Staying one step ahead with packaging

With advertising and other forms of traditional media playing a less dominant role in how consumers interact with brands, breaking through with packaging is more significant than ever.  In many cases, packaging is the first moment of truth – it provides consumers with an opportunity to touch, feel, smell, hear and experience the brand. Whether it's meant to grab attention at shelf, assist in compliance, or make a personal statement, if it's done well, packaging can have a huge benefit on marketing and serve a variety of purposes.  

In constantly evolving categories like over-the-counter, personal care, or food/beverage, the value of packaging is particularly high, as new introductions, line extensions and more specialized players routinely hit the shelves and impact the line up. As a brand design agency that spends much of our time in drug and mass, we have observed several consistent themes with our clients regardless of brand or product. We have distilled our observations into five topline trends to keep in mind as you assess your own packaging for today’s retail environment:

1. More straightforward messaging. At best, consumers have just a few seconds to make their selection in the aisle. Add in a few energetic toddlers, a list of things to do yesterday, and the possibility that s/he isn’t feeling well, and you can cut those few seconds in half. Simple messaging/claims and a front of pack that’s used for what’s most important is a trend we are pleased to ride. It’s easy to forget packaging has multiple panels with additional real estate to use for secondary information, and a clear, concise message on the primary display can make or break that moment of choice.

2. Balancing clinical with friendly. Communicating efficacy is often a prime objective, especially in OTC. But ensuring brands successfully balance a clinical tone with emotional appeal is more prevalent than ever. Unsavory before photos, stringent medical claims and complicated “systems” at one time were effective, but with so many products offering similar functional benefits, these days it comes down to which brand ultimately makes a better connection with the shopper, while delivering on results.

3. Graphics as a powerful communicator. Larger portfolios often have similar SKUs with slight variations – i.e. daytime/nighttime, with/without acetaminophen, for infants/for children, tablet/capsule, etc. There is no greater way to diminish loyalty than for a consumer to arrive home and realize s/he did not purchase (or worse yet, use) the intended product. Whether it’s with colors, shapes, or typography, more and more brands are using design as a powerful tool to communicate and call out those variations in a way that telegraphs quickly and eliminates room for confusion.

4. Add value where you can. Is the container beautiful enough to leave on the vanity? Can the box be maintained for product storage once opened? Might one consider using the empty bottle as a vase for flowers? There are a variety of brands that use packaging to enhance the brand experience and keep consumers engaged beyond product usage. This added value only helps to increase consumer loyalty and set you apart from the pack.

5. Bravo for humor! While it doesn’t fit every brand, today’s consumers certainly appreciate a bit of humor and levity where appropriate. Whether you’re selling diaper rash cream, acne cleanser or deodorant, we’ve discovered telling it like it is, even (especially) with the embarrassing stuff, is a universal way to break through. Gone are the days of speaking in code and dancing around awkward topics. Consumers respond best to authenticity and a lighthearted tone can be the most effective way to achieve that.

While trends shouldn’t dictate your actions, keeping an eye on changes in the marketplace is an important practice. And they may provide you with the impetus to think differently, embrace new approaches or even break old habits.

About the Author
Crystal Bennett
Crystal joined Little Big Brands as a partner in 2011, leading the firm’s business development efforts. Prior to LBB, she spent many years at CBX and Sterling Brands. A self-proclaimed brand fanatic, Crystal is inspired by how people relate to different brands, how they make their choices, and what those selections say about them. She’s also a true client advocate – ensuring that each project’s goals are met and exceeded – and working hand-in-hand to maximize project success with creative and account management teams.



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