Putting Your Best Face Forward
by Kathi McKenzie

  • Packaging Research
    Packaging remains the last chance for a brand to influence consumers. With the proliferation of products, the rise of store brands, the role of online shopping, and increasingly discriminating consumers, the task of putting your “best face forward” is more difficult—and more crucial—than ever.

Product proliferation means that your product is harder to find on store shelves, as well as on shopping and other sites.

  • Over-cluttered design can distract the eye, or simply be overlooked in a quick scan. Keep in mind that products are seen not only in-store, but also online—both via shopping sites and in social media. Better to aim for clean and simple design.
  • Brand look matters. Aim for a distinct look, one that consumers could recognize even without the brand name. Think of the stripes on a Coke can.
  • Approach major design changes with trepidation, as some consumers will be lost or confused by the change. Many consumers report finding a new brand while searching for an old favorite.

Today’s more discriminating consumers look for a variety of product claims (for example, simple ingredients, natural/organic, gluten-free) and attributes.

  • Avoid trying to be everything to everyone. Your packaging, like your brand strategy, should be based on a strong understanding of your target consumer, and what they consider most important.
  • Research has shown that claims on a package carry more weight with consumers than those in advertising. So, you want those claims to count. Focus on the top 2-3 claims you wish to communicate. Don’t clutter a package with too many claims, with weak or confusing claims, or with claims that overlap in consumer’s minds.

Today consumers don’t just accept that this is the way packaging is done. They realize that they have choices, and they vote with their wallet.

  • Avoid “Wrap Rage” with packaging that is easy to open and use. Hard plastic clamshells and similar packages make people nuts (and drive thousands of emergency room visits a year).
  • In addition to the infamous hard plastic shell, there are many other packaging types that are considered “too hard to open,” such as some twist-off caps, peel-off tube seals with a tab too small to grip, zip strips that tear instead of zip, and tear-open pouches that may spray their contents about when you finally manage to tear them open with your teeth or a sharp object. Don’t annoy your customers—it leaves a bad impression, and in some cases, consumers will switch brands to avoid packaging that is difficult to open or use.
  • Prevent product and packaging waste. Consumers hate products going stale or being wasted because its package does not reseal. Cereal packaging often has a bad rap here, (although we starting to see more reclose-able cereal packages), but we see this complaint often—across many categories. Consumers also prefer less wasteful products that are not over-packaged and/or those that come in recyclable packaging.
  • Avoid packaging that is hard to read. This includes the use of fonts that may be pretty, but require effort to decipher, as well as fine print and low-contrast print.
    • My favorite example is a package we tested some years ago that had beautiful silvery, upscale packaging with tiny turquoise text. Ironically, it was an antiaging product aimed at consumers aged 50+. The target was not amused—they could read neither claims nor usage instructions.

Packaging is literally the face of your product. Don’t be one of those companies who shortcuts package research and design. Putting your best face forward matters more than you may realize.

Contact Decision Analyst

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