July 01, 2008

Label Design Primer: 13 Tips to Help Your Product Get Noticed on Store Shelves

SUMMARY: Competition among products on the store shelves is fierce. An attractive, attention-getting label can make the difference between enticing customers and losing them to a nearby competitor.

Here’s a primer on making your product beat industry leaders. Includes tips on using a graphic designer and launching a redesign.

Your product’s label is one of your last marketing opportunities. If it’s ineffective, that opportunity is wasted.

“Your homepage is your marketing piece online, and your label is your marketing piece out in the world,” says Peter Renton, Founder, Lightning Labels, one of the oldest and largest digital label printers. “You’ve got about a half a second if people are just walking through the shelves. They need to be able to glance at it and see what the product is in a half second. What is it? And what flavor is it? What kind of product is it?”

Renton sees scores of labels –not all of them effective. Here is his take on what makes a good label, a bad label and how to come up with an effective design. He includes tips on how to get your product noticed and change your label.

Creating a Label: 6 Steps

-> Step #1. Communicate with color

Colors can communicate faster than words. They are important in grabbing consumers during that half-second window of opportunity.

- Be consistent
Your brand should have its own colors. They should be used in every customer communication. Your website, catalog, flyers, coupons and your product label should use the same colors. This way, customers will know exactly who made the product without having to read a word.

- Match colors and flavors
You can use color to convey a flavor or a scent. For example, yellow makes people think of bananas and red – of strawberries. This helps a regular customer find the flavor they want quickly and a new customer check out your varieties at a glance.

-> Step #2. Complement text with images
Renton suggests using images. Like colors, they can communicate faster than words. Also, images can be more interesting and eye-catching than text. But be sure to balance images with text. Too much of either will create confusion.

-> Step #3. Be choosy with fonts

Colors and images cannot communicate everything; words are essential. Make sure you select a typeface that contributes aesthetically to your brand.

- Don’t use too many fonts
Labels should have no more than two fonts; preferably, you stick to one. “Two is OK if you have your company logo in a particular font. If you use four fonts on a label, that’s bad,” Renton says.

- Match font to brand
Run through a list of fonts and select a handful that is right for your brand. Then gradually narrow them down to the final selection.

- Pick font size that doesn’t make readers squint
Choose a legible font size. If you’re using a smaller font to squeeze many words onto a label, you’re probably using too much text. Make some cuts.

-> Step #4. Go with a label that’s true to your product’s size

Label size is one of the easier variables to account for. A label that is too small will go unnoticed. A label that is too large might wrinkle or fold over the sides of the package – think lousy. Size your label so it fits your product.

-> Step #5. Provide contact information

- Address and phone number
Putting the mailing address and phone number of your business on the label welcomes customer feedback. The information uses very little space. The feedback can guide product and marketing decisions.

- Website
Your Web URL should be on the label. Again, it takes up very little room and it can drive customers to your online marketing.

Failing to provide this information could be a frustrating experience for consumers. Renton cites an example of a yogurt company that is guilty of this negligence: “I have [this yogurt] every single day of my life. They don’t know I exist. I’d give them my home address because I’m such a big fan, but there’s no outlet for me to do that because it’s not on their packaging.”

-> Step #6. Don’t forget about mandatory information
By law, nutrition information and Surgeon General’s warnings must be printed on some product labels. Stick the required information on the back label. Your front label should sell and describe your product. The obligatory information should face the back of a shelf.

4 Strategies to Stand Out
Your label has to stand out or the consumer will never pick up your product. Here are some ideas on how to create a unique label:

-> Strategy #1. Tell a story

People love stories. Tell a one- or two-sentence story about how your company was founded or how a product came to fruition; make it interesting. It will connect your buyer to the people and the history of your product.

“Clif Bar happens to be an example. There’s a paragraph on every Clif Bar that tells you a little about the company and how it is named after this guy. He was a mountain biker and he wanted to create a nutritious snack. And it doesn’t take much space on a label,” Renton says.

-> Strategy #2. Use different images

Digital printing opens up novel labeling opportunities. You can print dozens of different labels much cheaper than before the advent of digital labels because of lower fixed costs. But you may want to print a large quantity of a few labels. Traditional label printing may be a cheaper way to go.

You can use multiple labels with different images for the same product. The trick is to keep other elements – like colors, borders and fonts – the same. Customers must be able to identify your product even if it comes with four different images.

Example: Jones Soda uses photographs submitted by its customers for labels. “There’s 100 different photographs on these labels. It becomes part of the brand,” Renton says.

- Stock photography
Stock photography is another inexpensive way to add images to your labels. Places like iStockphoto and Photos.com sell royalty-free images for a low as $1.

-> Strategy #3. Add quotations and facts

Add witticisms or interesting facts to your labels. You can find this type of content under juice caps, on tea bags and inside candy-bar wrappers.

-> Strategy #4. Get inspired

If you’re having trouble designing your labels, check out:

- Your direct competitors
Look at the competition when you design your first label. But strive to be different. Note what types of fonts and colors they are using. They may translate to customer preferences, Renton says.

- Your indirect competitors
“Look at your competitors, but then go look at a different product category completely. So, if you’re selling lotion, go look at wine or go look at hot sauce. … Get some ideas by looking at totally different industries, then you can adapt ideas to your own products,” Renton says.

Partial Rebranding: 3 Steps
Deciding to change a label is never easy. It could dilute your brand or make your product harder to indentify, especially among loyal customers. Make sure you have a legitimate reason to change your label and are not doing it just because you’re tired of it.

-> Step #1. Hire a designer

Use a professional designer to launch a new label. Graphic design is an art with many professional elements that take years to master. A novice will probably not be able to achieve an effective design concept.

For a product with a completely new idea, expect to spend $1,000 for 10 to 15 hours of a designer’s time, Renton says. You could spend much more – $100,000 for someone to do 100 different versions for you to choose from.

“Now, the more money you spend, up to a certain point, the better your results are going to be. But I know people who have spent $5000 to get a business card design. That’s sort of ridiculous.”

-> Step #2. Retain some elements

To avoid confusing customers, preserve some elements of your label. These can include your logo, primary colors, layout, package shape or any identifying feature.

-> Step #3. Test the market

Test the performance of a label before adopting it. Renton suggests testing in a small local market and expanding based on the results. Changing your labels across all stores could be a disaster.

Useful links related to this article



Clif Bar:

Jones Soda:

Lightning Labels:

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