Written by Adam Spriggs
Here are seven principles of sales-effective package design that account for the realities of shoppers:
1. Standing Out, You're Doing It Wrong
Standing out on the shelves of high-volume retailers amongst a sea of 30K+ products requires boldly different approaches than what most brands are taking. Break the rules, break boundaries, break new ground. You'll never know your true sales potential if your package doesn't effectively work to nab shopper's attention.
Packaging's No. 1 responsibility is to get noticed. All brands know this, they just don't know how to do it, because most of what we see in stores are brands opting to blend in, instead of standing out.
Shoppers fight grocery store ADD with routine and speed. To design for impact you have to create a presence that's capable of getting a hurried shopper's attention from the moment they turn the corner to shop in your aisle. We have to stop the scanning eye, and interrupt the shopper on a b-line path to the brand they buy mechanically week after week.
That doesn't mean we should barge into our design team's office and demand the loudest, most obnoxious package the category has ever seen, there's more tactful ways to go about standing out. Consider introducing a new pack structure that also improves the consumer experience, or, utilize colors and symbols, strokes and borders that are designed to attract to the eye from a distance. Do what hasn't been done, go for it, stand out, to sit quietly on shelf is to leave sales on the table.
2. Define the Product, Assume The Shopper Knows Nothing!
Too many brands assume the shopper is willing to or capable of connecting dots to understand what their products are about. If your product category isn't represented in at least 50 percent of the population's fridges or pantries you might want to go out of your way to provide context.
If you sell fruit-based cooking sauces in the condiments section, get down and dirty right on the principal display panel and show me what I do with it, and why the heck I should spend $9 on an accompaniment.
If you sell cassava root chips, tell me about cassava, where it comes from, how it's processed, what it compares to in taste, and why I'd want it over a potato or veggie chip. In this scenario, there's nothing you could put on a package that would provide more value to shoppers and encourage trial.
3. Compete, Duke It Out On Shelf!
Everyone talks and touts differentiation, but most differentiation is hardly noticeable or meaningful. First, start by abandoning your lazy uninformed product strategy. If you routinely see two or three other options on shelf that compare similarly (think objectively, judge from the perspective of an uninformed shopper), start thinking about your next move. Pursue differentiation, but make sure its differentiation that matters to shoppers in the category. With so few slots available at high volume retailers, you can't afford to be replaceable.
How it translates to packaging...Shoppers show up to shelf wanting to compare products on features and attributes, but a cluttered marketplace is making it harder than ever for shoppers to distinguish between products. The No. 1 and No. 2 reason (I call it backup ammo) I should buy your products instead of your competitors should smack me across the face. It should be differentiated and relevant. It shouldn't be a promise about taste or quality, these are subjective claims, we don't know or trust the source.
What makes your gluten free almond-based cookie different than the other brand of gluten free almond-based cookie? If it's price, talk value, if it's your ingredient source, tell that story on the front of the package, because most packaging isn't picked up and turned over!
4. Flex Value Proposition, Which Mental Box Do You Belong In?
Shoppers want to make sense of the pecking order of the category in terms of value—who's the Acer, who's the HP, who's the IBM, and who's the Apple?
Knowing how you want to be seen by shoppers in terms of value segmentation can go a long way toward informing the overall tone and even the subtlest details on your packaging. Obviously, if you're the value brand, you let your price communicate value and you gear your packaging to suggest a quality comparable to higher-priced options. But if your pint of gelato is priced anywhere above private label or value brands, you need to continually elevate what premium is and looks like.
Remember, just because you think your product is premium and say that it is, doesn't mean the shopper sees it that way. The shopper is deciding what you are based off the context of how you compare to what they see at shelf from everyone else.
5. Express Yourself, You're Not A Corporation Anymore
Today, shoppers buy brands based on what it says about them and their world-view almost as much as how that brand's product performs functionally.
In response, we're leading what we call the counter-corporate, or anti-stock photography movement. It's about expression, about flexing personality! It's about creating brands that matter and being real, charming, opinionated, quirky, happy, or exceptionally transparent on shelf. Rather than dedicating packaging space to self-serving corporate sounding claims, taglines, call-to-actions, and promises consumers are tired and cynical of, approach packaging with more of a human mindset.
You can connect with shoppers on a deep and connected level when you dedicate space to reflect your core audience's broader interests around food, causes, or activities. Share an odd company tale, or poke a little fun at a competitor, or transform the label of your high-end bottle of wine into an artistic stained glass mosaic. Whatever you decide, it shouldn't feel like contrived marketing or advertising. Make sure you're collaborating with a team that's up on how brands should express themselves today and can filter for your corporate tendencies.
In the end, brands, not products, are irreplaceable. The first brand to market never sticks its landing if it's not first to people's hearts and minds.
6. Purchase Drivers, If You Don't Know Them You're Flying Blind
It's startling how many brands cannot name the top 4 or 5 purchase drivers consumers use to the shop their category. Knowing these should influence not only what you call out on your packaging and the hierarchy you employ, but also how you develop and market products!
Have you done any research toward understanding what these are and does your package work to address these?
Are shoppers choosing based on perceived quality? How do they measure quality? Are they looking for specific health benefit callouts? Are they weary of certain ingredients? Do awards influence their purchase decision? Do they shop by flavor or variety?
If you're uncertain how shoppers in your category buy, hire someone who'll develop a well thought out (and brief) quant survey to dig up these insights, then use it to inform what you feature (and how) on your packaging.
7. Shelf Circumstances, What to Watch Out For
Sales-effective packaging accounts for the realities of the physical store environment. Frosted over freezer doors obscure vision, hang tags intrude upon products stocked on the shelf below, lights cause reflections and shadows, and stocking preferences of retailers vary. These factors are crucial to understand and should influence the substrates you use, whether or not you utilize dual-PDP's, and where you place your most critical messaging.
Here's an example: While shopping the packaged sliced deli-meat category we found a brand whose primary differentiator (more for your money) callout was tucked in the upper right corner of their package—which was concealed by the retailer's sale tags hanging from the shelves above. Without the context of "more for your money," they just looked like the most expensive option in the category. How many shoppers are they turning away with this simple oversight?
Design with the store in mind!