9 Common Mistakes When Developing Effective Packaging

Your product may be better than your competitor’s, but if the way the message is presented on your packaging is not, sales are likely to go nowhere. It takes more than good products to make a successful package; creating value through design is essential. Take a look at your current packaging and see if you can spot any of these oversights:

Products in their packages

1. Designing for Someone Other than the Consumer
We design packages for consumers, not for the boss, the legislator or the trade. To find out what the consumer likes or wants, first of all, think of yourself. What would you like? A package that’s easy to open, a back panel that’s easy to read, a brand you trust, a clear product description, a package easy to hold in your hands and easy to dispose of or recycle? Next think of your target customer. It’s not everybody (which is a common answer by the way). You should have a target demographic in mind and you have to understand their wants and needs before you can package a product for them. Universal packaging that satisfies everyone is a myth. You can’t be all things to all consumers. More importantly, your packaging needs to be on target to the right audience with the right message.

2. Superhuman Strength to Open a Package
Studies show that ease of opening the product plays a part in influencing the consumer's buying decision. The strength required to separate the two parts of the clamshell or to peel the backing from a blister can exceed human hand strength.

Make your product easy to open. There are alternatives to clamshells that limit the effects the nearly indestructible plastic packaging has on consumer's hands, teeth and muscle as well as on the environment. In most cases, a change such as adding a perforated opening in the back can make a product less likely to cause "wrap rage", as well as appear more environmentally responsible. Make your product packaging more user friendly, and you will sell more product.

3. Viewing an Oldie as a Goodie
Although many consumers are creatures of habit, they are also curious by nature. Older brands can lose favor with the consumer simply because they look old. There are a lot of established brands that are repackaging their image and have been revitalized with new and updated packaging. This is different from changing your look entirely. (Think Tropicana Orange Juice). Just something different that conveys, “Pick me up and see what’s new.” Give the consumer a reason to pick your product off the shelf, and your chances will increase that it will end up in their shopping cart.

4. Not Checking Copy to Suit the Global Marketplace
Don’t get Lost in Translation. Negative connotations, tongue-twisting challenges and cultural and religious affronts are frequent foreign language hazards. Some reasons why Federal Express changed its brand name to FedEx were because it discovered that in Latin American countries, "federal" conjured a negative image of "federales" and in certain Asian countries, the "r" and "l" were difficult to pronounce. General Motors changed its Chevy Nova to "Caribe" in Latin America after learning that "no va" means "no go" in Spanish.

These days designers may even weigh in on the copy writing process since even the graphic expression of the copy can determine a product’s success or failure in the marketplace. Don’t take the chance if you are taking your product globally - be sure your design firm checks your copy with native language speakers who are familiar with word nuances and cultural biases.

5. Not Promoting Your Product’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
Good package design communicates what is inside and how it’s going to help the consumer solve a problem. Don’t assume they’ll get it on their own. When someone looks at your product they are thinking, “What is this product going to do for me?” You know, WIIFM. That is the What’s in it for Me consumer? Make life easier for the consumer, and you’ll have a loyal customer.

Think about how even unique product packaging can solve a consumer problem or issue. One of the best innovative packaging examples I saw recently was the introduction of Wish-Bone® Salad Spritzers. They took a prime target (women) addressed dietary and health issues (weight watching) and provided an innovative way to dispense the product (spritzing vs. pouring).

6. Missing Consumer Buying Trends
Several years ago, we went through the super-sized phase. There are still a lot of super-sized packages; however, buying trends are changing to smaller sizes in general. To package smaller does not mean less profit, in many cases it means more. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for convenience, ease of use and a smaller quantity. Have you noticed that a pack of three premium baking potatoes cost almost the price of a 5 lb. bag? If you live with just one other person, do you really need 5 lbs. of potatoes?

Keep size in mind when designing your product packaging. Who is actually going to use this product and how? Is there a shelf life or consume by date that can impact the usage factor? Your package has to marry with your consumers lifestyles. Knowing how your consumers buy will help you develop the right product packaging that will appeal to them.


Women said: keep it easy to carry and easy to store.

Boomers said: keep it simple and easy to open.

7. Associating Baby Boomers as Being Old
Boomers view themselves as younger than they are (typically by 10 years). Whether you use the word, "boomer," "senior, "over 50," or "aging," this group doesn't want to be referred to as old. Avoid using context that associates aging. Use words that are not considered negative. Gone are the days of over 50 being considered close to the end of life. You're not old. You are in the prime of your life. A recent survey asked what name they preferred to be used as a reference. The 50+ age range prefers to be called: • mature • boomer • older • senior.

8. Leaving Out Consumer “Hot Buttons”
In addition to environmental concerns, consumers are paying attention to labeling and product security. People are reading labels and scrutinizing them. What it says on that label will influence whether they buy your product or not. Make sure you are addressing concerns right on your package.

What about product security and integrity? Given the increase of recent product recalls (for a variety of reasons) product security has become crucial. Communicating your response upfront on important issues will keep you ahead of the competition.

9. The Package Doesn’t Fit the Retail Outlet
There are tons of cross marketing opportunities available. What works in a club store certainly won’t work at a convenience outlet. Consider where your package will be merchandised, and consider different package designs. Resist the urge to just carry over the same design from one size package to another, and you will reap the benefits each type of retailer offers.

When designing for club stores, bigger packages do not necessarily mean more information should fit on the package. With that bigger space available, many club stores marketers tend to rely on packages that resemble print ads—they are too busy, with too many words,.

Also, when designing for club stores, don’t forget the selling "real estate" on the sides of packages, too. Design entire pallets for multi-sided display. Two-sides-shop-ability is the minimum requirement, but three sides are better. Pallets that have good presentation from three sides can make for good end-aisle displays.

Although these tips are helpful, adhering to them alone won’t make your package successful. There is much room to be creative when designing your package - inject your company’s personality! And above all, be sure you are creating value through design.