You can invest tons of time, money, and resources into developing a beauty or personal care product line that promises a lot and delivers on all of it.

So how do you create packaging that will make your beauty products leap off the shelves?

The short answer is that you need to start by empathizing with your target customer.

It all begins and ends with empathy

Have you ever heard novelists talking about how intimately they “know” the protagonists of their stories, down to the kind of toothpaste they prefer and the brand of sweat socks they wear?

Well, this is the granular level you need to know your target customer. From their makeup routine (do they luxuriate over a 45-minute full face or do they want a five-minute regimen?) to where they stand on environmental issues (do non-recyclable plastics make their skin and their conscience crawl?), you need to have a grasp of it all.

Once you have a crystal clear sense of who they are, what they need, and what they struggle with (and how you as a brand serve those needs and solve those problems), the decisions about product packaging all but make themselves.

Here are 5 key touchpoints to keep in mind as you drill down into the mindset of your customer and create packaging that will speak to them.

1. Keep things simple

Labels that are busy, hard to read, and stuffed with graphics and fonts galore get passed over. Why? Your customer’s subconscious brain, which is likely already working overtime, takes one look at an over-designed package and thinks “it’s too much work to figure this out.”

A thoughtful, elegant, simple design, on the other hand? The brain heaves a sigh of relief and says “yes, this is what I need.”

Make simplicity your guiding virtue, then select your packaging elements accordingly, and the eyeballs—and purchases—will follow.  

2. Select your colors wisely

The colors on your product packaging aren’t just there to make it look great—they visually communicate important information about what your product is and who it is for.

For example, because of the growing consumer preference for eco-friendly and sustainable options, a lot of beauty and personal care brands veer towards earthy, neutral tones in their packaging. And this method works.

It’s so effective because it harnesses the most powerful aspect of graphic design: it reaches your consumers on an emotional and instinctual level. The right packaging, brought to life through colors that tell the story of your product, stirs up the feel-good emotions that inspire purchasing decisions.

3. Use graphics strategically

The maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words” is an oldie but a goodie. The graphics you choose for your product packaging will do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to snagging the attention of shoppers and selling them on your product.

Again, simplicity is your best friend in this endeavor. Too many graphics (or graphics that are vague or just plain weird) will create confusion and shut down your customers’ buying impulse from the get-go.

Often, one crisp, clear, well-chosen graphic on a neutral background is just the thing to pique curiosity and a purchase.

4. Distill your message

Remember that few customers (if any) are going to pore over your packaging the way that you do, so the purpose of your product and the benefits it offers have to be clear, straightforward, and obvious, on sight.

If you have to think about it in order to "get it," you've missed the mark.

To start working out what your key messaging is, go back to your branding and your target market. What need are you solving? Can you describe it in three words? Two? One? Can you create a singular image that expresses that need and its fulfillment?

This is how concentrated your brand messaging needs to be. Remember, your products have, at most, one or two seconds to catch the attention of shoppers.

5. Be clear as day

This is one of the most important elements of packaging design and one that so many brands get wrong. In developing the look of their branding, they focus so much on the frills (Serif or non-serif font? Glossy or matte label? Centered text or left justified?) that they forget the most basic function of a label: communicating what the product is and what it does.

And for beauty companies? This is an even bigger make-or-break scenario. With all of the specialized products that have come to market in the past five years alone, consumers are likely to be afflicted by 1) decision paralysis brought on by an excess of choice; and 2) a lexicon of new words that they may or may not be familiar with.

Once again, the way forward begins with empathizing with your customer. Imagine what it must be like for them browsing the beauty aisle, with literally dozens of brands vying for their eyeballs. The potential for confusion and frustration is enormous. Does this jar contain a cream cleanser or a cream moisturizer? Is this vial a serum, essence, toner, or ampoule? What do any of those things do, anyway? This information should be comprehensible at a glance.

Key takeaways

Although there are best practices and industry standards to guide you, the best and most successful product packaging evolves from a deep understanding of your ideal customer, their needs, problems, and desires, and how your product can improve not just their health and well-being, but their entire life.

So, if you really want your products to catch consumers’ eyes and fly off the shelves? Start with empathy.

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