How Language Influences Perception in Packaging

Words matter. The terminology we use in our daily lives matters. This is applicable to all aspects of our lives, such as our personal relationships, career, and cultural expectations. Our thoughts and opinions are shaped by the words we use and the connotations that they carry.

The other day, I read an article by Todd Maute in an issue of Brand Packaging magazine that discussed the power of words in the consumer goods industry. Consider the word: private label. Depending on your generation and where you were raised, this word probably drums up a certain set of opinions for you. For instance, many people still associate private label with cheap or ‘knock off’ products.

Now consider the word: own brand. It may not be the best sounding or most natural term, but it instills a different set of perceptions. Although the two terms “private label” and “own brand” mean the same thing, they give off very different meanings. A simple change in terminology has helped shift and elevate the societal perceptions of store brand products.

H-E-B understood this 19 years ago, referring to the their brand as “own brand” as early as 1995 when it was not the norm. Today, many retailers have begun to adopt the term “own brand” or “store brand” to reflect the shift in consumer understanding. Maute elaborates, saying that by claiming the word “own brand,” retailers are making a statement. They are taking ownership of their products, investing in the brand, and redefining categories to increase the perceived value (page 09).

Perhaps the key takeaway from the entire article was the statement,

“ Use whatever terminology you like. The key is to pay attention to how language affects the way you think about and approach package design and branding” (page 09).

How can retailers create brands and packaging that makes an impression? Here are a few ways:

1. Check your words.

When drafting copy for your packaging or marketing material, take time to analyze your words and look in to other ways of saying things. Have several people read over the copy and give their honest feedback. If something doesn’t sound quite right, review other synonyms for that word. For example, the terms “meat replacement” and “meat alternative” mean essentially the same thing. But which sounds more appealing to you? Chances are your consumers will feel the same, so go with that option.

2. Don’t be a copycat.

This tip is especially important for private label products. It’s very simple, don’t be a copycat! Even if your product directly competes against a national brand product, don’t feel compelled to copy the exact look and feel. Consumers today are savvier than ever and are capable of knowing what your product is, without you mirroring the colors and structures of your competitors. Consumers, especially Millennial shoppers, don’t want to feel like they are buying a “knock off” product. That is not to say that you shouldn’t take into consideration category cues or colors, but “owning” your look and feel is a sign of confidence and pride, so OWN IT!

3. Give the design some personality.

This point goes hand in hand with the tip mentioned above. Give your packaging design some personality and flair. We know that consumers aren’t drawn to copycat packaging, so make an effort to be unique and stand apart from the other brands on shelf. Invest both time and money into the design; packaging is one of your best marketing tools! A few private label brands that do this particularly well are the Walgreens Ology brand, Publix Premium, and Duane Reade. All three of these brands have packaging design that is fun, appealing, colorful and full of personality – the complete opposite of a traditional private label or generic product. They’ve been very successful in the marketplace.

4. Ask yourself, “Would I purchase this product?”

When it comes down to it, honestly ask yourself, “Would I purchase this product?” Would you be proud to display or keep the packaging in your home? Or are you tempted to put it out only after you have removed the packaging? These may sound like silly questions, but they provide a lot of insight. At the end of the day, consumers want to be proud of the products they purchase. They want great products, at an affordable cost, that also look beautiful and well designed. Retailers that are proud to invest in their brand and packaging design will have very happy, loyal customers.

5. Edit, target and be specific.

Many companies want to tell costumers absolutely everything about their product on the package because of a fear that if they don’t, shoppers won’t “get it.” There are so many products out there – the average consumer shops a store with over 46,000 items but tends to buy the same 80-100 every week. Shouting at them won’t get their attention, but clearly communicating brand, claims, value and appeal through great packaging and targeted, specific language can.

What are other ways retailers and private label manufacturers can make an impression with packaging? As a consumer, how do words affect what you choose to purchase? How is the private label industry adapting to the shift in consumer perception? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave your thoughts in the comment section below!