The “packaging” in shopper marketing

We don’t need to convince you.  You already know how important package design is in the marketing mix.  But do you really know if your packaging is working the hardest it can at retail, delivering its very best at the “first and second moment of truth”?  Is it a key pillar in your shopper marketing strategy, contributing upstream in the planning process?  How much improvement and advocacy have you realized from talking with shoppers about packaging?

This article is about the “packaging” in shopper marketing.  It’s about delivering success through one of the most powerful mediums we’ve grown to witness.  It’s about packaging as a strategy, not a tactic.  Package design manifests ideas.

The relationship between packaging and shopper marketing

An admittedly rhetorical question: have you ever seen a retail aisle without packaging on products?  No, because packaging is marketing for shoppers.  And like any marketing vehicle, strategy and insights play a critical role.

List the objectives and core principles of shopper marketing, and you can use the same for package design.  A few examples to illustrate our point:

  • Accelerate trial and consumption
  • Drive perceived value and higher retails
  • Promote quick purchase decision

The design process is linked to the same objectives and research rigor as shopper need states.  In fact, packaging and shopper marketing share similar behavioral models with regard to human communication — from colors to shapes, numbers to words.  So, it’s reasonable to expect that package design is equally or even more important creatively than the images and call-to-action on POS materials.

 Package design is the first moment of truth at retail

To this point, we have been faithful to the “first moment of truth (FMOT)” retail concept.  Born several years ago by the team in Cincinnati, it has been an effective way to focus research and marketing resources on certain aspects of the shopping dynamic.  But having seen how packaging positively moves the sales needle over and over again, the FMOT concept to us has become much more specific.  Our belief is that the “first moment of truth” is not at-shelf — it resides at packaging, at-shelf.

This is not a play on words.  It is fundamental to integrating the role of consumer and shopper, as they are not mutually exclusive targets at retail.  Function, emotion and value are intersecting need states in-store.  Packaging is one of very few tools to deliver a visual hierarchy that integrates all three (3) of these purchase drivers.

With all the new, flashy marketing technologies available today, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the most powerful communication vehicle available to us is truly “analog”.  Packaging is a critical element of retail engagement, because brands and their products ultimately end up in the eyes and hands of shoppers.

Packaging is scrutinized at the second moment of truth

Products, along with their packaging, are taken home.  Intended benefits have been communicated, item purchased and the “second moment of truth” realized — use or consumption of the product.  As packaging is linked to the shelf at FMOT, so it is to product at this phase.  Packaging signals expectations, while the product itself drives satisfaction — they are forever attached.  Describing this connection more viscerally, it is a measure of how well the brand is telling the truth.  Done well, brand repeat and advocacy will grow, increasing direct conversations with consumers.  These dialogues will inspire continuous improvement and provide zero-cost awareness through “earned” media.

Better link packaging with shopper marketing initiatives

As a community of brand leaders, let’s make packaging a critical part of the shopper marketing discipline.  This is an invitation to review how well you are doing and to consider package design a strategic imperative — integrated early during marketing planning cycles, considered a key element to shopper initiatives and leveraged for consumer satisfaction.

As you can tell, we are passionate about packaging done well.  We’ve seen it work again and again (and seen it’s power destroy brands).  So, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way to help make your design initiatives more effective and better win at retail:

  • Move package design upstream in the research and planning process – make it a consideration within consumer and shopper strategies
  • Utilize “visual” briefs when developing brand creative elements – advertising to promotions, POS to packaging
  • Ensure packaging not only delivers brand positioning but makes a commercial difference on-shelf
  • Scrutinize how well you are telling “the truth” – does the partnership between packaging and product ultimately deliver satisfaction

Be hungry for consumer feedback – repurpose the positive and embrace every bit of the negatives

When there is a seemingly infinite number of choices, “findability” is the KEY to your brand’s connection with consumers. As Wired magazine tech guru, Kevin Kelly, puts it in his fantastic article Better Than Free, “unfound masterpieces are worthless”. Not to compare a box of cereal to a Van Gogh, but if your package gets lost in the sea of products on today’s store shelves, it doesn’t even get to be a BRAND.

It’s a daunting problem, but creating brand loyalty isn’t impossible if you understand the obstacles your product faces to be noticed. Justin Crout’s seminal book Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Competition still paints the picture best. With printed knowledge doubling every 4 to 5 years, 4,000 books published daily and the internet growing by 1 million sites a day, the demands on a person’s time and attention are overwhelming to say the least. Since those statistics were first published in 2000, the pace has only quickened! So, even taking into consideration that Crout’s calculation that the average person has been exposed to an excess of 140,000 commercials by the age of 18(!!!) is somewhat softened by TV viewers’ ability to fast forward through those commercials with their DVRs; consumers are being bombarded by media in a relentless way. Standing out in such a competitive environment has never been more crucial to the “findability” of your brand.

Further complicating things are the mass of technological trends that have become a part of our daily lives since 2000. Smart phones, instant messaging, texting, Facebook, Twitter: these devices and apps all represent separate, individual content streams, often overlapping and competing for attention simultaneously. One recent market research study by Crowd Science found that about 10% of consumers under 30 actually follow brands on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, which certainly makes it a trend worth watching. The same research found that while younger generations, ranging in age from 16-49, are far more brand aware than older consumers, their loyalty to brands varies widely. Generation X-ers(those born between 1961-1981), tend to be the most loyal to the brands they like, sticking with them even if there is a cheaper alternative readily available. Whereas, the Generation Y crowd(born roughly between 1982-1995), like to mix it up and try new brands more often.

The most successful brands to clear these hurdles and be SEEN by consumers will be the ones best able to make, and maintain, connections that make people repeat customers. Strong brandmarks and packaging that communicate a clear DIFFERENCE from their competitors, will go a long way towards pushing through the clutter and achieving that “findability” absolutely necessary for today’s brands.


I just ordered a pair of Tory Burch shearling boots because they were on end of year clearance, and much less than a new pair of Ugg’s would have cost me for next season. I have to admit I am a Tory Burch fan because of the logo-big, bold buckles of intertwining T’s…that’s what it’s all about.

The boots are a little understated, but the packaging they came in…WOW! Is there such a thing as overbranding? Logos on the box, signature orange box wrap with logo sticker; the invoice was in a boldly branded envelope with a coupon for future purchase and, of course, a logo on the invoice as well.

If there’s one thing Tory does right, it’s suck consumers in like me, who are in it for the BIG BRAND SPLASH….some may think it’s overkill, but to me, this is why I dig the brand!


When was the last time you set foot inside a pet store and really took a good look around? Were you surprised at the variety of brands and the diversity of products? According to market research from the American Pet Products Association(or APPA), you shouldn’t be. APPA’s research has found that annual spending in the pet industry for 2010 was $48.35 billion. And that’s just here in the U.S. That is a LOT of kibble! But this consumer trend goes FAR beyond just pet food.

In a recent series of articles in the New York Times, an entire section on Health was devoted to the many ways pets have a positive impact on their owner’s health and sense of well being. For many of these pet “parents”, there is an unbreakable emotional bond with their pet “children” which makes them an integral part of the family. That bond drives pet owners in record numbers to the shelves of pet stores where they spare no expense buying premium food, treats and specialty toys.

Though the majority of pet owners typically have dogs or cats; small animals like hamsters and mice, birds, fish, and even reptiles, figure largely in the surge of pet industry sales as well. Which translates into an explosion of categories and brands that cater to each and every type of pet’s individual needs. And if the APPA projections are correct, this trend of a ballooning pet supplies market is just the beginning. According to their calculations, pet owners are going to spend an estimated $50.84 billion in 2011. So you can expect some pretty tough positioning for brands looking to stand out as leaders in this very competitive market.

Make this one of your regular stops to see what’s new in the constantly changing world of Package Design and Branding!

Since we are forever scanning store shelves, and hyper-aware of emerging packaging trends; we thought we’d share some of our best thoughts with you!

From boxes to bags and bottles to cans; we’ll highlight all the things that work for your brand, and point out some of the things that won’t.

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