The 5 second purchase decision

The average purchase decision process in retail takes just 5 seconds so immediacy of communication through engaging packaging is vital.

But how does packaging positively influence this purchase behaviour?

Putting price aside, if it’s a regular buy, the packaging shape, form and colour act as a visual shorthand, enabling the consumer to quickly identify their favoured product on shelf and removing the need for close scrutiny.

For a new purchase the task is more complex. Just as we have to work harder when we meet someone for the first time, packaging has to use its own ‘body language’ to communicate key product attributes, to define expectations and to create a reason to buy. This is the inherent ability of a successful brand, to create an ‘instant dialogue’ with a potential purchaser.

With only 20% of the purchase decision process taking place consciously and rationally, the brand identity and other components of the packaging design play a crucial role, connecting sub-consciously and on an emotional level with the consumer.

Let’s place ourselves in a supermarket trying to make a choice between similar products from two different manufacturers.

The first is a brand we’re familiar with, the second is a brand we don’t recognise. We continue to look at them comparing the information on the packaging.

After some deliberation, whilst we cannot distinguish any significant difference between them, the majority of us will choose the brand we feel most comfortable with.

But why do we react like this? Let’s think about this process in a human context.

When you walk into a room full of strangers you instinctively look around for someone you recognise. After a while you see an old friend and start to walk towards them. As you do so, a stranger approaches and starts to talk to you.

The chances are you’ll exchange pleasantries with the stranger and then walk on to talk to the person that you know unless the stranger instantly gains your attention.

Throughout our lives, we gain reassurance from things that are familiar to us – people, places and experiences that are predictable and consistent which creative positive emotions. And we are most likely to choose things that we are attracted to.

Going back to the supermarket, we are attracted by products which create the strongest and most positive connection with us as individuals, those which are seen as being most relevant to us and ‘fit’ with our emotional analysis of what we are looking for.

A new product therefore has to work harder and smarter than its established competitors. To achieve success, it is essential that it has the visual strength to arrest the consumer in that all-important, five second purchase decision window and can rapidly convey the inherent and relevant brand attributes, hence projecting a unique personality for the product.

In this respect, brands play a crucial role within packaging and there are a number of techniques we can use to make consumers readily accept new products.

In the extreme, this manifests as a ‘copycat brand’. A new brand is so similar to an existing brand that it may even be confused with its long-standing competitor – tt uses all the visual cues and language style of the existing brand.

Use of similar names, colours, graphics and shapes all play a role in the acceptance of the copycat brand.

This approach does have a considerable weakness however – the brand will never develop its own personality and standing and will always live in the shadow of the brand it has chosen to imitate. As such it will often trade on price and achieve less margin than the brand it has chosen to copy.

Sophisticated copycat approaches will analyse the key elements of the brand leader identity and mimic them to almost an identical degree.

Visually, these brands may look quite different, but on a sub-conscious level they evoke all the necessary emotions of familiarity and acceptance through a similar and recognised communication style.

In practise, this often results in us believing we have seen a new brand before, even though we’re seeing it for the first time.

However, the copycat brand will have inherent weaknesses by positioning itself as a direct competitor to the brand it has chosen to imitate and if it fails to deliver on product quality, it could rapidly find itself out of favour, failing to convert initial trial to a long-term purchase pattern.

The biggest challenge of course is to create a new brand for a ‘me too’ product with exceptionally strong brand attributes that will enable it to quickly achieve success by establishing a higher rate of sale than its competitors.

Successful brands have the ability to create a dialogue with consumers and achieve exceptional product stand-out. Just like our friends, they use a language we like and understand and are familiar with.

We recognise them even when we see them in unfamiliar surroundings. We feel comfortable in their company. And just as we buy into a person, we buy into a brand.

We engage with the personality. We understand them. We know what they stand for. We know what to expect each time we meet them. And we value them.

A new product appropriately optimised for success will immediately engage a target audience consumer at point of sale.

But once the consumer has been persuaded to examine a product more closely, it is vital that the product then communicates all the key information simply and succinctly.

Delivering a well-defined communication hierarchy can make the difference between a product being successful or failing and research shows that if a consumer picks up a product off the shelf then they are 95% committed to making a purchase.

It is important to condense all the product information to the minimum, to present it logically and clearly and minimises the amount of work the eyes of the potential purchaser has to do. 

Just as with a story, the information should be structured to have a beginning, middle and end but it should also be presented in a way which allows it to be speed-read, the consumer able to identify the product attributes which are most important to their choice quickly and easily. Critically the information communication should not get in the way of the brand communication.

And do consider that we read top to bottom and left to right, so the presentation of the on pack messaging should match this behaviour.  If the eyes are made to work too hard and the presentation of the messaging is confusing, chances are the product will meet with swift rejection.

Customers uers wheel

With the retail sector highly developed, every category comprises of a plethora of products co-existing with each other and competing for the all-important attention of a consumer that will translate into a purchase.

Indeed, many brands we have created have relied solely on their ability to attract consumers at point of sale as marketing support activity beyond the point of purchase has been limited,

However, thinking differently can allow brands to outsmart rather than outspend your larger competitors.

Many young brands are often excited by the prospect of a listing with a major supermarket early in their life but this can often cause significant problems if adequate marketing funds aren’t available to promote sales at launch.

Supermarkets tend to offer a small number of trial stores initially but often these are geographically dispersed.

This increases the spend needed to promote the product through local media for example but more importantly it means the number of occasions a potential purchaser will be exposed to the product will be significantly reduced as only a limited number of stores in the area where they shop most frequently will stock your product.

Whenever possible, it is always best to launch a new brand locally through independents and smaller retailers. Use local knowledge, friends and family and a willingness by local businesses to support local brands to gain initial listings.

Then build on these as quickly as possible by increasing the area of distribution but continuing to focus on a relatively small geographical territory so that early converts will see your product more and more regularly.

Having a basic website at this stage is a must so that both consumers and retailers can find you and make contact and if you can incorporate a stockists map it is well worth doing.

But do consider that in isolation a website is very unlikely to generate significant sales so go for a simple, cost effective website and use social media to strengthen relationships with your brand community.

A very important factor which is often overlooked with a new brand is ensuring a relevant domain name is available and do make sure that your social media addresses are as simple, concise and distinctive as possible, and if at all possible the same across the three major platforms.

Once sales are established in your initial area, choose a second area which overlaps your homeland and repeat the process.

When you have achieved listings in 50–100 local stores, then is the time to consider approaching larger retailers but again, try and gain listings in your core territory first.

It is also important to focus your advertising spend precisely on the areas where you have sales and never commit to any marketing activity in advance of listings as you will simply waste money – if consumers can’t find the product in store they can’t buy it.

Use your friends and family to build a following on social media –  facebook, twitter and instagram but also consider flickr and youtube for video which can be very compelling.

Managing social media is time consuming and requires daily activity but it delivers huge benefits if you stick with it.

Think about local events, including charity events and sponsorship where there is potential to gain positive press coverage for no spend.

As you start to become established, PR can be one of the most cost-effective approaches to increase brand awareness.

But initially, strike up relationships with relevant publications yourself as they’re always looking for interesting articles about new products but do invest in professional, high quality product images to ensure publication.

And sampling at local, markets and country shows can be a great way of getting consumers to try your product and enables collection of their email addresses too.

With a list of email addresses it may be worth considering sending regular email newsletters or running competitions to keep you front of mind with your customers – but do make sure you have their permission to do so by asking them (and documenting their permission) when they give you their email details.

Local radio can often be another great way of gaining cost-effective coverage. They’re often keen to tell local success stories and to support new businesses so always worth getting in touch with them.

Price promotion is another tactic of course but make sure that your retailers know that it’s an introductory price and only for a limited time period otherwise you are in danger of selling continuously at a discounted price.

However, without a strong and engaging brand and packaging solution at the outset then irrespective of how much effort and money is spent on promotion and marketing, a new brand is unlikely to achieve success.

We’re sometimes approached by businesses who believe that they can take a two-stage approach to their branding and packaging, starting off with an initial solution to establish themselves and then committing to investing more spend through a second phase of activity.

The danger with this approach of course is that the brand will fail to attract consumers in adequate numbers initially to maintain retailer listings and join the 60% of new food and drink brands that fail within their first year.

Investing appropriately in your brand and packaging at the outset will be an investment that you won’t regret making and it will repay you by delivering success.

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