Market View: Package Design Deserves Recognition

Packaging and labeling could be your most important marketer and salesperson.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

Sometimes I think package designers are treated like the Rodney Dangerfield of the marketing function. The advertising people, the print media people and more and more the social media people all seem to get more respect than the people who design our packages and labels.

The irony is that packaging might be the most impactful marketing tactic available to a food company. While an expensive advertisement may run for 15 seconds at 8 o'clock at night when consumers are sitting comfortably in their homes, the packaging/label is ubiquitous.

Think about how often consumers are exposed to our brands by way of the package/label. Let's begin at the store. When we walk down the aisle of the grocery store we see what appears to be a billboard for our brands, and this billboard is simply the array of our products sitting on shelves. While a consumer stands in the aisle, with money in hand as well as an interest in purchasing, our brand is screaming “buy me” at them. Even if consumers are not ready to buy your product category on this trip, they still see your brand as they walk up and down the aisles.

As important as that first impression is, your package/label delivers so much more. When the consumer returns home from shopping and unpacks her bags, your brand is again in her face, and your product's attributes and benefits are there on the label to remind them.

Every time you open the refrigerator to take out something, there's your brand sitting on the shelf, hailing the consumer to “take a look at me and take a look at my attributes.” And of course, when she finally decides to use the product, it sits on the countertop while she create the meal.

Admittedly, when the print media and advertising executives create their masterpieces, virtually all of this media will have your brand and package/label exposed. While the advertising executives are creating obtrusive advertising, the stars of the show are usually our package/label and our brand. Even the avant-garde social media and online sales functions usually have the package/label on the webpage.

The importance of the package/label is not new. Some marketers recognized this many years ago, and I'm certainly not the first person to point out the value of the packaging/labeling. Pilditch defined packaging as “the silent salesman” as early as 1957. And Lewis expanded Pilditch’s views in 1991 stating that, “Good packaging is far more than a salesman, it is a flag of recognition and a symbol of values.” In 1977, McDaniel and Baker said “the label on the packaging provides the manufacturer with the final opportunity to persuade prospective buyers prior to brand selection.”

Packaging can lead to:

  • A reduction in spending on traditional brand-building mass media such as advertising.
  • An increase in food product buying decisions at the store.
  • A growing management recognition of the capacity of packaging to create differentiation and identity for relatively homogenous consumers.

Product design, packaging and labeling helps the success of a product by ensuring the product gains consumer notice, communicates information, provides sensory stimulation and provides lasting effects of the product to the consumer by breaking through the competitive clutter.

The irony is that the cost per exposure for packaging/labeling is virtually never calculated. We know that the public relations function always estimates how many “exposures” they get and uses this to justify further PR spending (fair enough). But think about the number of brand exposures from the package/label. It would surpass any persuasive communication vehicle.

It is interesting (at least to me) that many schools’ academic programs focus on the protective function of food packaging. Much of it is to reduce the cost of materials. However, your package is your brand ambassador. It should sell itself.

This means you need to have a strong brand identity and packaging that communicates information about your product clearly, concisely and relevantly to your target audience. While branding gives a specific brand personality, packaging puts a face on the product.

I believe everyone in the broader marketing function of a company should have some rotation among the different areas. For example, I believe people in the advertising function should spend some time with the package and label designers. Similarly, I would expect the reverse to be true. I think it's clear to everyone that the advertising, print, public relations and of course packaging/labeling functions are all focused on increasing brand awareness and brand equity.

While I heard the expression, "We all have to be on the same page" it has never been more fitting than in the case of packaging/labeling and the other communication functions within the company. Let's not have any Rodney Dangerfields in our company. Give all the marketing functions the same respect.

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