Packaging development

Packaging development plays three important roles for your business. Firstly, it supports your communication objectives as consumers interact with the product packaging. Secondly, it supports informational needs at the point of purchase. And finally, it provides practical support as your product moves through the supply chain. Read our guide to find out how to use packaging to raise your game. 

Packaging development

How this guide raises your game

  1. Learn how packaging development can support your brand identity.
  2. Understand the information needed by consumers when they see the packaging.
  3. Review key practical and physical considerations associated with the product and packaging as it moves though the supply chain.

As part of your marketing plan and your 4Ps marketing mix, most people would consider packaging development as an extension of your product development.

But, you should also consider packaging development as a strong promotion and communication tool. And, that’s where we’ll focus with this guide.

After all, the message and design you use in your packaging development is the one piece of your communications you can guarantee every purchaser will see. And there’s a lot of academic evidence that packaging is one of the most important drivers to drive purchase. 

It’s especially important in categories where unplanned purchase decisions are common. For example, when the consumer makes the decision to buy in-store. In such cases, your packaging may be the only thing that makes you stand out against your competitors. 

Beyond communications, we’ll also cover the product related factors of packaging development in this guide. We’ll focus on key information requirements some of which are legal obligations.

And finally, we’ll cover where it relates to how the product moves through the supply chain

Candy bars packaging

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Packaging and brand identity

But first, let’s look at packaging development in relation to brand identity. 

As we discuss in our guide to brand identity, the brand is a combination of intangible and tangible assets. And these are further split by rules – assets which must appear everywhere and playbooks – a set of optional assets from which you can select the relevant marketing tactics. 

Packaging development and design produces tangible assets for the brand. These assets usually contain a high amount of “rules” of the brand. The logo, the colour design, the typography for example.

You would normally also include the brand essence and personality in the design of the packaging.

Brand identity asset classification - intangible - tangible - rules - playbook

As we’ll cover later, there are some rare situations where you might stretch or break the packaging rules. But this is usually by exception. The normal way of working in packaging development is to drive strong consistency and repetition of the brand identity.

From a design point of view, you can read and the importance of repetition in our guide to design principles in marketing. 

And from a marketing point of view, in our guide to advertising and media, we cover the importance of repetition of message. Repetition makes the message more likely to stick in the mind of the consumer. It takes many exposures to create a strong association with a brand for most people. This exact same principle applies to packaging development.  

Consumers need to be able to recognise and identify your brand when they see it. And this recognition comes from repeated exposure to key brand assets.

Brand identity assets for packaging development

So, from a brand identity point of view, the key three design assets to include in your packaging development are the brand name, the brand logo and the colours of the brand.

These three design elements help consumers to identify your brand and product. They make it distinctive and different from those of your competitors. 

There are a number of key design principles you can apply both to your brand identity and packaging development.

We cover these in more detail on our guide to design principles in marketing

Brand identity asset classification examples

While you may not be a professional designer, these key design principles can greatly help you improve the quality of your packaging development. 

These principles, called the CRAP principle for design, come from the book Design for Non-Designers* by Robin Williams. CRAP stands for contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. Let’s have a look at how to apply these four principles to packaging development with some examples. 

Contrast 

When it comes to packaging development, the design principle of contrast works at two different levels.

On the packaging of the product itself, it can be used to highlight specific areas of the design that you wish to stand out. Look at this example from Casillero del Diablo wine for example. We can see three different examples of the principle of contrast.

Contrast example 1

Firstly, contrast the light cream background colour with the dark and strong font colour choices. (black, red and gold). This use of contrast makes the text easier to read. It is easy for your eyes to distinguish the words from the background. 

Contrast example 2

Secondly, note the contrast in font styles between the primary brand name and the secondary text of the type of wine, the year and country of origin. 

The brand name is in an elaborate, thick and closely spaced script style. Check out details like the drop shadow effect. Look at the square dot above the letter “i” and the straight corners around the letters “s” and “a” for example. 

Casillero del Diablo - Red wine bottle label

Compare those design choices with the simplicity, thinness and spacing of the secondary text. They are very different. This is a very light serif font. And the spacing (leading) between the text makes it contrast with the much more tightly packed main brand name. When you look at this label, it’s easy to distinguish the different elements. This is a big benefit from good use of contrast. 

Contrast example 3

Finally, note how the “C” and the “D” have been changed to a dark red colour. This helps to break up the black text within the primary brand name. But it also creates two mental associations.

Firstly to the red colour of the wine itself, which is hard to distinguish in the dark green bottle. And secondly, the colour red also has strong connotations with “devil” which is what “Diablo” means in Spanish.

Contrast also helps you stand out on shelf

If we look at a completely different category, we can also see how contrast can be used to help you stand out on shelf. If relevant to your category, you should always consider how your packaging will appear to a consumer in a store. 

In this example, you can see how the brand Shapes has multiple flavour variants. Though the brand retains a consistent use of the brand logo and name, it uses different colours to identify the different flavours.

These colours stand out from each other. They help the consumer navigate to the Orange box for Chicken Crimpy. Or the Green box for Barbecue, for example. 

Compare this contrast to the two own brand examples in this picture (BBQ and Pizza). These only rely on the name of the product as a distinguisher. The packaging colours look really similar.

We would predict at this fixture, Shapes would pick up more purchases based on their use of contrast in their packaging development. 

Cracker snacks supermarket aisle

Repetition

What’s also interesting about the Arnott’s Shapes example though is how they keep some elements of the design consistent across all packs.

This leads to repetition of the brand name Shapes and use of the same font style and logo colour on all packs.

This helps the consumer to identify the overall brand family. The use of a “parent” brand colour to pull “child” variants together, with use of colour or other design elements is very common where companies own a portfolio of brands. 

This consistent use of the same primary colour across all variants of the (parent) brand helps create an activation called ‘brand blocking’. 

The combination of multiple packs of the same colour means they grab attention in store. Consumers can identify the brand from further away in the store.

In this example from Indonesia, you can see how these different formula brands create impactful and eye-catching presence in store through the use of repetition. 

In some categories, it’s often used to signpost the category and you’ll often find these brand blocks at the start of the aisle.

Think of soft drinks for example and you’ll find a solid red brand block from Coca-Cola. Or look at toothpaste where the brand block is white with only a splash of red from Colgate. 

When their products are put together on shelf, it creates a block of colour that consumers recognise. There is a lot of evidence that this brand blocking approach helps to drive sales of that brand. It takes away the need for the consumer to think about the purchase. 

Brand blocking example of infant formula products in a supermarket

Alignment

It’s also important to consider the design principle of alignment. As we cover in our skill guide to design principles, alignment creates a sense of balance and harmony when used well. On a label, when design elements are aligned correctly, they feel like they ‘fit’ together and just look ‘right’.

Take the classic design of Heinz baked beans.

In this case, alignment is slightly harder because of the curved nature of the tin, but you can still see some good examples of alignment.

Firstly, all the text is centre aligned so that it looks balanced on the label. In fact, if you look at the centre of the “i” in Heinz, the “h” in English, the “K” in Baked and the “A” in Beans you can draw a straight line through the middle of these words. (Although in this picture, the “A” is slightly off because of the angle of the photo)

In addition, the key words Heinz and Baked and Beans also align to the left and right as you can see when you draw a line down the outer edges of those words. This alignment gives these words balance and makes the design seem harmonious.

Heinz baked bean team with lines drawn on to show design elements align

Proximity

The design principle of proximity is where different design elements are placed next to each other so that they feel like they “belong” to each other. This makes it easier for the consumer to interpret designs. What sits together belongs together.

If we look at this Bombay Sapphire label for example, notice how the brand name “Bombay Sapphire” encloses the main logo / design of (we think) Queen Victoria.

But then there’s a gap left between the main logo and the secondary information such as the name of the product variant – East – and the description of this variant. 

Then, there’s another gap down to the secondary logo and the word “Imported”.

So when you are a consumer who picked this bottle up, your eye easily scans over three different groups of design elements for easy understanding. Even though if you add them up, there’s nine individual elements on this label. By using proximity, the designer has made it much easier to process the information.

Bombay Sapphire East Gin bottle and label

How do these design principles impact your marketing?

When these design principles are applied to your packaging development design, they increase the chances that consumers will recognise your brand.

They associate logos, colours and  layouts with your brand and they become a short-cut to making an easy choice. 

WW Online Half price basket

Packaging and brand identity

As we cover in our article on packaging for e-Commerce, this is particularly noticeable when you shop online.

In this example basket above from Woolworths online, check out the contrast of the word “Fairy” with the lack of contrast on the label of the label of the Kellogg’s “LCM” product. Based on their packaging design, some of these brands will stand out more than others.

As you develop your brand identity, consider how to bring the brand assets into your packaging design. Think about the target audience and what will appeal to them. This is a common research question which uses qualitative and quantitative research to answer.

Often rough packaging concepts can be shown to consumers to judge them for appeal and intent to purchase. 

Consider if you need to show someone using the product as part of the packaging design. You need to work to balance an appealing design, clear information and the reinforcement of your brand identity. Do you need to include any awards or endorsements on your packaging to make the product feel more trusted or premium for example? 

Consistent use of the same logos and typography will reinforce the impact of your brand assets. Similarly, as you develop your advertising idea, think about how you can feature packaging design assets in the advertising.

You want consumers to recognise the brand and product within the advertising. So that when they are in a store or shopping online, the packaging works to help them make the connection back to the advertising message. This means they are more likely to choose your product. 

The consistency that comes from repetition makes it much easier for consumers to recognise your brand.

Packaging development design beyond basic principles

However, you do also need to think beyond the basic design of your packaging. There are more areas to consider to strengthen your packaging development. 

The use of colour on packaging

In our guide to the use of colour in marketing, we discuss how colours have certain psychological associations. These create useful ‘shortcuts’ for consumers. 

Green colours for example are associated with nature and purity. Check out how many organic foods or health and beauty brands tap into this association. Red is typically associated with strength and power and being attention grabbing. So you’ll find red used on a lot of products which are impulse buys. Soft drinks and snacks for example.

Your brand identity development will likely have identified the brand colours you want to use on your packaging.

These should be defined as CMYK references as this is the default system the printer is likely to use. This will be different from the RGB or Hex code system which is more common when you work with colours in digital formats.

We cover these systems in more detail in our colour in marketing guide. 

The colour you see on a screen and the colour you see when it’s printed on a physical item may differ slightly. You will likely be asked to ‘proof’ a print before a final print run is made. 

Brand example (Snacks)

Show the product on the packaging 

When you launch new products, you should consider including images of the product itself. How will consumers know what’s inside the box or bottle if you don’t show them or tell them.

Look at the snack examples above. See how many of them show an image of the product on the packaging. Even big brands like Doritos, Kit Kat and Skittles know it helps to show the product itself. 

If it’s feasible, make some or all of the packaging transparent so that consumers can see what’s inside. This helps build up trust for the consumer. They can see what they will get. 

We recommend next time you are in the supermarket to look at how packaging is used by manufacturers. Look at how they reinforce their brand identity and make their brands stand out and look different on the shelf.

The functionality and shape of the packaging

You should also consider the functionality and shape of the packaging. Is your product a single use for example? Then, it needs to be easy to dispose of the packaging.

If your product is used over a period of time then you need to think about storage. How will the packaging help the storage of the product? Is your product perishable and how will you show the expiry date? 

Consider also where your product will be stored. If it’s a food item, it will be stored in a fridge, freezer or pantry, do the materials you use in the packaging work in those different contexts?

What if your product is stored outdoors like gardening or exercise equipment? In these cases, how can the packaging help it stand up to different weather conditions? 

Does the functionality and features of your packaging match what the brand identity promises? 

If your brand position offers ease and convenience, the packaging needs to be easy and convenient to use. Everyone can think of some sort of packaging that’s difficult to get in to or difficult to use. You don’t want your easy and convenient brand to be difficult. 

Premium packaging

What if your brand is premium? Can you use your packaging to make the product feel more special?

Krug Champagne packaging for example comes in a very robust box. It is sealed and opens out. Not only does it protects the bottle inside but it gives the buyer a feeling that they have bought ‘more’ than just a bottle of champagne.

The colours and design of the box help add to the core design elements on the bottle and make the experience feel more special. It makes it feel like a much more premium experience than just having the bottle alone. 

Remember also that most packaging exists in three dimension. You need to consider the shape of the product and packaging too.

What will appear on the front of the pack that will be the first thing the consumer sees? What information can be moved to the back of pack? Or to the sides?

Consider even the top or bottom of the pack, some innovative companies use this to add extra information to make it stand out. 

Krug champagne

Opportunities to vary packaging

While repetition is a GOOD thing when it comes to design and packaging, there are a few occasions when you might choose to NOT be consistent.

So for example, some brands like to release exclusive or limited edition products. New flavour variants only available for a certain amount of time. In these cases, you might want to switch a key element of the brand assets around just to make that special edition stand out.

Or you might have a packaging element that is SO strong, you can choose to have it stand on it’s own. The Coca-Cola bottle shape for example is instantly recognisable and has been used at times without the Coca-Cola logo, because it’s still recognisably from Coca-Cola. 

Packaging development – information support

When it comes to packaging development, there are also some considerations beyond the pure marketing and design appeal. 

Firstly, you need to know what information needs to be included on a product to make it easy to use and understand. In some cases, this can be a legal requirement with for example the nutritional labels that need to be included on food and drinks products. Do you need to include expiry or use by dates? What about storage instructions and how to use guides? 

In most cases, key information like the size and weight, the recyclability of the product, the sourcing and ingredient or materials list, the barcode and contact information for the manufacturer are mandatory inclusions. The contact information is an important way to reassure the purchaser that if something goes wrong with the product, they can contact you to resolve any issues. 

You should check government and trade association websites for a list of what is legally required in your category. Failure to meet relevant standards can result in fines and lost sales. That’s obviously not what you want. 

Consider the total amount of packaging required

You also need to consider how much packaging is involved in the overall process to get the product to the consumer.

On the alcohol examples above, we focussed on the labelling in particular as this is often where the most design elements come in. But look back at those examples, and you also need to consider the bottle – the shape, the material used, the size. Plus the bottle top and any other seals or materials that support the basic product. These are all primary packaging elements that are directly part of the consumption or usage of the product.  

Your product may also need secondary packaging elements, like in the Krug Champagne example. These are elements that support the main packaging. But they are generally not needed once the product is open and in use. Think plastic wrapping or foil seals or boxes that hold multiple packs. 

This also then extends into any packaging that is necessary for products to be shipped. 

Supermarkets for example usually have strict definitions of the number of units they expect to be bundled together in shipper units. Six, twelve or twenty four units create a shipper pack that is easy for the supermarket workers to identify and place on shelf.

Though consumers may not necessarily see all of this packaging, you have to include a lot of the same elements from your primary or secondary packaging. The name of the brand, the size and weight, the barcode, the use by date and so on. 

Packaging development – supply chain considerations 

Your final area of packaging development planning covers how the product will be physically moved through the supply chain.

From when the product is produced to when it is used by the consumer, each product goes on a physical journey from the place of manufacture to the place of consumption with many stops along the way.

Warehouses, trucks and other transport for example. But also shop storage areas, in car boots and into households themselves. 

Warehouse palet

The packaging needs to protect the contents so that the product arrives with the consumer in the same way it left the factory. You need to check that your product packaging is robust and secure. Check that it won’t break as it is moved from place to place.

You need to consider areas like the weight of the packaging. In general, the lighter the packaging the easier and cheaper it is to transport. But it also potentially reduces the durability of the packaging if you go too light. 

Transit tests

You should walk through each step of the supply chain from manufacture to consumption and work out what job the packaging needs to do. Test and check each step. 

Many businesses conduct transit tests. This is where they simulate the journey a product goes on from manufacture to arrival with the consumer. They check the status and quality of the product when it arrives. This way they can diagnose if there are any weak spots in the packaging. 

Consider temperature extremes for example. Will your product stand up to extreme heat or cold? If your product is food related, is the packaging strong enough to prevent access by insects or animals? Packaging needs to help products be delivered in a safe and secure way. 

Environmental impact

And finally, you also need to consider what happens to the packaging AFTER the consumer uses the product. 

Many people criticise the packaging industry for its lack of speed in reducing its environmental impact. The disposal of packaging after purchase creates a tremendous amount of waste. 

Brands who consider the environmental impact of their packaging can gain a competitive advantage in the market. And arguably, they make the world a better place.

This can mean you choose to use more recyclable materials. Or you cut down on the total amount of materials needed. These types of questions should be top of mind when you look at packaging development.

Work with packaging specialists

Your packaging print development process will normally require you work with third party specialist companies. You will need to write a packaging brief for them for each project. This will be similar to a communication brief. But, with with more detailed information on the packaging specifications. It should for example include details of the size and weight, the dimensions, the labelling requirements and the primary, secondary, labelling and shipping materials. 

Packaging development is a relatively specialised area that brings together graphic design, supply chain and operations, marketing and printing expertise. The process is usually run by dedicated project managers or specialist agencies.

For your own learning, you should tap in to all the expertise you can find. Ask graphic designers and print companies for example how to make your packaging more impactful, more consistent and more sustainable. They will work on packaging day in, day out. Whereas most marketing people will only dip in and dip out of packaging projects. 

You should also consider that most packaging development has a long lead time. It’s not unusual for packaging projects in bigger businesses to take six to nine months. That’s from the initial brief to launch in market. 

Your business will need to source the right amount of materials for each element of the packaging design. This will need accurate forecasts. You will need to factor in time for design and legal approvals. Plus you also need to factor in time to proof, print and ship materials. 

As we’ve covered, packaging can be one of the most impactful parts of your marketing mix. But it comes with some complexity to learn, so it is clearly a skill to develop to raise your marketing game.

Three-brains and marketing communications

We have led and worked on many marketing communications projects including packaging development. We know how to connect packaging development back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

If you want to know more about how we can support your marketing communications and packaging development to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services, click the button below to send us a message.

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