As design consultants, we put quite a bit of effort into developing great packaging. We immerse ourselves deeply into our clients’ brands, conducting consumer and market research to determine how best to visually and verbally differentiate them among their competitors within their respective categories. We identify which brand drivers to leverage on packaging to connect with consumers on an emotional level and create desire. We consider structural shape, color palette, font families, treatment of imagery and the placement and organization of product benefits and features.
With all of this painstaking effort and expertise put into the design development process, why is it that influential retailers often insist on playing a role in determining a brand’s final package design? This has traditionally been the onus of the brand owner. After all, the manufacturer knows their products better than the retailer, right?
This may be true. But it’s all about performance these days. And retailers feel the need to take some ownership of a brand’s package design as a way to ensure its success on store shelves. With this in mind, how do we maintain control of the design process and decrease the likelihood that retailers will want to be involved? Better yet, how do we eliminate their involvement altogether?
Treat package design as a system
Gone are the days of ”one-off” package design solutions. Package design needs to be treated as a functional, flexible system that can accommodate an entire line of products across multiple categories. This approach provides visual consistency and a clear hierarchy of communication, making it easier for consumers to shop the line and find the information they’re looking for. If you’re still designing the packaging for each item in your line on an individual basis, retailers will often step in quickly and take control of the design process. The more you can prove that you have a package design system in place, the less likely it will be that retailers will want to intervene.
Package design consistency is king
Even some of the most well-conceived package design systems are riddled with inconsistencies that dilute the impact of the brand’s retail presence. This happens when marketers feel the need to veer away from the system as they highlight a particular product’s unique benefits and features. Marketers typically want to do something different on pack for ”stand out” items within a product line. But this often leads to compromises that suggest to retailers that “anything goes” with regard to a brand’s package design. That’s when they’ll invite themselves into the design process. Remain consistent and refrain from breaking your own package design rules. You’ll have a much better chance of maintaining control.
Consider consumer shopping behavior
You may feel that you understand your target consumer and what draws them to your products at retail. Even if you do, it’s not enough. You must also understand how retailers merchandise products within your category. Why? Because product placement is typically defined by consumer shopping behavior. Are consumers looking for your brand when they enter the store? Or do they search for the category first, then look for your brand? Is your brand merchandised within a single shelf set, or in a store-within-store scenario? Or is it placed in multiple product categories throughout the store? Remember: your packaging needs to engage consumers in the context of the retail environment. Showing buyers that your package design system takes this into consideration will keep you in the driver’s seat.
The more involved retailers are in the design process, the more likely it is that you’re not doing a very good job with your package design. Meaning: if you’re not doing it well, they’ll take the responsibility away from you. Be sure that your internal design staff has the appropriate package design expertise, or engage a package design consultancy with expertise in your industry. Getting your packaging right before you present it to retailers the first time will go a long way to decrease, or even eliminate their urge to touch it.