Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Watch: How good packaging can help your small business compete with the big boys

The packaging tells your customer about the quality and characteristics of your product before they've even decided to pay.

Packaging is important for small businesses in a world where consumers increasingly buy something that looks good when they have to choose from similar products sold for the same price.

Consumers are after the whole experience and packaging is where the conversation with your customers starts.

Many consumer studies indicate that people decide to buy a product based on their expectation that the product will satisfy their needs. If there is very little difference between products, customers have very little to base their buying decisions on and therefore packaging has become the aspect that sells your product to the consumer.

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Packaging and consumer imagination

Some studies have found that consumers imagine what a product looks like, how it feels, tastes, smells or sounds by simply looking at the picture on the packaging, according to Van Biljon and Jansen van Rensburg in an article in the African Journal of Business Management.

They say packaging is the most immediate stimulus at the point of sale because the visual elements of packaging design influence the decisions and choices of consumers. Packaging also:

  • attracts the attention of consumers
  • transforms the message and
  • impresses consumers with the image of the product while distinguishing one product from another.

As a small business you can use packaging to make your products stand out on the shelf because packaging influences the perception of consumers of brands more than advertising does. Packaging is a unique marketing tool to give consumers the right cues and clues about the benefits of the product, brand impressions and brand cues, such as value and quality and continues to drive these cues. Packaging continues to play a functional and marketing role even after purchase.

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Packaging elements

Various studies indicate these four main packaging elements potentially affect consumer purchase decisions:

  • Informational elements that give product and technical information, as well as brand name and address, product facts and usage, ingredients and volume
  • Visual elements, such as the graphics and shape
  • Aesthetic and functional design elements such as shape, colour, illustration, graphics, logo and brand, company and product name
  • Functional design elements, including structure design, protection, storage, transportation, opening and resealing functions, material design aimed at emotional appeal and window presence value and volume design, which is an economic function.

The most significant elements are the graphics, that includes image layout, colour combinations, typography and product photography. Images are a diagnostic piece of information in product purchase situations, especially if there is little variance in price and perceived quality. The picture becomes an information input used by consumers to compare and differentiate among brands.


The use of colour enhances visual stimuli to create and sustain brand and corporate images and is important image cues that can be associated with different brands. Colour plays an important part in identifying products and differentiate main product groups.

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Shape and size

Packaging shape and size also helps consumers to make a purchasing decision. Consumers want a product that is convenient to use and carry. Research has found that a bigger package size is more noticeable and suggests better value. Packaging shape can also make a product more aesthetically appealing, but remember, while consumers appreciate packaging design elements, they are unable to pay premiums for more expensive packaging.

When developing your design strategy, remember that consumer needs and preferences evolve based on lifestyle orientation, physical dexterity or limitations, preferences for getting information and packaging ‘road signs’. Packaging must therefore acknowledge and adapt to the changing needs of consumer segments.

How to choose the best packaging

Since packaging is so important to help consumers choose, small businesses must consider all the facts before choosing packaging, such as consumer expectations and the best way to show in the packaging how these consumer needs will be fulfilled, as well as the colour and shape of packaging.

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