Look Before You Leap

Packaging Pointers

Packaging is as important to a brand as a cover is to a book, as a voice is to an actor, as a fit body is to an athlete. A fit body doesn't guarantee victory, but you don't see many potbellied Olympians.

Attractive packaging can turn even the most prosaic product into something special. Remember the store brands that became so popular during the 1970s and early 1980s? It was as if manufacturers were competing to make the chintziest packaging possible to prove that their products were true bargains. That has changed.

One of the primary reasons private-label products are doing so well in the 1990s is that retailers have stopped making cheaply packaged imitations of the big brands. In many cases, they've created such elegant packaging--from superior raw material to glitzy graphics--that some store brands have become serious competitors to the nationally advertised products. Stores now believe that a private label is one of the best ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. If only Wegmans sells Wegmans-label products, consumers have to go there to get them.

Four trends should continue to drive package design well into the next century:

1. Special packaging, such as embossed labels, bottles embossed with logos, and special shapes and decorations, will continue to differentiate quality products from run-of-the-mill brands.

2. As me-too products proliferate, it will be particularly important to clearly communicate what your product is and what it does. And unless you're selling bubble gum or another product that only kids buy, MAKE SURE YOU USE TYPE THAT AN OLDER PERSON CAN READ.

3. Less is more. Use as little packaging as possible without making the product less easy to understand or use.

4. In a global economy, strive for the big idea. The shape of the Coke bottle, Pepsi's signature blue and the Nike Swoosh logo translate well into any language.

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Look Before You Leap.

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