Specialty versus Mass Market Package Design

August 19, 2016



Want to design a successful package? Well, there are some important factors you’ll always need to consider: What makes a package “mass market” versus “specialty retail”? How much and what copy should be on the front as opposed to the back of a package? How do you determine package sizing for a retail planogram? What are some common mistakes to avoid when designing a package? ...If you can figure these things out, you’re golden. The tricky thing is, that some of these questions are a moving target.




What does make a package “mass market” versus specialty retail”? The simplest way to answer that is to understand the difference between a “mass market” retailer’s approach to selling an item versus a “specialty” retailer’s way of selling the same item. The “mass market” is massive. Packages sit side by side, row above row, in an overstimulating ocean of staple products, lost  leaders, trending products and markdowns. The non-promoted products are left to sell themselves or face retail death. The mass market needs a package that tells a quick, clear and concise message. If your package does not tell the story in a snap of the finger, consumers will often pass right over it. Your package needs to stand out. 


So if “mass market” is an ocean of products, then I’m guessing we’d all like to think of specialty as our neighborhood pond... simply by scale there is a massive difference between a 900 square foot strip mall store and free standing 25,000 square foot big box retailer.  Just because there are less fish in that “specialty” pond it doesn’t mean that you can let your design guard down. No matter what the size of the body of water, there will always be bigger fish who will want to try and eat you.

What does make the “specialty” retailer such an interesting design environment is how they
support their products. The specialty market tends to educate consumers, by engaging customers in conversation to help steer them to the right product fit for them. They will also demo and display products. Some specialty retailers support products in news letters and blogs. They will champion a product and drive new trends. So what does this have to do with design? Seemingly shouldn’t one box design fit all? That answer could be yes... but if you consider how the sale is made in specialty you’ll see the difference. Specially tends to connect with the consumer with a one-on-one pitch approach to sales. They tend towards packaging that is somewhat less garish and “instant message” oriented to the more sleek, subtle and sexy. The package artwork, to them, is a conversation starter rather then an entire sales campaign.  But, while you still need to make the product’s use evident, you should leave some room for the retailer to tell the story in their own words.



A common question I get is how much copy should be on the front of a package as opposed to the back? To that I have a stock answer, I liken packaging to the way people gravitate to one another. The front of the package is the way a person looks. From afar, it can tell a quick story of just how smart and sophisticated they are or give an impression of being silly and goofy or even aloof. like with a person, the attractiveness of the package, will draw you in to engage the product. This should be done in a clean, concise way that projects the essence of the product. On the front, images are more important than words. Copy should be clean and easy to read from afar and not at all distracting.  Any visual clues that can say “look at me”, should be engaged. The front tells the story in an instant moment of attraction. So dress your package for success.


The back of the package is the brains and personality of the person/product. Try and imagine the back as if you’re starting a first conversation with a person you’ve found intriguing. This is the moment when you’ll find out just how sophisticated, or goofy, that person/product can be. If you can balance the looks with the brains, you’ll have a very successful package.