Although the simplification of package design has proliferated every retail category, as package designers, we still find ourselves engaged in an ongoing battle to eliminate visual clutter on-pack. Most brand owners know that, to effectively engage their target audiences, their packaging needs to adopt a clear system of visual and verbal communication. One that’s easy to identify among the competitive offering, and easy to navigate once it has their attention. Doing so improves the brand experience at retail and influences purchase decisions.
Yet, sometimes there’s still just too much communication sharing precious space on the front panel of a brand’s packaging, begging to be absorbed… or perhaps ignored. Overcommunicating overwhelms consumers, making it very likely that they won’t read everything… or worse: not read anything at all and move on. With this in mind, an effort should be made to limit front panel communication to only what is absolutely necessary to differentiate the brand and to properly inform consumers. Everything else should be relegated to the side or back panels.
When to visually segment a product line
When deciding how best to pare down what should appear on the front panel, strong consideration should be given to whether or not the product line truly needs to be segmented visually. We often see visual line segmentation methodologies on packaging that are not nearly as effective as they could be. They’re either utilized improperly or poorly-conceived, both of which can lead to consumer confusion. We even see scenarios where visual line segmentation isn’t necessary. This typically happens when a product line is segmented in a manner that has no relevance to consumers decision to purchase a product, yet the brand owner feels the need to integrate segmentation communication into the package design. This also leaves consumers scratching their heads.
It can be difficult to determine when it is necessary to incorporate visual line segmentation into a brand’s packaging, particularly for marketers and brand owners who are concerned that consumers will fail to make a purchase if the brand’s packaging doesn’t convey everything there is to know about the product line. The best way to ensure that it is an absolute necessity is to look at the product line from the consumer’s point of view. Then ask: would segmentation be meaningful to the consumer? Would it aid in purchasing the correct product for their needs? Have the products in the line been developed for consumers with different skill levels? Do they have differences in functionality or compatibility? In scenarios like these, segmentation is critical and must be clear and easy to identify within a brand’s package design.
Five effective segmentation methodologies for packaging
Once it is determined that visual line segmentation is a necessity, a segmentation methodology that works best for the product line must be leveraged, then consistently placed within the packaging communication hierarchy across the entire line so that it will be easy for consumers to locate. Below are five different visual line segmentation methodologies that have proven to be effective.
Segmentation via Color
When color is used overtly as a segmentation methodology, a substantial area of the package design changes color to function as the primary differentiator between product segments. This works best when there are enough product segments represented in the shelf set for consumers to clearly understand the methodology. But care should be taken not to color the entire package to align with a particular product segment because it can dilute the overall brand statement. For example, if a brand owns a particular color, that color should always dominate the package design, with segmentation color relegated to a particular area within the design, such as a graphic device containing segmentation communication, a variety descriptor, or a structural component like a cap or carry handle.
Segmentation via Sub-branding
When a product line is segmented by sub-brand, all components within the package design system remain consistent, with only the sub-brand identity changing, and perhaps the area in which it appears changing in color or texture, to differentiate between product segments. This approach is particularly evident on packaging for toy and entertainment brands.
Segmentation via Iconography
Iconography can be leveraged as an additional visual element to communicate the specific use or purpose of products within a line. If consistently placed within the package design, iconography can also function as a segmentation methodology. This can be effective, but only if the iconography is immediately identifiable. Bear in mind, however, that iconography is often subjective, leaving much room for interpretation. When used as a part of a segmentation system, iconography is even more effective with the support of descriptive text.
Segmentation via Imagery
If all else remains consistent within the package design, distinctive imagery can become the basis of an effective segmentation methodology. The use of product photography, stylized illustrations, lifestyle imagery, patterns or textures will resonate with consumers when associated with each segment within a product line.
Segmentation via Package Design Architecture
Modifying the package design architecture slightly can also be an impactful way to distinguish between segments within a product line. This approach is especially effective in making a visual distinction between licensed and non-licensed products under the same brand umbrella. There are usually similarities between both, but the package design architecture for licensed products may provide more real estate for property-specific communication.
Remember: the purpose of establishing an effective segmentation methodology is to make a product line easier to shop from the consumer’s point of view. For the brand, it’s about maximizing the effectiveness of its package design in appealing to each target audience segment. When consumers can easily identify the best product for their needs, they’re more likely to purchase it. Once consumers become ”visually trained” in how the segmentation methodology functions, they’re more likely to repeat those purchases.