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Consumer-first packaging: Your brand's secret weapon. 3 Golden rules.

Recently I was asked to speak at a packaging conference in Dubai, invited by the magazine and website PackagingMEA. Thinking about the importance of packaging once again reminded me that if your product is a physical one, then packaging is your brand’s secret weapon.

Here are 3 golden rules of consumer-first thinking when it comes to packaging design and branding.

#1. Does your packaging do what it needs to do? Blindingly obvious…. Or is it? Of course, your packaging needs to protect the product, facilitate the transport and distribution, and be recognizable for the consumer to find and buy. But do we think about how easy it is for the consumer to use? How many times have you tried to open a sauce sachet and ended up with the sauce all over you and the kitchen? I call this the “brand ownership of shape, size, format and functionality.” Get the basics right!

On top of this packaging suppliers and brand owners need to consider the environmental impact of their packaging and its place in the circular economy. These reflections should be part of this first phase – does my packaging do what it needs to do?

#2 Our second rule is “do you know what you want to say to your consumer?” packaging is the only piece of communication that ALL your consumers will see, touch and experience. Do you know who your consumers are and what they want? Are you articulating that clearly through your packaging? Does your packaging help consumers understand the benefits they are getting from the product? Some sports nutrition products do this well.

#3 When you know what you want to say to your consumers, do you say it well? My late colleague, packaging expert, Lars Wallentin would say: “simplify, amplify and surprise” Simplify: reduce what’s on your label to the minimum necessary. Amplify: make what’s important big, bold and exaggerated and finally surprise: try and make the consumer laugh, or step back, or do a double-take. Heinz have always done this well and continue to so. (This is great fun and “on-brand”).

This all sounds very easy, until you sit down and try to do it. Without real clarity on what your brand stands for, and what message it is you want to convey, you will find yourselves revolving in circles. An outside voice brings clarity without consequence. Bring in an expert from outside with strong marketing, branding and communication skills combined with a strong visual eye and see the results very quickly. It will make a real difference to your packaging design and your brand’s distinctiveness.

If you are in the packaging industry and are selling to brand-owners, it helps to think like your customers’ consumer. Get a consumer marketer in to review your packaging solutions from the end-consumer’s standpoint. It will give you a real competitive edge.

Packaging is the single most important marketing tool – recognition of that is your secret weapon.

Mark Shepherd is the owner of The Branding Authority, a consultancy that can help you improve your packaging communication very quickly.

Mark is also a member of the faculty of The University of Applied Sciences, Western Switzerland, where he lectures in marketing management.

If you would like a free consultation, please contact me.

If you would like to learn more about packaging design – take a look at

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