With the average purchase decision process taking just ten seconds, winning over customers in store relies on packaging communicating quickly and effectively. So how does the semiotics of brand packaging influence consumer purchase behaviour?
Effective packaging has inherent attributes which enables ‘instant dialogue’ creation with a potential purchaser.
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.
For a new product the task is more complex. Just as we have to work harder when communicating with someone we have met for the first time, unfamiliar packaging has to use its own ‘body language’ to communicate key product attributes, define expectations and achieve engagement.
As only 20% of the purchase decision process takes place consciously and rationally, the brand identity and packaging graphics 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 one we don’t recognise.
We continue to look at them comparing the information on the packaging.
After a brief comparison, whilst we cannot distinguish any significant difference between them, the majority of us will choose the brand we’re most familiar with. But why do we react like this?
What is it about familiar brands that make us favour them?
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.
Throughout our lives, we gain reassurance from things that are familiar to us – people, places and experiences that are predictable and consistent.
In the supermarket, we want reassurance when we make our choice. As a consequence, the majority of us will choose the brand we know rather than the brand we don’t.
So to change this fixed behaviour, new brand packaging 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, ten-second purchase decision process and rapidly convey the inherent brand attributes to create a unique personality for the product.
In this respect, the various facets of the brand get-up play a crucial role within the packaging design and there are a number of techniques we can use to make consumers readily accept new products.
And 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. It 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 considerable weaknesses however – the most crucial of which is that the brand will never develop its own personality and standing. It will always live in the shadow of the brand it has chosen to imitate.
More sophisticated approaches will analyse the key elements of the brand leader identity and packaging design and mimic them.
Comparatively, they may look very different visually, but on a sub-conscious level they evoke all the necessary emotions of familiarity and acceptance through a similar communication style.
In practise, this results in us believing we have seen a new brand before, even though we are seeing it for the first time.
But again, the brand will have inherent weaknesses as its identity may easily be confused with its established competitor and from the consumer perspective, product and value differences will be perceived as negligible.
The real quest is to create a new brand for a ‘me too’ product with exceptionally strong brand attributes that enable it to quickly achieve success by establishing a higher rate of sale than its competitors.
With every product sector highly competitive, winning over customers in store represents the biggest challenge.
Successful brands have the ability to create a powerful dialogue with us on an individual level and create strong emotive connections, just like our relationship with 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.
A successful brand will immediately engage a 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.
It is important to condense all the product information to the minimum, to present it logically and clearly and minimise the amount of work the eyes of the potential purchaser has to do.
Information should be presented in a logical order and left to right and top to bottom.
And just as with a story, the information should be structured to have a beginning, middle and end and 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.