20 Seconds To Live Or Die

When consumers make purchase decisions, they're spending anywhere from 10 to 20 seconds - according to surveys and research conducted by consumer behavior experts. Studies show that consumers ignore up to two-thirds of category products when they shop. That kind of statistic points to just how difficult it is to successfully package products. And clearly demonstrates why so many products fail at retail.

No matter how compelling consumer product marketing might be, the actual sale is made at the retail shelf. Packaging is the tangible representation of brand and product, and if it fails to make an impression, it adds up to numerous lost sales.

The first thing we need to realize is that packaging is about selling first. Communication and persuasion is job No. 1. Not aesthetics. Package designers and marketers may ooh and aah over beautiful packaging, but remember: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It's subjective, and each consumer responds differently to aesthetics.

Communication sells but it has to be the right kind of communication. It has to be grounded in an effectively conceived and managed brand strategy. When consumers approach the retail shelf, even brand loyalists are increasingly assessing which product to buy, seeking the optimal value for their money in a tough economy.



They need compelling reasons to choose one brand over the rest, especially when they're spending fewer dollars. Unless they're die-hard loyalists for a particular brand, the product has a few seconds to live - or die - that's how important it is to get the messaging and key packaging elements right.

Here's what matters:

• Use one simple, overriding message that really resonates.

• Develop key product points that are direct and simple to assimilate.

• Uncover core messaging the consumer immediately responds to on an intellectual and emotional level.

• Strive for an ownable, unique package structure, color, and/or strong graphic cue as differentiators.

• Develop a well-planned package design system; one-off package designs lead to a lack of brand cohesiveness.

• Effective product segmentation makes the product line more convenient to "shop"; conveying value to consumers; making purchase far more likely.

All of these strategies lead to increased consumer visibility and brand recognition. Great packaging refers back to the brand in convincing fashion; making the differences between it and its competitors plain to see in a scant few seconds.

Examples? Method cleaning products - for breaking the structural mold in a crowded category. Garnier Fructis hair care - how effective is that lime green packaging when color blocked at retail? The "K" on Kellogg's Special K products - how effective a brand identifier is that on a simple white package? How well has that been used to extend the brand into new product categories besides cereal?

There is a "first moment of truth" when the consumer "votes" on the brand by purchasing it. Engaging with packaging leads to a "second moment of truth." Adding convenience features, easy handling or storage properties go a long way in this regard. Or adding an element of surprise or enjoyment helps packaging deliver the product in a memorable way.

When product and package come together to deliver on the brand promise, magic happens. The consumer either affirms a brand if a first-time user, or reaffirms it in their minds because it continues to deliver a positive or enjoyable experience.

Ultimately, packaging has to be judged on how it affects consumer purchasing behavior. If packaging isn't a huge asset in selling product and cementing brand loyalty on the retail shelf, it simply isn't effective, no matter how pretty it is.

3 comments about "20 Seconds To Live Or Die ".
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  1. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, August 27, 2009 at 1:04 p.m.

    Ted, you make some very good points. But by my reading, some important considerations of package design have been given short shrift. "Communication and persuasion is job No. 1."? I'd say standing out in a sea of tens of thousands of products is Job 1. As Ogilvy famously said, you can't save souls in an empty church.

    Aesthetics matter. If "communiating benefits" is the sole basis for evaluating packing, the marketer is missing a huge opportunity. Packaging represents an opportunity for engagement. It is an opportunity to reflect the values of the marketer, in a visual and tactile sense. It is an opportunity to connect with the consumer on an emotional level. Examples: the iPod, Vitamin Water, or your example of Method cleaning products. A key component of the persuasion you speak of is in the sleekness and visual appeal of the designs.

  2. John Lofranco from CKR Interactive, August 27, 2009 at 1:59 p.m.

    Interesting, but not surprising, that consumers spend such little time deciding which brand to choose. You include some good points in this post. There is so much to consider when advertising and marketing- just think: Would this product grab my attention? Why? Asking questions is always a good place to start- and you can never ask too many!

  3. Donna Zelzer from Midwifery Today, August 28, 2009 at 10:27 a.m.

    As far as aesthetics go - for certain products, if price and features are similiar, i have occasionally bought a particular brand because I liked the packaging.

    Interesting and appealing packaging certainly attracts my attention.

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