Package Design for Brand Success Series - Part 2

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Posted Mar 22, 2012
Susan Gunelius

In Part 1 of the Package Design for Brand Success series, you learned how packaging can directly influence the way consumers see, understand, and feel about your product and brand. Now, it's time to learn about the types of package design, so you create the right packaging to stand out on the shelf against your competitors.

package design

Physical packaging can be categorized in three distinct parts -- primary packaging, secondary packaging, and tertiary packaging. Often companies create primary packaging and don't bother investing time or money into developing secondary and tertiary packaging. This is a significant mistake. All three categories of packaging play a role in developing brand awareness, recognition, and loyalty. Don't let those opportunities slip through your fingers!

Primary Packaging

ipod packaging

Primary packaging is the packaging that holds your product. This is the packaging that consumers see on store shelves. It's visually appealing and is designed to help sell the product inside.

For example, an iPod comes is a clean and modern plastic case while a Macbook comes in a cool box with a handle that resembles a briefcase. Even the elements inside the packaging are designed with the Apple brand front-and-center. It's not surprising that the Apple package design process is extremely intricate and secretive. The results are spectacular and emulated by companies in many industries.

Secondary Packaging

Primary packaging is placed inside secondary packaging. Secondary packaging is the packaging used to transport products (within their primary packaging) to distribution points and retail destinations. Secondary packaging may or may not be used for storage in a retail warehouse or on the store shelves as well.

For example, many of the shipping boxes that you see on shelves in bulk discount stores like Costco, BJ's, and Sam's Club are great examples of branded secondary packaging. Those stores are also great places to see how different secondary packaging can look from one competitor to another. Walk up and down the aisles and some brands and products will surely stand out as examples of great secondary packaging while others will look like the companies forgot about secondary packaging design entirely.

Tertiary Packaging

coca-cola delivery truck

Tertiary packaging includes packages that are used to transport large quantities of products. Secondary packaging (with primary packaging) is placed inside tertiary packaging during transit. Delivery trucks, freight train box cars, shipping containers, and so on can be branded tertiary packaging for companies that take the time to leverage that space.

When was the last time you saw a Coca-Cola delivery truck? That's an example of branded tertiary packaging, and the Coca-Cola glass bottle package design shown in Part 1 of this series is an example of the brand's primary packaging. The cases used to store and transport those bottles would be examples of secondary packaging.

The Purpose of Packaging

The first rule of packaging is to make sure the product inside is protected at all stages of transport from the manufacturing point of origin to the customer's hands. I'll talk more about the attributes of package design, including physical limitations and considerations, in Part 3 of the Package Design for Brand Success series, so stay tuned.

For now, you just need to understand that if a package design doesn't protect the product inside, then that packaging is useless. Aesthetics are meaningless if the product is ruined before the paying customer opens that package.

The second rule of packaging is to make sure it fits in all of the physical shelf space where it will be stored. For example, if it doesn't fit on the retailer's warehouse or store shelves or in the customer's refrigerator or pantry, then that package design is useless.

Rule number three is to make sure the packaging is easy to see, understand, and feel. As you learned in Part 1 of this series, a package design that doesn't do those three things will fail.

In other words, package design begins as a functional necessity (to protect the product) but it becomes a promotional opportunity (for people to see, feel, and understand the product and brand). If your package design can do all of those things, you've got a winner.

In Part 3 of the Package Design for Brand Success Series, you'll learn about the limitations and considerations of package design. In the meantime, if you missed Part 1 about how package design affects consumer behavior, follow the preceding link to read it now.

Image: Gabriela González, Tim O'Bryan, Richard Erikkson

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