Effective packaging design impacts on shopper decisions by communicating the brand values and benefits that connect with shoppers’ lives.

Marketers have long understood that packaging design can impact on shopper decisions below the level of awareness. This is because visual elements can cue deep and largely unaware thought processes that heavily bias decisions. Design features that are able to connect with these subconscious and emotional decision drivers powerfully impact on behaviour at the moment of purchase.

Gaining reliable insights about these decision drivers has proved elusive, though. Many of these decision drivers can’t be expressed verbally or explicitly and marketers have struggled in the past to gain clear and reliable insights about the likely impact of design features – until recently. Over the past few years, a source of design insight has arisen from left-field – from the neurosciences. For over 100 years neuroscientific research has strived to understand how our thinking and ‘wiring’ impacts on our responses to the world around us. Now, insights from the neurosciences and marketing have been linked together to provide a new understanding of the way the consumers react to design elements.

The insights are often surprising. Design aesthetics that have long been considered a key element of successful packaging design remain a priority, but often other elements can have an unexpected and marked impact on shopper responses at the very moment of decision. Gerber, for example, learned through neuromarketing research that strong positive brand associations were absent in the face of strong negative emotional reactions evoked by standard visual elements on the packaging. Neuromarketing insights were used to update the packaging and reinvigorate strong positive brand associations. Other neuromarketing studies have shown that pack shots linked with the moment of consumption evoke powerful emotional responses that drive choice.

Clearly, there is still much to learn about the role of design in shoppers decisions. Neuromarketing research is playing an exciting and important role in developing these insights.

Dr Philip Harris is the founder of Nuro Brand Insight and Union Inc consultant.