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The Language of Packaging

By: Aniko Hill
Posted: June 7, 2011, from the June 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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There is no formula for how to connect to consumers emotionally in packaging, but there are three main components of communication that should work together to create a strong brand presence: the visual, the verbal and the tactile. Connecting to a brand authentically is similar to connecting to another person, and the same type of first impressions in packaging can make a difference. First impressions can be summed up with three basic questions: What do they look like? What do they sound like? What do they feel like?

Visual

The first and most obvious way to reflect brand positioning in packaging is visual communication. The packaging should visually express both product benefits and emotional benefits, and should communicate the meaning of brand and brand personality. This can be done through a successful marriage of all the elements on the package—including logo mark, graphics, illustrations, photographs and color palettes.

The core concept of all of these components should work together in harmony to create a unique story or mood that is proprietary to the brand. Although it’s important to take note of trends and color fads, ultimately this shouldn’t matter—the most important goal is to authentically express what the brand is about visually. If the visual expression is accurate, the target market will respond.

Verbal

Verbal communication is one of the most overlooked components to brand messaging in packaging, but can be one of the most important. Since most packaging can’t talk, this is mostly done through naming and copy tone. Good copy should mimic the tone of the brand and connect to the audience emotionally—just like a great visual expression. Many brands have picked up on the importance of verbal communication and have made this the centerpiece of their packaging. For example, Benefit Cosmetics is known for the combination of clever product naming and visual wit throughout its entire product lineup, and its verbal style has become one of the most unique characteristics of its brand. Naming, descriptions and taglines that accurately express the brand positioning can make a huge difference in differentiating the brand and connecting to the consumer emotionally.

Tactile

With the growth of alternatives to print media in today’s marketing landscape, packaging is one of the only brand touch points left involving physical consumer interaction. It has been documented that if consumers physically pick up the product, they are more likely to buy it. Women in particular are incredibly tactile and appreciate and respond to detail, so creating a sensorial experience is particularly important in female-targeted categories such as the beauty industry. This can be done with visual or literal texture, or with materials that speak to product and brand properties.