Good packaging is vital for any brand with a product to sell. But what makes retail packaging “good”?
Trends in packaging come and go and sometimes, improvements are made. There will be slight differences depending on your category and the particular retail environment. But after hundreds of studies involving testing retail package design, we’ve seen the same insights pop up in nearly every project.
Here’s what we’ve learned after 30 years of gathering research data on package design.
McDonald’s is yellow. Starbucks is green. If your brand “owns” a color, use it consistently. We recently tested a food product whose brand owned red, and had for decades. Product managers kept wanting to experiment with color – adding a little blue here, or using different colors for different products.
But our research data said without a doubt “No, you’re red.” Shoppers strongly identified the product with red. Women sent husbands and children to hunt for the red box on the shelf. Red was their cue to put the item in the cart. So if you own a color and people know it, stick with it.
Consumers need to see and, ideally, touch a product. If you can’t show the actual product through clear packaging, you should at least show off what’s inside with high-quality imagery. Show it from more than one angle if possible.
Shoppers use packaging, including product depiction and messaging, to make purchasing decisions. If the customer can’t tell from the outside whether your ice cream maker is electric, if batteries are included or how long the cord is, they’ll tear open the package to see and touch what’s inside. If that happens, it’s your bad, not theirs.
Manufacturers and vendors should test packaging before going to market to make sure the package properly explains and showcases the product.
When packaging is routinely damaged or torn on the way home, it’s your fault. Retail product packaging must be be easy to pick up and open, but not so easy that the packaging falls apart before they get the product home.
If you use perforation, this can affect the ease of tearing. Placement of a tear-off part may also affect the strength of the package. If your product needs to be opened with scissors, indicate it clearly or risk irritating buyers.
We have news for you – when it comes to packaging, specs run a distant second to benefits. In about 3 seconds, your packaging must inform a customer why they should buy your product. Your product’s top differentiating benefits need to be front and center.
Customers don’t care if your paper is rated at 25lbs, they care if it’s “non-jamming.” They don’t care about the grade of stainless steel, they care if it’s “rustproof”. People don’t care if a car seat withstands 4,500 lbs. psi, they care if it’s “safe”.
Specs are important – but not until after you’ve caught a buyer’s attention. Benefits, not specs, should dominate your messaging.
We can’t stress this enough – design matters. This goes for all aspects of packaging design including package engineering, visual impact, product illustration, copy placement, readability at the shelf, ingredient lists, and photography. If your food photography is unappetizing or the color choices are unappealing, your product will suffer, or even fail.
On the flip side, we’ve seen products win at the shelf because marketers took the time to learn from their target audiences. Market research with your target audience often reveals important package design elements that will help the product sell.
These insights rang true decades ago and as it turns out, they are still true today. If product manufacturers start with these basic tenets, they’ll be ahead of the game.