The old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies to packaged goods as well. Just because a product has an attractive package doesn’t automatically mean it will be a good product.

Still, brands need to entice consumers to try their product in the first place, and one way to do this is through packaging. In fact, for a consumer who’s new to a specific product category, attractive packaging could go a long way toward nudging that consumer in a specific brand’s direction.

In the end, it’s not always the product itself that translates to purchase intent and actual sales — how the product is presented also plays a large role. Here are five examples of ways product packaging influences purchases as well as some negative techniques brands should aim to avoid.

1. Ability to Stand Out

One way to get a consumer to gravitate toward a product is to make sure the packaging stands out. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, such as a color that catches the eye or a slightly bigger size than other comparable products.

Bright colors can be an asset here, but brands also don’t want to go too far. If a product’s packaging is too busy or vivid, it could end up turning off a potential consumer.

It also helps make sure the brand’s name is prominent and immediately recognizable. If the consumer doesn’t happen to pick your brand this time around, make sure they at least remember it’s an option.

2. Reusability

An effective product package is more than a one-time proposition. The best packaging encourages consumers to use it over and over again. In fact, roughly 90 percent of consumers reuse product packaging. That means the packaging could serve as a type of advertisement as it passes in front of new eyeballs.

It makes sense when you think about it. An attractive bag might be used for general purposes. A nice box could be repurposed as a gift box. Or, a package that also serves as a sturdy container might be used to store other items once the original product is gone.

On the flipside, brands should avoid packaging that essentially becomes useless as soon as it’s opened. This can depend on the type of product, but you generally don’t want the packaging to make its way to the trash the instant the product is brought home by the consumer.

3. Iconic Imagery

There are some brands you can recognize by logo, even without any text. McDonald’s has its signature golden arches. Apple uses its familiar apple with a bite taken out. Nike has its globally-known swoosh symbol. The list goes on and on.

Another good example is Coca-Cola. Even without reading the words, you know a Coke product from its signature red color, the typography in the logo and the contour wave that makes it onto every can or bottle.

Now, telling a brand to create a package that’s as iconic as a can of Coca-Cola is like telling a budding basketball player to start playing like Michael Jordan. It’s just not that simple! Still, creating a logo and other imagery that triggers a brand name into the mind of a consumer goes a long way toward making product packaging effective.

Of course, not every brand will be able to come up with something as iconic or as long-lasting as Coca-Cola. That said, brands should be sure to avoid common pitfalls such as basic font styles or stock images that don’t stand out. Packaging that is too boring is destined to get lost among the ocean of other brands competing for the consumer’s attention.

4. Honesty and Transparency

Any packaging worth consumers’ time is honest about the product it contains. This might include things such as a food product that contains all-natural ingredients or a cleaning product that’s odor-free.

One way some brands choose to be transparent with consumers through product packaging is to literally make the packaging transparent. A package that has clear elements to allow consumers to actually see the product can help that product sell itself.

For example, think of competing packages of cookies sitting on the shelf in the snack aisle of the supermarket. Are you likely to pick a brand whose package says the cookies are bursting with chocolate chips or one whose cookies you can actually see are full of said chocolate chips?

When it comes to honesty and transparency, brands need to avoid any words or language on the packaging that might be considered misleading. In the end, that will only lead to consumer disappointment and a feeling that the customer has somehow been duped.

5. Keep It Simple

Sometimes, the best way to get a product’s packaging to stand out is to just keep it simple. It’s a delicate balance, of course, because you also don’t want it so simple that it’s not noticeable. But there have been brands that have used simplicity in packaging to their advantage.

One example is Buster, a brand of drain cleaner that’s popular in Europe. The brand decided to use packaging that showed a simple image of what the product does — clears clogged drains — in an attempt to calm the mindset of consumers.

This decision was a stark contrast with many similar products that depend on bright, over-the-top packaging and lots of hyperbolic claims. The result was a 42% boost in sales.

Still, brands should also avoid being too simple. You don’t want a package that doesn’t make it clear what the product is or what its benefits are. Again, keeping it simple yet informative without going too far can be a fine line, but the best product packages are able to meet that balance.

When all is said and done, attractive product packaging alone isn’t likely to make consumers return to a product. That’s the job of the product itself. However, for consumers who are new to a category of products or are in the market to try something new, effective product packaging can be a major key in that consumer’s decision-making process.

Lexie Lu is a freelance web designer and blogger. She keeps up with the latest web design news and always has some coffee nearby. She owns Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.