging, then we naturally think it must taste good too. This explains the role of product descriptions on products. We often see the words “delicious” “satisfying” “nutty and chewy” “crisp and juicy” as descriptors of the product on the packaging. This is called priming. It is where you are subconsciously telling the consumer how the product will taste and suggesting how you will feel afterwards. This minimises fear of product trial.

The mind accepts most information it is given and assumes it to be true. If we are told somebody is nice then our mind has already formed a judgement before meeting this person. We assume they are indeed nice before knowing them properly. The same applies with products. Many food brands go a step further and include product condiments on the packaging which reduces risk and boosts perception of the product. E.g. Uncle Ben’s rice has a picture of a bowl of rice with herbs, garlic and vegetables around it suggesting it’s a nutritious meal. This is despite the fact that  these products aren’t included with the product. Product packaging thus can act as a trailer or perhaps more aptly – a teaser of the experience of consuming the product.

Encourages Impulse purchases

Product packaging solicits the customer and encourages impulse purchases. It’s an important consideration that the packaging no matter the positioning carries a degree of minimalism. This allows instant recognition by the customer and encourages a rapid purchase decision. At the same time you must make the packaging as appealing as possible. Texture, typography, symbols, colours and styling all play a large part in effective visual marketing. Little details can make all the difference in design to attract impulse purchase. Examples include:

  • The colour red signifies passion and attraction and is associated with impulse buying
  • Black and darker colours suggest quality
  • Colour green creates a perception of natural and healthy
  • Blue elicits feelings of calm and trust vital in any business relationship
  • Timber and chalkboard signify fresh and natural

Let’s not forget the word FREE has a powerful effect on the audience. Everybody loves a bargain. It’s important however it ties in with the products branding. A premium product aimed at the upper class should not suggest value but rather quality and indulgence. Many retail manufacturers put 25% extra FREE or 9 pack + 3 FREE on their packaging to highlight value. People vilify this as deception and unscrupulous marketing. Not so, it is merely suggesting value for money and calming consumer fears of choosing the wrong product or not getting a “bargain”. Remember what I said in the beginning “everybody loves a bargain”. Any seller wants the consumer leaving feeling happy that they got a good deal if using the word FREE helps, then within reason it shouldn’t be vilified.

Brands the product

Product packaging helps product branding. Branding is what helps companies stand out from the competition. And packaging is what helps a product stand out on the shelf. The two are inextricably linked. The packaging must reflect brand personality.

Apple wanted their personality to be playful, simplistic and innovative. They created unique patented packaging where the customer unwraps’ the product like a present. No details were missed. The product was stored in strong cardboard packaging with white the prime colour and a simplistic design. This added to the mystique and indulgence of buying an Apple product.

Most people are brand loyal. If a brand releases a new product its important it reflects their personality. Otherwise it will be brand damaging. A well-known brand like Cadbury cannot put out a poorly designed product. It will damage their brand identity as a quality chocolate dispenser.

In conclusion

Examine your favourite products and their packaging. What emotions do they elicit? How does it make you feel? Does it express quality, value or both? Don’t underestimate the power of visual marketing and product packaging in the purchase decision making process. Always make your product look HOT!!