A Universal Truth About Packaging at Retail: Know Thy Consumer Experience

A Universal Truth About Packaging at Retail: Know Thy Consumer Experience

Working across different industries, organizations, and cultures here in the US and abroad, we’ve discovered a universal truth in package design:

Very rarely do brand managers go into the store and consider their consumer’s shopping experience.

Yet that’s the very thing that should be driving their strategy in the first place; no matter the country, region or channel.

My colleague, Alan Smith, and I set about to change that reality at a day-long brand and package design workshop we led for Bord Bia, the Irish government agency working with the country’s food and beverage companies to develop and grow their brands. There, we led representatives of many of Ireland’s food and beverage businesses, large and small, through both the basics and the intricacies of strategic package design. We also had a chance to ask and answer all sorts of illuminating questions.

Every brand manager knows that great package design is driven by a strong brand strategy. But with all the hard work that goes into understanding target consumers and developing differentiated positioning, vital decisions around packaging design are often made based on 2-D presentations considered in a conference room, save for the occasional comp, rendering or a few competitor samples.

What we always remind our clients, and ourselves for that matter, is to “put yourself in your shopper’s shoes. What’s their experience? What do they see?”

We know that a trip to any grocery store can be a cacophonous experience filled with cluttered shelves and any number of distractions. As effective marketers, our packaging has 3 important jobs to do to connect with today’s retail shopper:





This is about getting noticed on a crowded shelf by an unengaged shopper 5-10 feet away.

So – go shopping. When you walk down an aisle, what packaging stands out? What makes you look for just that extra second? Is your brand attracting consumers’ attention amidst the chaotic grocery shelf?

Some pointers for how to get noticed:

People need to understand what category you’re in to put you in their consideration set, so first identify those requisite category norms, then flex from there.


Lighting, shelf lips and display orientation should all drive design strategy. If you know in advance that shoppers aren’t going to see that delicious product photography over the shelf lip, you might think differently about where to place it on your package. If your brand mark is going to be obscured by the shadow of the shelf above, you should probably consider moving it lower on your package. And if your dog food package is only ever really going to be merchandised with the small end panel facing out, you should make sure you’re treating that like it’s your primary display panel too.


Designing packaging systems that create a brand block across multiple facings helps you maximize ownership over your section of the shelf, however limited it may be. It also gives your consumer a place to rest their eyes and something to navigate to.



Okay, you’ve drawn them in. Now, help your consumer shop!

Make sure you are clearly signaling where your package fits both within the category and in your own product line.

Things to do to inform:

  • Design for the information your consumer needs! Prioritize and then clearly communicate your brand, product and benefits
  • Create a clear communication hierarchy that intuitively drives the way you want them to take in the information on your package

Remember, if you try to say everything, your consumer will take away nothing.

Most importantly, don’t design yourself into a corner – think about future flavors and products. Make sure a design, illustration or photography style is extendable.



Here’s your chance to connect and create a relationship with your brand. It requires making your product emotionally relevant to your consumer by creating a positive experience, large or small, through a memorable voice or story.

Some tips for creating delight:

  • Let your brand’s authentic personality shine through
  • Find a way to tell your story in an engaging manner, and stick to it across all aspects of your package
  • Reward engagement with special details and discoveries

Remember, sometimes disruption can be delightful!


With these tips in mind, we encourage all brand managers and designers across the globe to get out of the conference room and go shopping whether that’s in a supermercado, supermarche or a supermarket. Tell us what you learn. You may be surprised at what you discover about brands – and what you don’t – including your own.

Culturally Curious

Culturally Curious

Our work has deep meaning for us. We take pride in the strategic design work we create, but it’s the partnerships we enjoy with our clients that are at the core of who we are and exemplify our expanded reach as a firm. No matter where our clients are headquartered or where their consumers are, we begin by applying both rigor and empathy to build an understanding of their unique situation. This approach reminds us that as an organization we are far more than where we come from, more than points on a map. By being curious and thoughtful about how we relate to other cultures and communities, we all win.

This approach to working with brands is the foundation that drives us to be culturally curious, to be courageous in our approach and open to possibilities. We immerse ourselves in each of our client’s world to translate their culture into our brand and creative strategy.  We learn and listen first –  so that the approach we take resonates with our client and their values, and aligns with their consumers wherever they live.

This enthusiastic spirit has defined our relationship with Carling Beer as we helped articulate how their UK Premier League sponsorship could manifest in far-off places like Ukraine, Australia and Ethiopia. Across such a diverse map, we found that – while fans pulse with a universal shared passion for football – each market had its own cultural nuances and unique regulations that informed the types of successful branded executions we developed.

From the earliest days of Trinity Brand Group, we’ve immersed ourselves in the nuances of clients and cultures from around the globe. One of our first programs was to evolve the identity for Pathé, a world-renowned French entertainment company known for producing and distributing exceptional films. Upon its acquisition of the iconic Gaumont theatre chain, they needed to refresh the Pathé brand and create a culturally relevant brand that could reach across the globe.

Through our immersion in Pathé’s world and our understanding of the different markets where the brand would need to live, we helped our client partner retain their brand’s uniquely French sensibility along with their quirky sense of humor and passion for arts and culture as we extended its relevance around the world. To this day, we take pride in and inspiration from the part we played in furthering Pathé’s mission to provide joy to consumers worldwide through movies and entertainment.

And, in recent months, one of our most gratifying moments has been to see our branding work come to life with the re-opening of the Sullivan’s Brewery in Kilkenny, Ireland. With our office in Dublin and expertise in the craft beer industry, we were uniquely suited to partner with the centuries-old brewing family to position and design the Sullivan’s brand for today. Our work with them took us deep into the Kilkenny community for inspiration and even for local resources as we designed and helped build out the brand’s taproom in the center of the city.  When the doors of the brewery’s taproom opened, we were exhilarated and humbled.  The people of Kilkenny have inspired us with their open hearts, passion and goodwill, something that will stay with us forever.

At the end of the day, this is the stuff that fuels our passion for the work we do. It’s our aim to make a difference in the lives of the people we touch from around the world to right here at home. The best way to do that is to slow down and listen.