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The Simple Story of Wonderfully Complex Color Packaging

By: Kevin Marshall
Posted: August 28, 2012, from the September 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Within the specialty store environment, compelling packaging is often a catalyst for opening up dialogues with potential customers, which is, of course, the first step in developing a memorable brand experience. While many prestige brands already have strong market presence and a cadre of loyal followers, their devoted consumers can in fact be tempted to try something new as the result of innovative packaging that excites or intrigues them. But as in all beauty categories, the packaging had best live up to (or better yet, surpass) consumers’ expectations and reinforce the brand equity—otherwise that magical “Wow” moment will quickly slip away and the chance to connect long-term with a consumer will dissipate in an instant.

In mid-tier or mass retail distribution channels, cosmetic packaging has to work even harder, as the opportunity for a sales associate or brand ambassador to engage potential customers first-hand rarely exists. Furthermore, the shopper likely has no chance of trying the actual product, and is, therefore, reliant primarily on the packaging to form her conclusions about the brand and its products. This requires designers and brand owners to really amplify the positive attributes of their packaging in order to effectively communicate the brand’s core messages and product benefits.

Again, according to The NPD Group, innovative packaging, meaningful brand offerings and well-communicated product benefits can make all the difference at point of purchase, tipping the scales from a “Maybe” to an “I’ll try it,” regardless of sales venue. Simply put, while winning packaging is an important ingredient to a program’s success in other beauty arenas such as skin care and fragrance, it is an absolute non-negotiable in color cosmetics, and is a primary driver for capturing customer attention and potential sales.

Inspiration and the Well From Which to Draw

What aesthetic qualities make for a winning color cosmetic package? The answer depends on whom you ask—but as a designer, there is no other category quite like color in which to explore the fusion of femininity, fashion and function. A successful color component must feel fantastic and handle flawlessly. It must be beautiful, embody its brand ideals and deliver the product it contains intuitively, regardless of the cost of goods. It must at once seduce and inform, and lest we forget how closely aligned color is with fashion and color trends, it should and can be fun.

Designers pay special attention to the weight, form and acoustics of a piece. Does the shape conjure positive associations with the user? Brand DNA, ergonomics, materials, applicators and delivery systems, product evacuation and a host of other concerns are carefully weighed and considered in order to create an exceptional impression. That’s a pretty tall order for a little package, but when it’s done right, the statement can become iconic and the user experience unforgettable.