Packaging is normally included with "product" as one of the 4 Ps in the marketing mix: product, placement, price and promotion. Because of its importance, some marketers view packaging as the fifth P. In addition to protecting and preserving, it serves the vital function of triggering buying decisions at retail. For small-business operators, great package design allows you to punch above your weight in competitive retail environments, thus compensating for limited marketing budgets.
Purpose of Packaging
The functional properties of food packages require the involvement of toxicologists and other specialists to ensure that packaging material complies with relevant federal and state regulations. In addition, packages must address issues such as shelf life, supply-chain logistics, in-store display and in-home use and storage.
Food packaging is also an essential marketing tool for communicating brand personas. The typical supermarket carries nearly 40,000 items, according to the Food Marketing Institute. In such a competitive environment, your package is the last chance to influence a purchase decision. Moreover, your package must quickly influence harried shoppers who make buying decisions amidst the clutter of 40,000 options. The average shopper spends 44 minutes in supermarkets, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with 76 percent of purchases made as impulse decisions, according to Point of Purchase Advertising International.
The Brand Persona
Good package design is an imperative for low-involvement food products where buying decisions are made at the intuitive level based on brand experience, as opposed to high-involvement products that require rational decision-making. Though there are no set rules for good food packaging design, there are certain design principles upon which few practitioners would disagree. The visual focus of your package design should communicate your brand persona, which consumers interpret from personal experiences. Typically, the visual focus includes the brand and product names, logo, colors and graphics. These elements should combine to rapidly trigger brand recognition, which signals trust and makes products stand out on crowded retail shelves. For new products lacking brand personas, quality packaging design is vital to building brand personas.
Food Packaging Semiotics
Semiotics is the use of signs and symbols as shortcuts to conveying connotations to target audiences. It plays an important role in marketing communications, particularly in food packaging. For instance, people do not think about what a red traffic light connotes; it means "stop." Similarly, marketers use semiotic package cues to communicate satisfying experiences. The bull on the Red Bull Energy Drink can is said to connote virility and masculinity. The bull is red to connote passion and excitement. Because of the cross-cultural homogenization of consumer tastes and preferences, global marketers use semiotics to connote meaning in different cultures where language often loses meaning in the translation. The McDonald's "golden arches" logo, for example, connotes hamburger in all cultures.
Hire a Specialist
Designing food packaging is not a do-it-yourself project. Far too many variables involving protection and compliance could go wrong and prove quite costly. Moreover, the marketing issues mandate a thorough knowledge of consumer behavior, food packaging design and graphics, and supply chain logistics. Hence, prudence demands hiring a food packaging design specialist for your next project. The industry is specialized. As such, food packaging vendors work with package designers regularly and can likely make informed recommendations.
- Pearson Education, Inc.: Marketing Management, 13th Edition; Chapter 12, Setting Product Strategy, Philip Kotler [PPT]
- Boundless: The Purpose of Packaging
- Food Marketing Institute: Supermarket Facts
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food?
- POPAI: 2012 Shopper Engagement Study
- ABM Research: Introduction to Market Research Semiotics
George Boykin started writing in 2009 after retiring from a career in marketing management spanning 35 years, including several years as CMO for two consumer products national advertisers and as VP for an AAAA consumer products advertising agency. Boykin mainly writes about advertising and marketing for SMBs.