The psychology of packaging: How luxury brands captivate consumers

Professor Ben Voyer
Professor Ben Voyer

Professor Ben Voyer explains how packaging in the luxury market is an art form that intricately weaves psychology, emotion and consumer behaviour, shaping perceptions and driving purchasing decisions.

In the nuanced realm of luxury goods, packaging represents far more than mere containment, it is an intricate dance of psychology, emotion, and consumer behaviour. Luxury packaging design and presentation are pivotal in consumer decision-making, subtly shaping perceptions and driving purchases.

Luxury markets, renowned for their resilience in economic downturns, are sustained by the unique purchasing patterns of consumers who persist in indulging despite broader financial challenges. The evolving dynamics of these transactions underscore a shift towards fewer, yet more costly, purchases, underscoring the pivotal role of comprehending and appealing to consumer emotions.

The narrative of luxury is woven into its packaging—a timeless symbol of exclusivity and perfection. From the iconic Burberry check to the unforgettable design of a perfume bottle, the right packaging amplifies the immediate allure and ensures enduring brand resonance in the minds of discerning consumers. To delve deeper into the science behind these consumer choices, you can hear Ben Voyer deliver his talk, "The Science Behind Behaviour: How and Why Consumers Make Choices," at London Packaging Week between 10:45 AM and 11:15 AM on Wednesday, September 11.

Voyer is a distinguished figure at the intersection of consumer psychology and marketing, renowned for his expertise in understanding the deeper motivations behind consumer behaviour. Serving as the Cartier Chair Professor of Behavioural Science, Voyer's academic prowess is dedicated to unravelling the emotional and cognitive processes that drive purchasing decisions. "It's something that is often ignored or not thought about," he told London Packaging Week. "With a lot of the packaging we're doing, we view luxury as a habit, but there is not much deeper reflection about the consumer decision-making process and how packaging is processed and perceived emotionally, especially by consumers."

Understanding your customers on a deeper level is the cornerstone of creating packaging that resonates on a personal and emotional level. This is especially crucial for luxury and beauty brands in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) sector, where personalisation can make or break customer loyalty. As Voyer highlights, knowing individual preferences allows brands to craft packaging that feels bespoke and intimately connected to the consumer. "The more you get to know your customers, the more you know their preferences," he added. "The key is to build an offering in the packaging that directly reflects these preferences. That is the key, and it's becoming increasingly important for luxury and beauty brands, especially when you're in the direct-to-customer field where your customers, most DTC brands, tend to be built around communities and consumers that are part of the community.

"In the world of luxury, you care as much about what consumers see as what consumers do not see. So, if you think about some of the biggest luxury brands in the world, like Hermes, when they make a shirt or make a T-shirt, they care as much about the inseam inside that you will never see the overall look or feel of the fabric. And that's the attention to detail, the drive for absolute perfection that is part and parcel of the DNA of a luxury brand."

Unlike everyday retail purchases, where packaging is often discarded, luxury packaging is designed to be cherished and kept. This distinct difference highlights the value and exclusivity associated with luxury products. The packaging serves as a lasting reminder of the extraordinary purchase, reinforcing the brand's identity and the consumer's indulgence. Luxury packaging enhances initial satisfaction and fosters long-term loyalty by enabling consumers to relive their shopping experience. Each use of a beautifully packaged cream or perfume bottle evokes memories of the luxury store and the purchase, making the brand more memorable and desirable.

"For luxury brands, packaging is the tangible part of the experience," added Voyer. "A luxury store is something that is unique and something that causes the consumer to see a lot of value in the products that they want to purchase. However, the packaging is what will stay with the consumer. They will keep the packaging, and it is common for people who buy luxury shoes to keep the shoe box. You would not do that if you go and buy a pair of Nike shoes or Adidas shoes, but if you buy a pair of luxury shoes, you will keep the packaging. If you buy a handbag, it will not just come in a cardboard box. It will be a proper fabric bag. Packaging is that tangible reminder that you've bought something that is out of the ordinary, which is what luxury is about."

For some luxury products, such as perfumes or cosmetics, much of the product's cost is invested in its packaging and marketing rather than the product itself. Whether it is the opulent design of a perfume bottle or the sophisticated feel of a beauty jar, packaging plays a crucial role in the storytelling process that convinces consumers to invest in high-end items. "Most of the cost will not be in the actual perfume itself; it will be the bottle," he continued. "It will be the packaging. And, of course, it will be marketing. It will be a celebrity endorsement. The same goes for beauty, where it can be about creating a unique, exclusive feel of a bottle or a jar, but sometimes it is also about mimicking what you would find in a lab. Many luxury beauty products are all about having dermatologist ingredients, and they will be about mimicking a biology lab. In luxury, packaging is part of storytelling, and we know that storytelling is almost everything when it comes to convincing people to splurge on extremely exclusive and expensive items, products, or services.

"I think if you get the right packaging, it can last a lifetime for the brand. If you think about the monogram for brands such as Louis Vuitton or Chanel, it was not meant to be a recognizable status symbol; it was just meant to be part of the pattern. But it has been pushed forward, much like the Burberry check. It has become a luxury branding and packaging form—a present within a present. Whether you are buying for yourself or someone else, the packaging is the first present you get, whereas if you go to Zara or H&M, you might not even get any form of packaging because you probably have to pay for the bag. But with luxury, it is part and parcel of the experience, and packaging is that symbol that makes the whole story stand up."

In the luxury market, the stakes are continuously rising, meaning brands need to thoroughly understand the nuances of packaging. Packaging in luxury is not just about aesthetics; it involves a deep comprehension of the emotional and informational processing that drives consumer reactions. According to Voyer, one of several stellar components of London Packaging Week's impressive conference agenda, relying on outdated strategies or making assumptions can lead to significant missteps, especially when launching new products.

"The stakes are much higher in luxury, and they're getting higher and higher, which is why you need to understand all of the information and emotional processing of packaging," he said. "Because if you just guess what the reaction might be, or if you just use a playbook from 10 or 20 years ago, you may get it massively wrong. So, if you think about launching a new product, that could have massive implications for an established player and a newcomer."

In the realm of luxury brands, heritage stands as a fundamental pillar, embodying the unique craftsmanship and know-how honed over generations. Heritage brands leverage their rich histories to create an authentic luxury experience that resonates deeply with consumers. As brands navigate evolving consumer expectations, balancing heritage, lifestyle appeal, and sustainability becomes increasingly complex yet crucial.

Voyer continued: “Heritage is key because it is linked with unique know-how passed and perfected over generations, decades, and centuries; luxury brands that do not have heritage often need to nail the lifestyle aspect of a luxury brand. Typically, most American luxury brands think about Ralph Lauren; they have a living founder, and it is an incarnation of a certain lifestyle. That is because there isn't the heritage behind it, and it's such a key aspect of selling luxury, selling a luxury experience, and giving people access to a unique set of competencies. This ability to produce exact movement, to make a certain item a certain way, and if you do not have that heritage, you will need to compensate in quite a few different ways, typically with lifestyle and more traditional marketing celebrity endorsement, influencer endorsement, and things like.

"On sustainability, your average customer looks to have a transcending experience where they buy luxury and sustainability. We might argue that this is starting to change. Still, by and large, sustainability is not the primary criterion because, for most consumers, it's like every day they go into a luxury store and buy two, three, or four items, so when they do go into a luxury store and have a unique experience, they want to be in that norm-breaking moment where they can indulge. They do not have to think about sustainability. That is one of the things that we observe with consumers who are not regular luxury consumers. Regular luxury consumers, and perhaps the younger generation of luxury consumers, like more casual luxury consumers, are starting to think more about sustainability. But your average middle-aged luxury consumer will not want that. They will dodge that experience because it's not something that is out of the ordinary."

As we navigate the intricate world of luxury goods, it becomes clear that packaging is far more than just a functional element; it is a sophisticated interplay of psychology, emotion, and consumer behaviour. How luxury items are packaged significantly influences consumer perceptions and purchasing decisions, transforming mere products into cherished experiences.

The ability to resonate personally and emotionally with consumers is crucial, especially in the luxury sector, where packaging can significantly impact customer satisfaction and loyalty. It is imperative for brands to master the art of packaging—that much is clear. But this now involves much more than a simple appreciation for aesthetics—rather, it involves a deep comprehension of the emotional and informational processes that drive consumer reactions.