According to research from the European Journal of Scientific Research, product packaging should be treated as one of the most important tools in marketing communications. People are told not to judge a book by its cover, but human beings are hard-wired to respond to certain visual cues that elicit emotional reactions and catch attention, pique interest, inspire desire and prompt us to take action to purchase something. Packaging counts for more than a pretty box — it may be what sells the product.
Understanding the nuances of just how packaging affects sales and the effects of packaging on consumer buying behavior is an important concept not just for marketers, but for retailers, inventors, entrepreneurs and others who develop and sell specific goods. Packaging can convey volumes to consumers about the value, brand attributes and benefits they will receive from the product inside. Paying attention to packaging is vital for sales success in today’s crowded consumer marketplace.
The Roles of Product Packaging
Product packaging fulfills many roles in the consumer sales process, including:
- Standing in for the brand or conveying brand attributes in a split second.
- Making one product easier to use over another, such as a special spout design that makes spills or drips less likely on a liquid product.
- Safety and consideration for safety, such as tamper-proof lids.
- Part of the user experience, such as tubs or pails that store the products inside the package as well as serve as shelf packaging.
Packaging must be beautiful, functional and economical. A beautiful package that’s difficult to open or very expensive to produce is equally as ineffective as an ugly package that’s both highly functional and very inexpensive. All three aspects of packaging must work together to form one comprehensive whole for maximum sales.
Conveying Brand Attributes Through Packaging
Your company branding is conveyed through every action you take. That includes packaging. Brand is more than the logo, colors or slogan applied to your business. It also includes the emotions your company inspires in others, the desired attributes you wish to imply by your brand and the message it conveys to others.
Product packaging conveys brand attributes in many ways:
- Color: The most obvious way packaging contributes to branding is through the color. Echoing the brand’s colors or using colors with specific emotional or consumer appeal helps to brand the product with specific nuances. Think of the little blue box from the famous Tiffany’s jewelry store in New York City, one of the most famous brand colors used on packaging. The color immediately evokes luxury, exclusivity and wealth because of the brand associations developed over generations of loyal Tiffany’s shoppers and more.
- Symbols: Symbols used on packaging can also convey branding. Consider the McDonald’s golden arches emblazoned on the hamburger packages you unwrap for lunch or the Apple logo on the back of your iPhone. These and other symbols become a shorthand for the brand attributes behind the symbol. In the case of McDonald’s, the arches symbolize fast food, convenience, taste and affordability. For Apple, the symbol evokes quality and creativity.
- Materials: Packaging materials can also carry specific brand messages. A velvet box conveys wealth and luxury, while a plain box made from recycled cardboard suggests an eco-friendly company that cares about the environment. The look, feel and composition of your packaging materials can also be used to express brand attributes.
- Shape: Lastly, shape can be used for branding purposes. A uniquely shaped package can set your product apart in a market where one product is very similar to another. Think of Fiji water, a bottled water packaged in a square bottle. Originally, Fiji bottles were square to fit more in shipping cartons aboard ships bound for world ports, but the company quickly realized they had a branding bonanza in the highly recognizable square bottle. The unusual shape helped them stand out among all the other bottled water products on store shelves.
Before you develop packaging concepts for your product, sit down and write out the brand attributes your product must convey to the market. Attributes may be wealth, economy, excitement, calm, strength, reliability, creativity and more. Whatever they are, having them handy to share with your packaging company can help them develop exciting, innovative packaging for your products.
How Packing Influences Buying Decisions
Packaging affects consumer choices in many ways:
- Fifty-two percent of online consumers say they would shop again from a business if it included premium packaging.
- Thirty percent of businesses say consumers pay more attention to their products after they refocused on their packaging.
- Forty percent of consumers would share a photo of a product on social media if the packaging were interesting.
Packaging must appeal to consumers on many levels. First, it must be aesthetically pleasing. A package that looks beautiful is attractive. Consumers will pick it up off the shelf, turn it over in their hands and take more time reading the package and handling the product. All this makes it more likely that they will purchase the product.
An attractive package, as evidenced by the statistics above, is also more likely to get noticed on social media. Social media remains an important platform for sharing information among consumers, and a recommendation from a friend is more likely to result in a purchasing decision than an advertisement. In fact, four in 10 social media users have purchased an item after marking it as a favorite on social media, and 74% rely on social media to help them make a buying decision.
Appealing Packaging Sells More Products
What makes an appealing package? The answers vary according to the industry you’re in and the products you are selling. A green milk carton may be unappealing because it conjures images of spoiled, sour milk, but a green box for garden products tells a different story.
An appealing package created to influence consumer behavior should:
- Follow the brand guidelines for the company.
- Follow any legal guidelines for product packaging, such as tamper-resistant caps, etc.
- Use color to convey effects, such as white for cleanliness and hygiene.
- Include labels that tell the product’s story.
Consumers tend to buy products for one of two reasons:
- To solve a problem.
- To end pain.
The pain or problem may be physical, such as health issue, or emotional, such as wanting prettier hair or better skin. People buy products based on their best estimate of how well a product will meet either need.
First Impressions Count
Product packaging must make a statement quickly. Consumers walking among stocked store shelves form an impression of products based on approximately seven seconds of information. If the product packaging doesn’t catch their eye, they’ll quickly go on to the next item.
Earlier, the example of the Fiji water bottle showed how a unique product package can help one product call attention in a crowded space. Grocery store shelves in the beverage aisle are filled with water, soda, juice and tea products that all quench thirst. The uniquely shaped square Fiji water bottle called attention to itself on a shelf crowded with round bottles.
Goldfish crackers, the ubiquitous cheese cracker snacks, are another great example of how product packaging in a crowded space can set products apart. These crackers are packaged in a small milk carton-shaped box reminiscent of a child’s lunchroom milk container. The snack, which appeals to children — and adults, if we’re honest about it — stands out on shelves packed with boxes and bags of similar sizes and shapes.
Product Packaging: Consider the Implications of Reuse
One important statistic to keep in mind when designing your product packaging is that 90% of consumers reuse product packaging. This means your product packaging can also act like an advertisement and provide brand exposure to more people than the original product purchaser.
People reuse product packaging in many different ways:
- Attractive bags may be repurposed as gift bags or carry-alls for other items.
- Boxes can be used as gift packaging.
- Attractive cartons or containers may be used on their own as decorative items.
- Items can be crafted into new uses, such as egg cartons being made into jewelry boxes, etc.
When designing your product packaging, keep potential reuse in mind. If your packaging is beautiful, functional or different enough, consumers will repurpose it into multiple uses.
In addition to sales considerations, packaging must also be developed that fits easily into containers for shipping, as well as available shelf space. Packages must be designed to accommodate their intended display space whether that’s a shelf, rack or peg board inside a store.
Sometimes these considerations limit the type of packaging that’s available. If you intend to sell specific items through mass merchandisers, for example, the retailers may have requirements about packaging size or composition that you must strictly adhere to if you wish to get your products in their stores. Packages can sometimes be adapted to display requirements such as adding a detachable pegboard-hole tab to the top of a package. This makes it versatile — it can be displayed on a peg board hook, shelves or anywhere else with ease.
Let the Product Sell Itself: Clear Packaging to Boost Sales
Another type of package that helps influence consumer purchasing decision is the window-pane type package, or the clear shell packages. These packages offer a solid background and a piece of plastic, glass or another component that enables consumers to view products inside the package. In this case, the product itself becomes the selling point, attracting and enticing consumers to purchase it.
A few examples of products that do best with clear packages include:
- Cookies and candy: Any type of sweet treat, from cookies to donuts, often benefits from a clear package. Customers may be enticed by a pretty wrap, but what they really want is the chocolate donut or cookie inside the wrap. In this case, providing a window through which consumers can view the item whets their appetite better than a beautiful outer wrap.
- Dolls and toys: Many toys are packaged behind a clear plastic window for a similar reason. In this case, children can see instantly through the packaging and desire the toy. They understand what is in the package more when they can see it than if they saw an outer box. The appeal is in the toy, not the box.
- Software and CDs: Software and CDs are often packaged in clear, hard-plastic cases more for security purposes than for marketing. The clear packaging helps sell what’s inside by providing direct access to the label on the package, but it also provides a secure, bulky outer package that prevents theft.
Creating Packages That Sell
The first step to designing packages that sell is to develop what is known as a creative brief. A creative brief is a document that outlines the specifics of the project for the agency working on the creative iteration of the project. A packaging company may develop its own brief, but having some of the specifics in mind before sitting down with the experts can help your project go more smoothly.
In general, when designing packaging, you’ll need to write down any:
- Brand attributes you must convey.
- Brand elements, such as colors, fonts or logos to use.
- How the product is to be displayed, such as on a shelf, in a bin, in a rack, etc.
- Where the product will be viewed — online, in a retail store or both.
- Who its main competitors are.
- Who will buy it — your target audience.
- Any legal requirements related to packaging.
- Whether the packaging also serves as part of the product or storage for the product.
As the package designer comes up with creative concepts, they need to know all these facts and more to create great product packaging for your items to help them sell.
There are many considerations when creating product packaging that influence consumer buying decisions. The look, the feel, the brand attributes, as well as practical concerns such as safety, shipping and production costs, shelf and display needs and legal compliance are all part of product packaging. For the average person, this is a lot to remember. Fortunately, there are packaging companies who specialize in great designs that help sell products while maintaining brand integrity and meeting all other requirements.