One of our recent projects at BIBA|CS brought me back to the topic and made me realize that we – with our teams’ experience in Brand & Shopper Marketing and Design – are remarkably well set up to support companies on the journey towards a shopper optimized packaging. My personal background is mainly in the Off Trade/Modern Trade, which is why the following points refer to a busy retail shelf rather than the need to stand-out in a bar fridge or the interaction with a bartender. Also, special requirements for packaging development might appear in the eCommerce (here a link “Building an eCommerce Strategy”) – a topic we might come back another time.

Packaging has multiple roles which need to be taken into consideration. First of all, it is the container for your product; it carries the best you can offer to the clients. Hence it needs to protect the product and be functional to use. Packaging might also become an essential part of the product experience (“unboxing”). But before in the retail environment, packaging fights for attention, it communicates to shoppers and can build brand image and educate or instruct its potential users. As we know from eye-tracking research, shoppers spend most of their time looking at different packs – be it in the navigation, browsing or selection phase. Hence, its design is one of the most important details to consider.

For making a lasting impact in the crowded retail environment, the packaging has to communicate clearly three points, either visually, haptically, or by words:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I?
  • Why the heck should you buy me?

Who am I?

First and foremost, brands need to stand out in the retails shelves. Knowing how humans process information and how shoppers focus on being on “their” mission makes us think that cutting through by using unusual shapes and/or colours is one of the most important considerations for creating an impactful design.

An example from Hungary shows a nicely designed pack for the confectionary brand Stühmer. It caught our attention due to its intriguing colourful design and unique shape which created a visual contrast to the rest of the category.

To cut through the clutter, you need to understand the environment the package will be presented in. Seldom retailers act according to your merchandising rules – so visit as many different stores as possible and be prepared to find yourself in unexpected positions. I vividly remember an episode where we produced a secondary pack (6pack) particularly produced for a certain retailer in France which was finally stacked horizontally instead of vertically in the shelves. The design lacked any branding on the top-lid facing the shopper. Clearly, it can happen, but should not when striving for excellence. So, better go and check many different stores to get a first-hand understanding of the place to be.

What am I?

There are multiple questions you have to ask yourself or your agency partners when developing packaging. If you are already a brand – the pack design play with the essential iconography (part of your distinctive brand assets) that helps increase the mental availability in buyers’ heads?

Another important factor is the flow of information (e.g. product attributes). Whereas for some categories (e.g. potato chips) the brand and the flavour might be most important, buyers of another category (e.g. muesli) might find the flavour variant more important than the brand itself. Does the packaging address potential shopping barriers, e.g. by mentioning the purity of raw material, the providence or the freshness? As stated before, shoppers spend most of their time looking at packages but studying the time spent at a single pack, it is only a short fraction, and the pack needs to deliver its message within a second or even less. So, one needs to ensure that the information hierarchy is clear and concise.

We know from the literature and experience that a well-known brand is more likely to be recognized and found on the shelf. Hence if you have a strong brand, there is no value hiding your brand by using little contrast, small or difficult to read typo.

In our opinion, the Kellogg’s example from Germany does a pretty good job here. Clear sender (brand), clear message about what to find inside (in written and graphically).

Why am right for you?

Furthermore, the pack needs to convince shoppers to select and engage with the pack. So is the brand claim attractive and concise is the claim unique? Does it fit the targeted consumption occasion? Do you somehow incorporate or cover relevant trends like health, craftmanship and providence? Does the packaging convey the message of a quality product or keeping environmental standards? Is the packaging made for swift handling in the store? And once the shopper holds the pack in his hands, how does he or she perceive the brand (through haptics) and the information he or she sees or searches on the backside or back label.

Again, the Kellog’s pack did the trick as the package left a soft and pleasant impression. The same counts for the Stühmer pack with a soft finish and the design were enhanced with embossing. Below an example from Poland of (nearly) the same product (oatmeal/”owsianka”/”platki owsiane”, single serving) but 3 different design solutions on how to communicate to shoppers and consumers.

While we have made up our mind which pack would score highest in our shopper-led design test, we were happy to learn which one you score highest and why.

Before developing several design routes or prototypes, we suggest testing your assumptions with key stakeholders in logistics and sales to understand their requirements and how well your ideas deliver against them.

Finally, ensure that you incorporate your consumers’ and shoppers’ expectation and experiences before entering the costly design, production and distribution cycle. And once you have a couple of design routes, consider testing them with current users and non-users to find the most promising instead of just gut feeling.

Note: The article was initially published on November 9, 2020, via LinkedIn and has been edited for the purpose of our stories.