Messaging Hierarchy or “Why Drawing Attention to Everything Equals Drawing Attention to Nothing”.
For smaller brands with limited advertising budgets, your packaging may be the ONLY experience your customers have with your brand.
Packaging has to do a lot of “heavy lifting” when it comes to selling a product.
According to AC Nielsen, nearly two-thirds of consumers put new products in their cart because the packaging caught their eye, and 41% will continue to buy a product because of its packaging! And unlike advertising, an investment in packaging design doesn’t require an additional media buys for consumers to be reached. — They’ll see you whenever they pass by you on the shelf.
The temptation, then, is to shout at customers.
It’s understandable. You want to capture their attention, draw them to you and make the sale. So you use bolder colors, larger, weightier fonts and more callouts and snipes. Image and blank space seem wasteful when packaging is your only marketing tool. So you fill the space and call attention to the benefits. ALL of them if you can…
- You show off the new logo. Make sure it’s strong.
- Let them know the name of the product. Make it big too.
- And don’t forget the fact that you’re Gluten-Free
- The product is Non-GMO Certified
- And it’s Dairy Free
- Low Sodium
- Oh, and it’s Kosher and Halal.
They’re all important to somebody.
But when you call attention to everything, you call attention to nothing.
Our eyes are drawn to contrasts — not just size and color.
This humorous video from years ago demonstrates the idea brilliantly as the filmmakers demonstrate the difference between the typical packaging approaches of Microsoft vs Apple.
Yes. They said it all. And their approach feels like “desperation” meets “desktop publishing”.
It lacks sophistication, clarity, and direction. Much like someone giving you a sales pitch and thrusting a business card at you when you first meet at a party, then racing off to meet their next victim without waiting for a response.
Packaging design is an extension of your brand. Take it seriously.
Design and messaging should be tailored to your audience and their needs. It should it convey the level of sophistication and personality you want to have attributed to your brand.
How can you decide what goes on your packaging and still help customers scan your product line easily?
Start With a Clear Messaging Hierarchy.
When you have one or two products, this won’t be much of an issue. But if your product is a hit and has birthed various line-extensions — and now you have 28 products on the shelf — a clear messaging hierarchy is key.
Allow me to illustrate.
Let’s say you’ve got a cereal called “Crunchy-O’s”.
It’s selling well and you wonder about doing a line extension. Quinoa seems very popular right now so you decide to create “Quinoa Crunchy-O’s”. They sell well too.
Then you get the idea to introduce a Gluten-Free Crunchy-O’s. Then a Chocolate version, that’s not gluten-free, then Raspberry, Vanilla and Maple. Then Quinoa Crunchy-O’s in Chocolate.
Next, you introduce “Crunchy Squares” (Graham Crackers) and a snack mix called “Crunchy Bites”. The snack mix comes in Chocolate, Blueberry, and Strawberry and is also Gluten-Free.
You could market the Crunchy-O’s line together — except that some are Gluten-Free and some aren’t. And if you separate them the GF ones won’t have much impact in the Gluten-Free aisle.
Maybe the line is called “Crunchy’s” and grouped all together. Except that some are breakfast and some are snacks.
The correct messaging hierarchy places the product under the brand, the variety under the product and the flavor under the variety.
Each layer of communication becomes subordinate to the layer above and each has its size, placement and graphic approach locked down so that consumers can focus on the one thing you want them to notice that’s different.
So, a consumer looking for Gluten-Free options will, therefore, read Brand / Product Name / Variety / Gluten-Free then flavor. This allows the gluten-free line to extend into a variety of flavors, each with its own color cues.
Planning ahead anticipates additional varieties in the product line. The packaging design can then accommodate line-extensions before they’re needed by solving design issues like multiple languages and anticipated varieties in advance.
Designs are done using the worst case scenario first (multiple languages, longest product name, variety name and flavor name) then having proof of concept, the idea can come back to reality safe in the knowledge that the roadmap exists for future extensions and plans.
As I mentioned in an earlier piece “In Praise of Colourful Language”, the descriptive text adds value and helps differentiate products. “Virginia Wild Strawberries n’ Cream”sounds far more exclusive and unique than simply “Strawberry”.
Once they’ve tried and like your product, however, they’ll likely use some form of shorthand for recalling which variety they prefer. This is where strong color associations help.
Your customer may love Virginia Wild Strawberries n’ Cream” but will more likely ask whoever is shopping to “just get the pinkish one”.
As with messaging hierarchy, consistency is key.
Colors should have the same hues and mean the same things across your various product lines. Thus, orange and brown will mean “Chocolate and Peanut Butter” across all lines not “Chocolate and Peanut Butter” in the cookie product line and “French Vanilla” in the cereal product line. Ensure the colors you choose have sufficient space between them too so that customers don’t mistake your Baked Apple variety for your Strawberries n’ Cream variety.
Snipes, Callouts and Slashes
First off, you may not be familiar with “snipes”. What are they? In design, a snipe is a small added graphic device (usually a strip) placed over a section of an ad or package, showing information you want to call attention to.
The Snipes in the header is Wesley Snipes (in case you aren’t familiar with him). Annnywaaaayyy…
As a general rule, less is more when it comes to callouts and snipes. They interrupt the design and, if overdone, can undermine your brand’s quality perception.
Try to focus only on things that are:
1. Newsworthy or New
— Like a newly introduced flavour, or special offer
2. Relevant to that Audience
— Such as Non-GMO for an Organic Product
— Like 30% More for Free or a Contest
As soon as is reasonable, revert back to your original package design. After all, “NEW” can only be considered “new” for so long!
Is your packaging in need of a little help? Like a second opinion on your marketing materials?