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Standing Out in the Crowd

Image via The Brand Group

By: Aniko Hill
Posted: August 31, 2011, from the September 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

When designing packaging, one of the most basic and important considerations is whether the product pops out compared to its neighbors on the shelf. Since we are all consumers, everyone has had the experience of shopping in a store and seeing that one product that separates from the pack and makes us want to pick it up. But do we ever stop to think about why that happens? Is it a calculated decision or a subconscious impulse?

Packaging is one of the most important brand touch points, as it is typically the first thing a consumer interacts with in a brand experience. In fact, packaging can be the sole influencer in a consumer’s purchase decision. For this reason, even small companies will often invest heavily in their product packaging when compared to other parts of a brand campaign.

The strongest packages are authentic expressions of the brand personality and speak clearly to the audience or consumer. This is key to the target customer picking up a package and feeling as if it is speaking directly to him or her. Especially in today’s high-speed world, people have so many choices and so little time to make purchase decisions. For this reason, a strong initial impact on the shelf is that much more important.

But what makes a package have the visual power to get someone’s attention? Even going back to design school, one of the first things I remember learning is that people are wired to notice what is different when looking at a grouping of objects. This principle applies to all aspects of a design, whether it’s the shape, color or content of the design. Designing a product package that stands out is ultimately achieved through a packaging identity that is honest and targeted—an identity that no other competitors can claim. Simply being different for the sake of being different isn’t enough—in fact, it can come off as a gimmick to today’s sophisticated consumer. It’s important to keep in mind that a brand is not the product, or even the package that presents the product. It is the visceral reaction a person has to that product and the public perception of the company behind it.

Because being authentically different is the key to standing out from the competition, it is critical to analyze what the competitors are doing and saying in order to find a unique, ownable niche. Not only is it critical to study packaging identity trends, it is also critical to look at factors such as messaging trends and structural packaging trends. Only with a thorough analysis will it be clear if a packaging identity is truly unique in its form, brand identity and messaging. Once a competitive audit is conducted and a solid strategy is developed, it is easier to make an impact with unexpected packaging approaches without feeling contrived.