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Making packaging count

For many FMCG brands, the retail environment represents the single best opportunity to drive sales and growth. However, it's hard to make an impact in such a cluttered and competitive space. Packaging designed with the retail environment in mind is more likely to cut through and achieve growth objectives. Here is what you need to know to optimise your packaging.

Why does packaging matter?

Particularly from an FMCG perspective, packaging is one of the most important communication vehicles available. It has better reach than advertising, as it is right in front of shoppers at point of purchase. According to research conducted by Nielsen, over 60% of decision making happens at shelf – making pack design essential to getting products noticed, considered and purchased.

But, packaging communication competes in an extraordinarily noisy environment. Every-time someone enters a grocery store, they are faced with a cacophony of communication from every direction. To cope, most messages are filtered out, barely noticed, which means products are often not seen (even when they are right in front of the customer), and the communication opportunity (and resulting sale) is lost.

How do you maximise Pack Design in store?

To successful navigate the cluttered grocery environment, our brains rely on shapes, colours and images to capture attention and convey core messages.

To achieve the holy grail of attention and consideration in-store, we need to work with this filtering system.

Lesson 1: Know and respect the category codes

The brain is an incredibly efficient information processing unit, which processes and categorises information based on recognised patterns.

Effectively, the brain makes associations based on previous interactions, and uses these associations to create short-hand assumptions about other bits of information it receives.

From a retail perspective, this results in a set of codes which consumers use to navigate around different categories.

A simple example is tea, where green is the colour of peppermint tea. When looking for peppermint tea, our eyes immediately seek out the green options. Brands of peppermint tea that do not heed these codes will struggle to be noticed during the instantaneous sorting process our brain uses to cope with stimulus overload and time pressures in store.

Lesson 2: Visual brand cues matter more than the brand name itself

Your brand name is not as important to consumers as it is to you. In talking to a myriad of consumers across multiple categories, I’ve heard the following refrain countless times: “I can’t remember the name right now, but it is the (insert colour/shape here) one”. For example, “You know, it is the milk with cows on it”, or “The jam with the red and white lid”. Unless you are a very big brand, with very big pockets and a long history establishing a brand name (that is strongly associated with consistent look and feel), then it is quite likely your brand name is not spontaneously remembered. This is true even amongst loyal consumers.

Relying on your brand name to drive recognition in store is a mistake. It is the colours, icons and imagery associated with your brand that drives recognition in-store, not your brand name. These visual cues serve as hooks that grab the attention of your customers as their eyes scan the shelf. Establish them well, and respect them. If you change these visual anchor points of your brand during a redesign, you risk disaster.

This was a lesson learned the hard way by Tropicana, one of the most famous (and expensive) packaging fails in the last ten years. A well established (and beloved) brand name was not enough to drive recognition when all the visual elements (including the logo and its position on pack) changed. Despite the backlash from brand lovers over aesthetics and a sense of brand ownership, the main reason the brand lost 20% of its sales was because people couldn’t see their familiar option in store and what they did see was not associated with their stored memories of the product.

Lesson 3: Be single-minded about what you communicate visually on pack

The importance of being known for something (relevant) is Branding 101. Packaging needs to communicate your single-minded positioning to potential customers in such a way that it grabs their attention at least a meter from the shelf, in the space of a glance. To do this, it must be presented visually, taking advantage of semiotics and clever design work.

Understanding the hierarchy of decision making is important to ensure additional information can be found on pack, as required, but be wary of cluttering up your front of pack with everything you think they might need to know. In the noisy retail environment, your first job is to get attention with something relevant. This means knowing your customer and the market well enough to target a category relevant insight that will drive consideration of your brand over others at shelf. And then, presenting this single-minded offer visually. (So, invest in the upfront research!)

We navigate the shopping environment visually by looking for recognisable shapes, icons (of which your logo may be one), patterns and colours – not words. Being cognisant of the existing category codes and ensuring your packaging design consistently presents a differentiated brand promise in a visual way is key to gaining attention and driving consideration in-store.

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