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.

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