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.