Client Question: How do you assess category cues and how important are they?

posted on 10th Aug 2018 by Steve Grunert

Firstly let’s break this down into layman’s terms – what is a category cue, I hear you ask?

Category cues are the expected design elements and information or colours that allow a product to sit in a category and visually be “one of the gang.” Your customers are subconsciously aware of category cues in any given category. For example, in Ireland a customer would expect Cheese and Onion crisps to be colour coded red and Salt and Vinegar would be colour coded blue (except a certain English brand that uses blue for their cheese and onion flavour, causing a certain amount of customer confusion when they discover their blue pack is not Salt and Vinegar).

While there are opportunities to stand out against your competitor by breaking these category norms, as you can see by the example above, going against these category cues have certain risks that can’t be ignored.


Could you pick your pack flavour by colour alone? Customers know their category cues so it’s important to research the cues for your category.

How do you assess category cues?

Researching the packaging of all of your competitors should clearly illustrate the cues of the category that your product will sit in. Firstly, collect samples of all of your competitor’s packaging. Then analyse the commonalities of colour coding for flavour variety, imagery, use of colour, packaging format and design direction. Once you have done this you should have a good sense of what the most important category cues are.

How important are category cues?

Following the most important category cues will make your product look like it truly belongs in a certain category. But following them too closely could also make your product blend in too much and not stand out. Researching category cues and design trends can reveal opportunities of how to truly stand out in your category. While ignoring every category cue could be foolish, ignoring some of them could help give your product true individuality and shelf impact. We always encourage our customers to be brave, push the boundaries and explore where these nuggets of opportunity lie. Allowing them to deliver products that deliver on customer’s expectations while surprising them with something exciting and fresh.

We always recommend testing proposed design routes with focus group research. This discloses true insight into what the key category cues customers are looking for. These focus groups also allow us to test the initial response of the customer. It is always important to realise that every product has a target market, and the design direction that may appeal to you may not necessarily appeal to them. Use these focus groups to not only test your favoured designs, but also to test braver designs that you feel may appeal to the target market. We help guide our clients to choose a range of design directions that we feel will appeal to the target market, allowing thorough research and feedback prior to product launch.

Steve Grunert, Creative Director.
Steve has a wealth of experience working some of Ireland’s most successful brands such as Flahavan’s, Barry’s Tea, Glenisk, Franciscan Well Brewery, Irish Pride, The Jelly Bean Factory and Aldi Supermarkets to name but a few. His love of all things food has helped him guide clients to the right packaging solutions, helping them to find their own distinct point of difference on shelf. If he’s not slaving away the latest packaging solution he’ll be out the back, firing up the barbeque and feeding the Neworld troops full of gourmet delights!