Consumers look for design on their path to purchase

A design that stands out on crowded shelves is essential if product packaging is to deliver all aspects of the brand promise in an emotional and compelling way.

Consumers flock to the chiller cabinet in supermarkets when the weather is hot and sunny. The display case will inevitably be filled with several brands shouting different messages, making it incredibly difficult for products to stand out from the clutter. But the right packaging can help the consumer to make a purchasing decision.

Unilever is hoping the packaging for its recently launched Cornetto Enigma will ensure consumers will reach for its premium ice cream range instead of competitor brands displayed alongside its products.

The new Cornetto product has a slick modern look that uses the design to communicate that the ice cream contains high quality ingredients.

Packaging that links emotional connection with functionality wins out in a crowded market, says Claudia Trazza, Cornetto European brand director at Unilever. “The visual branding and the impact on-shelf are vital to inject the indulgence and premium positioning in the design.”

The packaging also demonstrates the Cornetto brand is relevant for today’s consumer, she adds. “The launch of Enigma is an important milestone in the Cornetto history, moving it from an overriding sense of nostalgia and playing a major part in the brand’s evolution.”

People make shopping decisions based on an accumulation of information about brands that they build over time. They are influenced by everything from Facebook, Twitter, up-to-the-minute news stories to conversations with friends and conventional above-the-line advertising.

But it is only when shoppers get into the supermarket that they encounter the brand itself and experience what Procter & Gamble calls the “first moment of truth” – where marketers have the best chance of convincing a consumer to purchase their products.

In a bid to convert consumers at the shelf, sanitary care brand Lil-lets recently launched new packaging to increase stand-out of the range in store and to differentiate it from retailer own-label products.

The redesign – which aims to give the brand a more contemporary and feminine image – has given Lil-lets greater presence in store as the new colour-coded packs are 20% quicker to find on-shelf than the previous lilac design, according to research carried out by the company.

The relaunch of the non-applicator brand resulted in more than 400,000 additional sales, bringing younger women to the Lil-lets brand, the research also found.

Loyalty to Lil-lets is high, claims Jackie Roberts, the brand’s UK marketing manager. “This limits the threat of retailer own-brands, although it is important to remain ahead of them through differentiation in terms of packaging and product.”

Up to 70% of purchase decisions are made in store and are heavily influenced by pack design and merchandising. Since most people still use bricks-and-mortar supermarkets, there is a huge opportunity to both build loyalty over time through clever pack design and make people change their minds at the time of purchase.

Design can be a very powerful marketing tool, argues Mike Smart, design strategist for the Design Council. “Design gives form to the idea and the role of the designer is very much to understand and position themselves between the ideas world and the physical product on shelf. Designers have a focus on the craft of making something but maintain the integrity of the research behind that brand.”

Good designers bring the whole consumer experience of the product to life through the packaging, he adds. This encompasses how it is perceived on shelf, how it is taken home and how it is disposed of.

Imagery, brand values, product functionality and pure innovation are some of the many ways packaging can add value to marketing strategy. Dan Hill, author of marketing title Emotionomics, says: “Packaging can influence through the use of clever colour schemes, size, material quality, unique shapes or size.”

Packaging’s role is to deliver all the aspects of the brand promise and deliver it in an emotional and compelling way. For convenience retailer Spar, sensory excitement coupled with functional packaging design is central to a complete overhaul of its 900-product own-brand range.

“Our market is under pressure, so we need to exploit our greatest benefit – Spar Brand – to take ownership, to win and become local Spar Brand champions,” according to Bryan Walters, Spar sales director.

Spar has more than 2,700 stores, which vary hugely in look and feel so own-brand packaging has to work hard to communicate quality in whatever retailing environment it finds itself in. Laura Haynes, director of design agency Appetite, says: “Packaging design demonstrates that Spar is competing on quality as well as value. It does this through a combination of quality photography and illustration and through using sustainable aspects to the pack design.”

Strong and effective branding encourages and creates enjoyment for consumers. Samantha Dumont, creative partner at packaging specialist Dragon Rouge, says: “Innocent, Gü, Green & Black’s, Ella’s Kitchen and Dorset Cereals are examples of brands that do packaging well. These brands have all taken risks from an aesthetic point of view and done something unique and interesting in their category. All of the above seem to capture desire rather than just need, which is a more powerful place to get share of heart and wallet.”

The way brands get a share of heart is rapidly changing. In the age of two-way conversations and an ever-increasing focus on the consumer, social media is creeping into packaging design.

In the US, you can use an iPhone app to scan the pack barcode to receive information about the product. Previously brands were limited on what could be put on packaging by its size. Now, packs will direct consumers to Facebook or Twitter, linking in with promotions, customer comments and inviting real-time feedback.

Richard Williams, director at design agency Williams Murray Hamm, expands: “Now you can wave an iPhone across a barcode and call up a site that tells you everything about a brand in an instant. This means that brands have to be absolutely transparent about everything, from ingredients to sustainability.”

Sainsbury’s Basics, which Williams Murray Hamm created, is an example of a brand that people seem to be taking ownership of. It has its own Facebook page that encourages people to create their own straplines for the range and share their experiences and opinions.

Creative briefs are also focusing on the role that technology and materials can play in communicating a brand’s image and ideology in a unique way. The desire to be innovative led to drinks brand Bombay Sapphire launching its Facets gift packaging. The carton structure uses a design with a faceted detail down the front edge of the pack and new foil technologies to give it a distinctive appearance on-shelf.

Dominic Burke, design director at Webb deVlam, explains: “We created facet shapes using acromatic reflective foil and when you walk past the box you get the effect of a light being turned on and off.”

Design as a discipline has always had to fight its corner hard to be recognised by marketing departments. Now, in the context of a difficult economic climate, the challenges are potentially greater, argues Andrew Eyles, group managing director of brand specialist Blue Marlin.

He says: “It is a given that design stands up well in challenging economic times because design work is relatively low investment when you look at it in relation to other aspects of marketing investment. But we need to elevate design beyond a creative service.”

Packaging has a right to be at the core of a brand strategy. Intellectual rigour is behind the concept of good packaging design and creativity of design goes into delivering that with integrity, argues Keith Barnes, chairman of the Packaging Society. “Marketing does not always listen to what packaging design as a discipline can do. According to the rules of the game, marketing tends to take presidence over design.”

From a brand marketer’s perspective, packaging design should be increasingly important in influencing consumer purchase in the context of ever more media fragmentation. Smarter, more efficient pack design that achieves more with less to really cut through is the order of the day.

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Ben Cull, head of brand marketing, Yeo Valley

MW: Where does design sit in your brand strategy?

BC: Design is one of the most important parts of our brand strategy, which is to make organic produce more accessible and affordable, and we’ve worked hard to ensure our new brand identity, which launched in June, reflects this.

We have invested heavily in a distinctive new look, which will be seen on up to 100 products in waves of redesigns to be launched this year. The first in the series was a new four-pack range called Pots and we’ve just launched the new milk bottle designs.

MW: As a grocery brand, how important is packaging design to the overall marketing mix?

BC: Packaging is a crucial part of the marketing mix, as it is direct communication with our consumers. We think our new look is a modern, relevant way to communicate our values of affordable organic to a broader market and delivers strong shelf presence across the portfolio.

MW: What were the drivers for your recent packaging design project?

BC: A broad, modern appeal was a key driver. We wanted to stay true to our organic beliefs but lead the way in making it accessible because we believe that good quality organic food should be for everyone. It was imperative that our look supported that and rings the changes in the category.

MW: How does your packaging reflect the drive towards sustainability?

BC: In line with Yeo Valley’s green credentials, our new Pots range meets the current industry gold standard of 80% recycled plastic. The cardboard sleeve is also fully recyclable.

What is design?

Design is creativity deployed to a specific goal. In the commercial context it visualises the importance of unique selling points and delivers an authentic brand experience.

How can marketers use packaging design?

Packaging design encourages potential buyers to purchase the product. The graphic look and feel and physical design of packaging are central to this strategy.


Packaging design in numbers

  • 87% of design consultancies in the UK employ fewer than ten staff.
  • The design industry is worth an estimated £15bn a year, up 15% since 2005.
  • Six out of ten design businesses feel well equipped to advise their clients on sustainable design practice.
  • Major UK retailers sell about 40% of their packaged grocery sales under their own brand.
  • Most design businesses work on a fixed fee or day rate basis. Only 4% work on a client retainer.
  • The UK grocery market grew by 4.8% from £139.6bn to £146.3bn in 2009, accounting for 52.4% of all UK retail sales.
  • 59% of shoppers make at least one purchase decision in store and it is said up to 70% of purchase decisions are made in store.
  • Household packaging accounts for 6 million tonnes of dumped waste each year.

Sources: The Design Council, OgilvyAction, the Waste & Resources Action Programme and IGD Grocery Research


Top tips for packaging design

  • Choose a design agency based on its track record, not on price.
  • Look at what is happening in other markets or categories to assess what might give you an edge at the point of purchase.
  • Strive to be different and ensure your pack has its own visual equity imbued with a strong personality and attitude.
  • Packaging has to work through a life cycle that sees it leaving the factory to ending up in consumers’ homes.
  • Packaging must tell consumers everything they want to know, easily and honestly.


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