The 5 second purchase decision

The average purchase decision process in retail takes just 5 seconds so immediacy of communication through engaging packaging is vital.

But how does brand and packaging design positively influence this purchase behaviour?

Putting price aside, if it’s a regular buy, the packaging shape, form and colour act as a visual shorthand, enabling the consumer to quickly identify their favoured product on shelf and removing the need for close scrutiny.

For a new purchase the task is more complex. Just as we have to work harder when we meet someone for the first time, packaging has to use its own ‘body language’ to communicate key product attributes, to define expectations and to create a reason to buy. This is the inherent ability of a successful brand, to create an ‘instant dialogue’ with a potential purchaser.

With only 20% of the purchase decision process taking place consciously and rationally, the brand identity and other components of the packaging design play a crucial role, connecting sub-consciously and on an emotional level with the consumer.

Let’s place ourselves in a supermarket trying to make a choice between similar products from two different manufacturers.

The first is a brand we’re familiar with, the second is a brand we don’t recognise. We briefly look at them comparing the information on the packaging.

After consideration, whilst we may not be able to distinguish any significant difference between them, the majority of us will choose the brand we feel most comfortable with – unless the new brand presents itself as being ‘more relevant’.

But why do we react like this? Let’s think about this process in a human context.

When we walk into a room full of strangers, we instinctively look around for someone we recognise. After a while we see an old friend and start to walk towards them. As we do, a stranger approaches and starts to talk to you.

The chances are we’ll exchange pleasantries with the stranger and then walk on to talk to the person that we know unless the stranger instantly gains our attention through what they and possibly their personality or relevance to us.

Throughout our lives, we gain reassurance from things that are familiar to us – people, places and experiences that are predictable and consistent which creative positive emotions. And we are most likely to choose things that we are attracted to.

Going back to the supermarket, we are attracted by products which create the strongest and most positive connection with us as individuals, those which are seen as being most relevant to us and ‘fit’ with our emotional analysis of what we are looking for.

A new product therefore has to work harder and smarter than its established competitors. To achieve success, it is essential that it has the visual strength to arrest the consumer in that all-important, five second purchase decision window and can rapidly convey the inherent and relevant brand attributes, hence projecting a unique personality for the product.

In this respect, brands play a crucial role within packaging and there are a number of techniques we can use to make consumers readily accept new products.

In the extreme, this manifests as a ‘copycat brand’. A new brand is so similar to an existing brand that it may even be confused with its long-standing competitor – it uses all the visual cues and language style of the existing brand.

Sophisticated copycat approaches will analyse the key elements of the brand leader identity and mimic them to almost an identical degree. Use of similar names, colours, graphics and shapes all play a role in the creation of a copycat brand.

And whilst visually, these brands may look quite different, on a sub-conscious level they evoke all the necessary emotions of familiarity and acceptance through the similar and recognised communication style of the brand they have chosen to imitate. In practise, this often results in us believing we have seen a new brand before, even though we’re seeing it for the first time.

This approach does have a big downside however – the brand will never develop its own personality and standing and will always live in the shadow of the brand it has chosen to imitate. As such, it will often trade on price and achieve less margin than the brand it has chosen to copy.

The copycat brand will also have inherent weaknesses by positioning itself as a direct competitor to the brand it has chosen to imitate and if it fails to deliver on product quality vs price, it could rapidly find itself out of favour, failing to convert initial trial to a long-term purchase pattern.

The biggest challenge of course is to create a brand and packaging with exceptionally strong brand attributes that will enable it to quickly achieve success by establishing a higher rate of sale than its competitors.

Successful brands have the ability to create a dialogue with consumers and achieve exceptional product stand-out. Just like our friends, they use a language we like and understand and are familiar with.

We recognise them even when we see them in unfamiliar surroundings. We feel comfortable in their company. And just as we buy into a person, we buy into a brand.

We engage with the personality. We understand them. We know what they stand for. We know what to expect each time we meet them. And we value them.

A new brand and packaging appropriately optimised for success will immediately engage a target audience consumer at point of sale.

But once the consumer has been persuaded to examine it more closely, it is vital that the packaging then communicates all the key information simply and succinctly.

Delivering a well-defined communication hierarchy can make the difference between a product being successful or failing and research shows that if a consumer picks up a product off the shelf then they are 95% committed to making a purchase.

It is important to condense all the front of pack information to the minimum, to present it logically and clearly – otherwise potential consumers can get quickly confused and respond negatively to further exploring the new entrant.

And consider that for the English language we read top to bottom and left to right, so the presentation of the on-pack messaging should match this. If the eyes are made to work too hard and the presentation of the messaging is confusing, chances are the product will meet with swift rejection.

Just as with a story, the information should be structured to have a beginning, middle and end and it should be presented in a way which allows it to be speed-read, the consumer able to identify the attributes which are most important to their choice quickly and easily. Critically the information communication should not get in the way of the brand communication.

With the retail sector highly developed, every category comprises of a plethora of products co-existing with each other and competing for the all-important attention of a consumer that will translate into a purchase, so thinking smarter as well as behaving differently but relevantly can allow brands to outsmart rather than outspend larger competitors by over-performing in terms of on-shelf attraction.

For more information about how I help my clients launch new products take a look at Food Brand Strategist.

If you’d like to explore how I can help you with your new food product launch, ping me an email so we can schedule a call.

Call: +44 (0) 207 205 2998 or email today for an initial chat.

Last Updated on 30/04/2023 by Eddie Stableford

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