10 ways to win over diverse consumers, including GenZ, with packaging design

Carolyn Schierhorn
Managing Editor
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A company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility should be reflected in packaging design, said Deborah Ginsburg during a workshop at the Private Label Trade Show.

The general consumer, previously a woman age 18 to 65 years old whom you could easily find on any Main Street, no longer exists, said Deborah Ginsburg, founder and CEO of Oakton, Va.-based Strategia Design, during a workshop on Nov. 12, the opening day of the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s Private Label Trade Show in Rosemont, Ill.

Consumers today are highly segmented, not just by generation such as baby boomers and Generation X but also by their convictions and passions, whether environmental activism, healthful eating, local sourcing or veganism, Ginsburg said.

Although millennials have dominated marketing conversations for several years, Generation Z —individuals born between 1995 and 2009 — have begun to capture the notice of marketers because their purchasing influence is growing. The good news for retailers is that “Generation Z expects to have stores and online,” Ginsburg noted.

In the store, Generation Z wants a memorable experience, one worthy of sharing via Snapchat or Instagram. Intriguing packaging is part of that experience, she said.

Ginsburg pointed out some other distinguishing characteristics of GenZ. These consumers take racial and ethnic diversity as a given and don’t even think about it. To them, diversity means “diversity of action, diversity of belief and diversity of thought,” she said.

In addition, this generation wants instantaneous access to merchandise but doesn’t necessarily want to buy products. For example, GenZ consumers would be open to the idea of renting a dress versus owning a dress, Ginsburg said. “They don’t want to buy the album; they want to listen to it on Spotify,” she observed.

Members of Generation Z, who create their own entertainment on social media channels such as YouTube, “believe their own voices are stronger than celebrity voices,” Ginsburg said. So a photo of a celebrity on a package is probably not the best way to sell to this generation.

The rise of Generation Z is just one of many factors influencing the marketplace, Ginsburg reiterated. “When you have this diverse a population, you have a lot of different design trends,” she said.

Ginsburg identified 10 key packaging design strategies that are being used to win over various segments of consumers:

  1. Transparency. “People want to know everything about you,” Ginsburg said. Transparency means not just listing all of the ingredients in a product but also showing it through a partially transparent can or a package window.
  1. Bold identity. “When you’re communicating, how do you claim your space? How do you claim your identity and build on it so it’s instantaneously recognizable?” she asked. A simple design with bold colors such as that used by Domino’s Pizza on its boxes is an example of this strategy.
  1. Retro. “Everything old is new again,” Ginsburg noted. “We want to hark back to simpler times. We all like nostalgia.” The strategy is most effective when it’s executed in a very classy, premium way, she said.
  1. Pattern. “People are using pattern to connect with a very, very diverse audience,” Ginsburg observed. “There is just an energy and a vibrancy to it.” As with bold colors, unique patterns can create product identity, she said.
  1. Storytelling.  Start-up enterprises are typically the best at storytelling on packaging because they usually have interesting, personal stories to tell, Ginsburg noted. Storytelling can be done with illustration, photography, words or humor or any combination thereof. “It helps to transport your consumer from one point to another,” Ginsburg added.
  1. Back to basics. “We have been over-packaging [products] for a really long time,” she stressed. For consumers who prioritize environmental sensitivity, a minimalist approach to packaging will resonate more than sophisticated graphics.
  1. Local. The trend toward buying locally grown or made products is starting to extend to packaging, Ginsburg said. This also ties in with the trend toward wanting unique, personalized products. She pointed out that with a limited run of a product, such as 250 jars of a locally produced honey, each jar of the honey could be sold as if it were an artist’s limited-edition print. This is an example of using scarcity to create interest and excitement. Such products have great gift-giving potential, according to Ginsburg.
  1. Social impact “People want to know what your purpose is,” she said. While many consumers don’t have enough money for substantial charitable giving, they would relish the opportunity to contribute to a good cause by buying products from a retailer that is having positive social impact. Companies that are involved in their communities and prioritize fair trade, hunger relief and other aspects of corporate social responsibility need to tell consumers about these initiatives on packaging and through other means.
  1. Sustainability. Consumers today look for packaging made of recycled or recyclable materials, and they care about reducing food waste, Ginsburg said. This trend is only going to grow.
  1. User experience. Ginsburg showed the audience a slide of a box of candy that looks like a piano. Each key was a separately boxed chocolate. She also showed a slide of a tequila bottle that changes color when it’s put in the freezer. “This is an instantaneous experience,” she said. “People will Instagram and talk about it.”

As Ginsburg noted, “store brands are the new brands.” When it comes to packaging design, “it’s time you start thinking like a brand.”