Package Design Systems: A Winning Consumer Strategy


Package design can no longer be approached

as a one-off challenge requiring a solution. That approach does not

leverage the full power of brands because it fails to lead to consumer

brand recognition. Translation: missed opportunity to build additional

sales and to reinforce consumer trust and loyalty attributes.  

As companies strategize, plan and package

new products or assess current products that need revitalization, they

should be thinking in terms of developing an overall package design

strategy. Given the plethora of consumer products crowding every category,

intensifying competition in the marketplace and lessening consumer loyalty,

failure to develop a system, may lead to sluggish sales, or outright

failure for products that carry high expectations.  

All of the advertising and multiple platform

marketing in the world cannot ensure the success of poorly packaged

products. Media campaigns are designed to bring consumers into retail

stores to look for specific brands. However, consumers scanning shelves

in stores make a purchase decision very often at the point of sale,

when confronted with myriad competitive products in tangible form.  

The last three feet and several seconds

to the retail shelf make or break the sale. That’s how crucial packaging

is to the consumer in making a final purchase decision. That’s how

important it is for consumer product manufacturers to get it right.

With increasing pressure to maintain sales during periods of economic

downturns, it’s more important than ever to invest in a viable package

design system and standardized style guide for every brand. Right now. 

Pre-packaging strategy.

A brand’s most powerful assets are

uncovered by conducting research. Its overt and hidden drivers must

be uncovered to enable packaging to align the brand with consumers’

needs and aspirations. Then, tapping into cultural and lifestyle drivers

reach the targeted consumer on an emotional level. All of these considerations

take place during the pre-design research process.  

Armed with profound brand and consumer

insights, and finding the place where they intersect, enables package

design experts, in collaboration with product manufacturers to develop

an overall strategy as they revitalize packaging, add line extensions

or fill pipeline with new products. That strategy should lead to the

development of package design systems and style guides.  

Functional package design systems and

standardization through style guides lead to visual consistency. Visual

consistency leads consumers to immediate brand and product recognition.

When a properly positioned brand identity, graphic architecture, color,

artwork, structure and communication hierarchy are part of a cohesive

system, packaging maximizes the retail presence of a brand. Furthermore,

it enhances the experience consumers have with the brand.  

Sounds simple. In theory, it is; in practice

it’s anything but. In many companies there is a tacit understanding

that packaging has cost and revenue implications, as well as profit

potential. However, due to demands from various managers, sales and

marketing executives, conflicting demands arise that sometimes leads

to that less than desirable scenario: one-off packaging. Likewise, when

packaging products in various categories a number of issues arise, and

those often lead to making final design decisions that result in one-off

packaging. Again: it is best to avoid this result. 

Package design systems and style guides

help avoid these inherent problems during the process, save time and

maximize the packaging development spend. A well-developed style guide

takes the guesswork out of packaging new products by standardizing,

yet allowing for flexibility.  

Package Design System Components.

Key package design system components

include: brand and sub-brand identities, package design architecture,

segmentation, imagery and brand communications. By establishing consistency

in these areas, and standardizing them within style guides, package

designers and manufacturers basically give themselves working blueprints.

The resulting packaging enables consumers to connect across the brand’s

entire product line.  

Consistency and standardization do not

have to be boring. In fact, companies should consider developing structural

packaging that becomes “ownable”. Distinctive package structures

can be developed for each product category. Remember that people are

primarily visual, and as shoppers, they are making purchase decisions

in a scant 4-6 seconds. Few packages on the retail shelf can be scanned

in that period of time—experts say that consumers take in five or

fewer. Packaging structure that involves a distinctive shape, graphic

architecture and color palette enables consumers to easily and readily

identify a specific brand. How important is that in a few seconds?  

The brand identity, graphics and color

used in a consistent manner for each product segment are crucial. Key

brand communications in a well-designed hierarchy are easy to scan and

quickly convey the information consumers want. Product imagery that

speaks to the consumer—“this brand and product is for me”—that

clearly identifies with the target consumer’s aspirations, desires,

needs and lifestyle choices, helps seal the deal.  

Segmentation should also be part of a

package system strategy. Segmentation is necessary for packaged products

that target different consumer groups under the brand umbrella. With

a strategy in place for segmentation, all products can be packaged in

a readily identifiable and predictable manner to consumers as part of

the overall brand.  

By taking package design components and

standardizing them in a style guide, the brand can be consistently leveraged.

Without style guides, companies make the costly mistake of developing

one-off packaging solutions and lose the consumer in the process. A

style guide also helps marketers to avoid making the mistake of emulating

competitors’ latest packaging rather than being consistent in their

own packaging. Constant packaging changes as a reaction to competition,

lead to customer confusion and have a detrimental effect on brand recognition.  

Like everything else, revitalization

is necessary but it should be managed, planned and well executed. A

package design system and style guide take the present and future needs

for revitalization, as well as various products and their package shapes,

sizes and materials into account. A style guide makes provisions for

a number of product segments. Marketing segments due to new product

lines that appeal to various consumer demographics, behaviors, attitudes,

or combinations of these require packaging variations that should also

be allowed for in a standardized style guide.  

Packaging is one of the most important

consumer touch points for every brand. It is the only marketing vehicle

that actually delivers branded products to consumers in a tangible manner.

As such, packaging is one of the most important parts of the overall

brand expression continuum. So why leave it to one-off solutions?  

Isn’t it time to invest in immediate

visual recognition in a marketplace that has become a sea of sameness?

Isn’t it worth investing in a package design system and a standardized

style guide? 

Ted Mininni is president of Design Force

Inc., the leading brand design consultancy to consumer product companies

with Enjoyment Brands™. Design Force helps clients market brands

that deliver positive, gratifying experiences by connecting consumers

to brands emotionally with compelling visual brand experiences. Design

Force, Inc. can be reached at 856-810-2277, or online at