First impressions matter, and first impressions last. It’s true in an interview, on a date, in a restaurant and on the shelf. We are referring, of course, to product packaging. In most cases, a shopper’s first interaction with a product or brand is through packaging. And in the crowded, noisy, hyper-stimulating retail environment, that encounter is over in about seven seconds. It’s a short window of time, but it’s long enough for shoppers to register if what you say and what you show make sense or not.

On a very primitive level, people expect that what they see is what they will get. As such, shoppers can sense whether your packaging matches the product inside. Packaging that is aligned with brand positioning makes sense.  When packaging and positioning are aligned, it boosts consumer confidence. Consumer confidence, in turn, leads to sales, satisfaction and referrals. 

Just as quickly and powerfully, shoppers can sense brand disparity. It’s unsettling. If you’ve ever purchased a premium product only to have it arrive in a cheap or unmarked box, you know this feeling. Likewise, we’ve all gone out of our way to avoid the dented can of tomatoes or the cereal box with a bent corner. Intellectually, we know that the product inside is undamaged, but the flaw is still a flaw. When packaging and positioning are out of alignment, shoppers register it as such. Whether the disconnect is structural, material or graphic, it’s a reason for shoppers to question your product’s value.   

The Problematic Relationship Between Pricing and Packaging

The primary reason that shelf presence and positioning are so often askew is that packaging is viewed as a line item rather than a competitive advantage. It’s a natural consequence of the pricing process. Pricing is configured by adding up all the costs to produce a product – manufacturing, shipping, labor, marketing, etc. – and adding a target profit. In this equation, packaging costs are represented by a percentage range, which can be anywhere from 7% to 10% depending on the industry. As pricing strategy evolves and manufacturers set revenue goals, those percentages become slippery.

In our experience, packaging is priced rather than developed. We realize that such a statement may make us sound like a bunch of designers advocating for precious packaging projects. The truth is that packaging is proven to influence sales and brand loyalty. When pricing precedes design, branding gets squeezed in, and positioning gets marginalized.

Packaging as a process involves a series of decisions, all of which culminate in much more than a box. Packaging is a branded experience. The material reflects character and quality. The shape communicates purpose. Windows provide proof of product. Structure demonstrates user experience. Graphics convey information, personality and relatability. Each of these decisions can work to support or undermine your brand. 

A package that looks cheap suggests it contains a product of the same value. When a package isn’t right-sized, the brand comes across as wasteful. A package that isn’t user-friendly reflects a product that isn’t user-friendly. Given that packaging is often the first brand touch point you share with your consumer, doesn’t it deserve more thought? Shouldn’t it be intentional? Of course it should. And it’s never too late to get back on track. If your packaging and positioning are not on the same page, we’ve got a few solutions to consider.

3 Solutions to Achieving Packaging and Positioning Alignment

Solution #1: The Early Consult

If you have a new product, you’re in an ideal spot to have packaging that reinforces your positioning. Before your pricing strategy has been set, seek out a packaging partner for a consultation. Whether you limit this scope to structural research or pursue conceptual packaging designs, packaging experts will ensure that your positioning is a consideration from start to finish. Keep in mind that well-positioned packaging doesn’t necessarily have to cost more. Likewise, packaging designers who have experience with POP can help develop a seamless brand experience, one that is part of the budget from the beginning.

Solution #2: The Midpoint Mediation

Suppose the pricing ship has sailed, and your marketing budget is set. There are still ways to adjust your packaging to fit your positioning. Again, lean on a partner with design and packaging experience to take the lead. A good partner wants the result to be on-brand. Their goal is to create a holistic experience. As such, they will ask the right questions. 

  • What is the life cycle of your product? 
  • How is it being shipped?
  • Where does it live in the home? 
  • Does it need to be carried?
  • Can the package provide added value to the consumer?  

That partner can steward a product marketing budget, including packaging and POP. They can work with your printer, or suggest printers, to calibrate variables to best suit your brand. In the end, packaging specifications are a give-and-take equation. A creative partner can help you figure out what to take and what to give.

Solution #3: The Phased Approach

Suppose your product is on the shelf, and sales aren’t as expected. Before you reconsider your product pricing, take a look at your packaging. It could very well be that your positioning is off. A partner with experience in all aspects of packaging can help develop a low-cost or cost-neutral recalibration plan. After all, packaging is not a set-it-and-forget-it touchpoint. While it’s financially advantageous to purchase packaging in doomsday-like quantities, it’s not always a good idea. You never know what your competitors will introduce or how trends may change. You may want to increase your pricing, and a new package can help.

Packaging and Positioning: Small Decisions Make a Big Impact  

In our experience, there are always opportunities to save money in the packaging process. A packaging teardown is an exercise in which we deconstruct existing packaging in an effort to advise clients on where such financial opportunities exist. To see one such presentation, complete with recommendations, get the free download The Relationship Between Packaging and Positioning and see for yourself the difference small, sometimes cost-neutral choices can make in the way your product is perceived.