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Packaging development

Packaging development plays three important roles for your business. Firstly, it supports your communication objectives as consumers interact with the product packaging. Secondly, it supports informational needs at the point of purchase. And finally, it provides practical support as your product moves through the supply chain. Read our guide to find out how to use packaging to raise your game. 

Packaging development

How this guide raises your game

  1. Learn how packaging development can support your brand identity.
  2. Understand the information needed by consumers when they see the packaging.
  3. Review key practical and physical considerations associated with the product and packaging as it moves though the supply chain.

As part of your marketing plan and your 4Ps marketing mix, you usually consider packaging development as an extension of your product development.

But, you should also consider packaging development as a strong promotion and communication tool. And, that’s where we’ll focus with this guide.

After all, the message and design you use in your packaging development is the one piece of your communications you can guarantee every purchaser will see. And there’s a lot of academic evidence that packaging is one of the most important drivers to drive purchase. 

It’s especially important in categories where unplanned purchase decisions are common. For example, when the consumer makes the decision to buy in-store. In such cases, your packaging may be the only thing that makes you stand out against your competitors. 

Beyond communications, we’ll also cover the product related factors of packaging development in this guide. We’ll focus on key information requirements some of which are legal obligations.

And finally, we’ll cover where it relates to how the product moves through the supply chain

Overhead shot of a load of red coloured snacks including Doritos and Skittles

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Packaging and brand identity

But first, let’s look at packaging development in relation to brand identity. 

As per our guide to brand identity, the brand is a combination of intangible and tangible assets. And these are further split by rules – assets which must appear everywhere and playbooks – a set of optional assets from which you can select the relevant marketing tactics. 

Packaging development and design produces tangible assets for the brand. These assets usually contain a high amount of “rules” of the brand. The logo, the colour design, the typography for example.

You’d normally also include the brand essence and personality in the design of the packaging.

Brand identity asset classification - intangible - tangible - rules - playbook

As we’ll cover later, there are some rare situations where you might stretch or break the packaging rules. But this is usually by exception. The normal way of working in packaging development is to drive strong consistency and repetition of the brand identity.

From a design point of view, you can read and the importance of repetition in our guide to design principles in marketing. 

And from a marketing point of view, in our guide to advertising and media, we cover the importance of repetition of message. Repetition makes the message more likely to stick in the mind of the consumer. It takes many exposures to create a strong association with a brand for most people. This exact same principle applies to packaging development.  

Consumers need to be able to recognise and identify your brand when they see it. And this recognition comes from repeated exposure to key brand assets.

Brand identity assets for packaging development

So, from a brand identity point of view, the key assets to include in your packaging development are the brand name, the brand logo and the brand’s colour palette.

These design elements help consumers to identify your brand and product. They make it distinctive and different from those of your competitors. 

There are a number of key design principles you can apply both to your brand identity and packaging development.

We cover these in more detail on our guide to design principles in marketing. While you may not be a professional designer, these key design principles can greatly help you improve the quality of your packaging development. 

Brand identity asset classification examples

These principles, called the CRAP principle for design, come from the book Design for Non-Designers* by Robin Williams. CRAP stands for contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. Let’s have a look at how to apply these four principles to packaging development with some examples. 

Contrast 

When it comes to packaging development, the design principle of contrast works at two different levels.

On the packaging of the product itself, you can use contrast to highlight specific areas of the design that you want to make stand out.

This draws attention to more important areas of the design, and makes the overall design more visually appealing.  

Look at this example from the label on a bottle of Casillero del Diablo red wine

There’s three different examples of the principle of contrast.

Close up of wine bottle label - reads Reserve Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2013 Chile

Contrast example 1

Firstly, contrast the light cream background colour with the dark and strong font colours. (black, red and gold). This contrast makes the text easier to read. It’s easy to distinguish the dark colour words from the light background. 

Contrast example 2

Secondly, note the contrast in typography styles between the primary brand name and the secondary text of the type of wine, the year and country of origin. 

The brand name is in an elaborate, thick and closely spaced script style. Check out details like the drop shadow effect. Look at the square dot above the letter “i” and the straight corners around the letters “s” and “a” for example.

Compare those design choices with the simplicity, thinness and spacing of the secondary text. They are very different. This is a very light serif font. And the spacing (leading) between the text makes it contrast with the much more tightly packed main brand name. When you look at this label, it’s easy to distinguish the different elements. This is a big benefit from good use of contrast.  

Contrast example 3

Finally, note how the “C” and the “D” have been changed to a dark red colour. This helps to break up the black text within the primary brand name. But it also creates two mental associations.

Firstly to the red colour of the wine itself, which is hard to distinguish in the dark green bottle. And secondly, the colour red also has strong connotations with “devil” which is what “Diablo” means in Spanish.

Contrast also helps you stand out on shelf

Let’s look at a different category to see how you can also use contrast to help you stand out on shelf with your packaging development. For products sold in stores, you need to think about how your packaging will grab the customer’s attention.

In this example, the brand Shapes has different flavours. Though the brand logo and name are consistently used, it uses different colours to identify each flavour.

The colours stand out from each other. They help the customer navigate to the Orange box for Chicken Crimpy. Or the Green box for Barbecue, for example. 

Compare this contrast to the two own brand examples in this picture (BBQ and Pizza). They look more similar as only the name is different. It’s harder to tell them apart, which makes things harder for the shopper.

Repetition

What’s also interesting about the Shapes example though is that they keep some elements of the design consistent across all packs. This leads to repetition of the brand name Shapes and use of the same font style and logo colour on all packs.

This helps the customer identify the overall brand family as Arnott’s Shapes. Using a “parent” brand colour to design to link “child” variants together is very common when companies have a portfolio of brands. 

This consistent use of the same colour across all variants of the (parent) brand helps with ‘brand blocking’. 

You create a “block” of the brand colour on the shelf the makes it more noticeable for customers. It grabs attention. Customers can spot the brand from further away.

In this example from Indonesia, look at how these different formula brands create impactful and eye-catching blocks of colour in store by using of repetition. 

In some categories, this blocking helps draw attention to the category and you’ll often find these brand blocks at the start of the aisle.

Think of soft drinks for example and you’ll find a solid red brand block from Coca-Cola. Or look at toothpaste where the brand block is white with only a splash of red from Colgate.

When their products sit together on shelf, it creates a block of colour that customers recognise. There is a lot of evidence that this brand blocking approach helps to drive sales of that brand. It helps customers make quick decisions as they can quickly pick up a familiar brand.

Alignment

It’s also important to consider the design principle of alignment. As per our guide to design principles, alignment creates a sense of balance and harmony.

On a label, when design elements align correctly, they feel like they ‘fit’ together and just look ‘right’.

Take the classic design on a Heinz baked beans tin.

In this case, alignment is slightly harder because of the curved nature of the tin, but you can still see some good examples of alignment.

Firstly, all the text is centre aligned so it looks balanced on the label. In fact, if you look at the centre of the “i” in Heinz, the “h” in English, the “K” in Baked and the “A” in Beans you can draw a straight line through the middle of these words. (Although in this picture, the “A” is slightly off because of the angle of the photo)

In addition, the key words Heinz and Baked and Beans also align to the left and right as you can see when you draw a line down the outer edges of those words. This alignment gives these words balance and makes the design seem more balanced and harmonious.

Proximity

The design principle of proximity is where you place different design elements next to each other so they feel like they “belong” together. The basic principle is that what sits together belongs together.

This makes it easier for customers to interpret designs. They understand that certain parts of the design belong together ,because they’re close to each other.  

If we look at this Bombay Sapphire label for example, notice how the brand name “Bombay Sapphire” encloses the main logo / design of Queen Victoria.

But then there’s a gap left between the main logo and the secondary information such as the name of the product variant – East – and the description of this variant. 

Then, there’s another gap down to the secondary logo and the word “Imported”.

So when you’re a customer who picks this bottle up, your eye easily scans over three close together groups of information rather than nine spread apart design elements. Much easier to understand.

(this is also a good example of chunking, another design principle we cover in our article on design psychology).

How do these design principles impact your marketing?

When these design principles are applied to your packaging development design, they increase the chances that consumers will recognise your brand.

They associate logos, colours and  layouts with your brand and they become a short-cut to making an easy choice. 

Let’s now look at some more specific areas of your marketing activity where packaging plays a key role. 

Screenshot of a Woolworths Online half Price basket of grocery items

Packaging and brand identity

As per our article on packaging for e-Commerce, packaging’s link to brand identity is very noticeable with online selling.

In the example online basket above, notice the contrast of the word “Fairy” with the lack of contrast on the label of the Kellogg’s “LCM” product. Based on their packaging development, some brands stand out more than others.

As you build your brand identity, consider how to bring the brand assets into your packaging design. Think about the target audience and what will appeal to them. Test designs out with market research. You can show rough packaging concepts to customers to understand their appeal and impact on intent to purchase. 

Try to balance an appealing design, clear information and reinforcing your brand identityConsistent use of the same logos and typography reinforces the impact of your brand assets. Similarly, as you develop your advertising idea, think about how to feature your packaging.

You want customers to recognise the brand and product in the final advert. So when they’re in store or shopping online, they remember the advertising message when they see the packaging. Which obviously helps drive brand choice. 

Packaging development design beyond basic principles

However, there’s more to consider with packaging development, beyond these basic design principles

The use of colour on packaging

Colours for example have certain psychological associations. You can use these to help create useful ‘shortcuts’ for customers by highlighting them in your packaging development. . 

Green for example is associated with nature and purity. Check out how many organic foods or health and beauty brands use this association. Red is associated with strength and power and grabbing attention. So you find lots of red on products which are impulse buys. Soft drinks and snacks, for example.

As you built your brand identity, you’ll have identified the colour palette you want for your packaging.

You’ll have these as CMYK references as this is the default system used by printers for packaging. This will be different from the RGB or Hex code system which is more common when you work with colours in digital formats. (Check our colour in marketing guide for more on colour systems). 

The colour you see on a screen and the colour you see when it’s printed on a physical item will differ slightly. Your packaging printer will ask you to ‘proof’ a print before they do the final print run. 

Overhead shot of a load of red coloured snacks including Doritos and Skittles

Show the product on the packaging

Consider if you need to show someone using the product, or even the product itself as part of the packaging design. 

This is especially true for marketing innovation. How will consumers know what’s inside the box or bottle, if you don’t show them or tell them.(For example in our article on marketing mistakes, we talk about an innovation failure where the packaging didn’t clearly show what the product inside was). 

Look at the snack examples above.

See how many of them show an image of the product on the packaging. Even big brands like Doritos, Kit Kat and Skittles know it helps to show the product

If it’s feasible, make some or all of the packaging transparent so customers can see what’s inside. This helps build up trust for the customers. They can see what they’re getting.

Next time you’re in the supermarket, look more closely at packaging. Look at how other brands use it to reinforce their brand identity and make their brands stand out on the shelf.

The functionality and shape of the packaging

You should also think about the functionality and shape of the packaging. Is your product a single use for example? If so, it needs to be easy to dispose of the packaging.

If your product lasts over a period of time though, you need to think about storage. How will the packaging help keep products in good condition? Is your product perishable and do you need to show an expiry date? 

Consider also where your product will be stored. If it’s a food item, and it’ll be stored in a fridge, freezer or pantry, do your packaging materials work in those different temperatures?

What if your product is stored outdoors like gardening or exercise equipment? In these cases, how can the packaging help it stand up to different weather conditions? 

Does the functionality of your packaging match what the brand identity promises? If your brand positioning focusses on ease and convenience for example, the packaging needs to be easy and convenient. It can’t be difficult to get in to or difficult to use.

Premium packaging

What if your brand is premium? Can you use your packaging to make the product feel more special?

Krug Champagne packaging for example comes in a very robust box. It’s sealed and opens out. Not only does it protect the bottle inside ,but it gives you a feeling you’ve bought ‘more’ than just a bottle of champagne.

The colours and design of the box help add to the core design elements on the bottle, and make the experience feel more special. It makes it feel like a more premium experience than just the bottle alone. 

Remember also that most packaging exists in three dimensions. You need to consider the shape of the product and packaging too.

What’ll appear on the front of the pack that’ll be the first thing the customer sees? What information can you move to the back of pack? Or to the sides?

Consider even the top or bottom of the pack. Some brands use these areas to add extra designs or information to make the packaging stand out even more. 

Bottle and display box of Krug champagne to show packaging

Opportunities to vary packaging

While repetition is a GOOD thing when it comes to design and packaging, there’s a few times when you might choose to NOT use it

For example, some brands like to release exclusive or limited edition products. New flavour variants only available for a certain amount of time. In these cases, you might want to change part of the packaging design to make that special edition stand out.

Or you might have a packaging element that’s SO strong, you can choose to use it on its own. The Coca-Cola bottle shape for example is instantly recognisable and has been used at times without the Coca-Cola logo, because it’s still recognisably from Coca-Cola. 

Packaging development - legal requirements

When it comes to packaging development, there’s other considerations beyond the design appeal.

Firstly, you need to know what information to include on a product to make it easy to use and understand.

In most cases, this is a legal requirement with for example the nutritional labels that need to be included on food and drinks products. Failure to include mandatory information can lead to fines and prosecution. 

Do you need to include expiry or use by dates? What about storage instructions and how to use guides? You need to include factors like this in your packaging development. 

Small metal statue of lady of justice holding scales

In most cases, key information like the size and weight, the recyclability of the product, the sourcing and ingredient or materials list, the barcode and contact information for the manufacturer are mandatory inclusions.

The contact information is an important way to reassure the purchaser that if something goes wrong with the product, they can contact you to resolve any issues.

You should check government and trade association websites for a list of what is legally required in your category. Failure to meet relevant standards can result in fines and lost sales. That’s obviously not what you want. 

Consider the total amount of packaging required

You also need to consider how much packaging is needed to get the product to the customer.

On the alcohol examples above, we focussed on the labelling in particular as this is often where the most design elements come in. But look back at those examples, and you also need to consider the bottle – the shape, the material used, the size. Plus the bottle top and any other seals or materials that support the basic product. These are all primary packaging elements that are directly part of the consumption or usage of the product.  

Your product may also need secondary packaging elements, like in the Krug Champagne example. These are elements that support the main packaging. But they are generally not needed once the product is open and in use. Think plastic wrapping or foil seals or boxes that hold multiple packs. 

This also then extends into any packaging that’s necessary for products to be shipped. 

Supermarkets for example usually have strict definitions of the number of units they expect to be bundled together in shipper units. Six, twelve or twenty four units create a shipper pack that’s easy for supermarket workers to identify and place on shelf.

Though consumers may not necessarily see all of this packaging, you have to include a lot of the same elements from your primary or secondary packaging. The name of the brand, the size and weight, the barcode, the use by date and so on. 

Packaging development - supply chain considerations

 Your final area of packaging development planning covers how the product physically moves through the supply chain.

From when you make the product to when the customer uses it, each product goes on a physical journey. From the place of manufacture to the place of consumption with many stops along the way.

Warehouses, trucks and other transport for example. But also shop storage areas, car boots and in-home storage. 

The packaging needs to protect the contents so the customer gets the product the same way it left the factory.

Pallets of boxes wrapped in cling wrap in a warehouse

You need to check that your product packaging is robust and secure. Check that it won’t break as it is moved from place to place. If it’s an online delivery and it’ll be left on the customer’s doorstep, will it survive there if it’s raining or windy? (see more on this in our article on last mile deliveries). 

You need to consider areas like the weight of the packaging. In general, the lighter the packaging the easier and cheaper it is to transport. But it also potentially reduces the durability of the packaging if you go too light.

Transit tests

Walk through each step of the supply chain from manufacture to consumption. Work out what job the packaging needs to do. Test and check each step. 

Many businesses conduct transit tests. This is where they simulate the journey a product goes on from manufacture to arrival with the customer. They check the status and quality of the product when it arrives. They can diagnose weak spots in the packaging. 

Consider temperature extremes for example. Will your product stand up to extreme heat or cold? If it’s a food product, is the packaging strong enough to keep out insects? Packaging needs to help products arrive in a safe and secure way. 

Inside a courier delivery van, many different types of packages in cardboard boxes stacked up for delivery

Environmental impact

And finally, you also need to consider what happens to the packaging AFTER the consumer uses the product.

Many people criticise the packaging industry for its lack of speed in reducing its environmental impact. The disposal of packaging after purchase creates a tremendous amount of waste.

Brands who consider the environmental impact of their packaging can gain a competitive advantage in the market. And arguably, they make the world a better place.

This can mean you choose to use more recyclable materials. Or you cut down on the total amount of materials needed. These types of questions should be top of mind when you look at packaging development.

Work with packaging specialists

You normally work with specialist packaging companies to run your packaging development process. You’ll need to write a packaging brief for them for each project. This will be similar to a communication brief. But, with with more detailed information on the packaging specifications. It should for example include details of the size and weight, the dimensions, the labelling requirements and details of all the materials used. 

Packaging development is a relatively specialised area that brings together graphic design, supply chain and operations, marketing and printing expertise. The process is usually run by dedicated project managers or specialist agencies.

For your own learning, tap in to all the expertise you can find. Ask graphic designers and print companies for example how to make your packaging more impactful, more consistent and more sustainable. They work on packaging every day. Whereas you’ll only do packaging development occasionally.. 

Remember that most packaging development has a long lead time. It’s not unusual for packaging projects to take six to nine months. That’s from the initial brief to launch in market. 

Your business will need to source the right materials for each element of the packaging design. This needs accurate forecasts. You’ll need to factor in time for design and approvals. Plus you also need to factor in time to proof, print and ship materials. 

As we said at the start of this guide, packaging is one of the most impactful parts of your marketing mix. Every customer sees it. But there’s a lot of complexity, so you need to find the right team of experts to help you run the process. 

Three-brains and marketing communications

We have led and worked on many marketing communications projects including packaging development. We know how to connect packaging development back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

Contact us if you want to know more about how we can support your marketing communications and packaging development to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services.

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