Fortunately, in today’s consumer product marketplace, most brand owners are fully aware of the value of great packaging. They realize that their brand’s packaging is the single most important consumer touch point and that it is through packaging that consumers first come in contact with their brand and their products. They understand that no other form of brand communication has the ability to motivate consumers’ purchase decisions the way that great packaging can – right at the retail shelf. I’m happy to know that I rarely need to preach this mantra to most brand owners and it’s good to see that they are quite eager to invest in the refresh of their licensed or non-licensed brand’s packaging.
Even with all of this understanding and awareness, however, brand owners may not realize that their brand’s great package design may have evolved into something not-so-great over time. Their package design system, which was initially well-conceived and implemented, may have lost its effectiveness. The overall design may have become visually outdated and its brand messaging may have become diluted or completely irrelevant within the retail environment due to a multitude of factors.
Why do package design systems break down?
As product lines evolve, consumer brand perceptions and shopping behaviors change, and new competitive offerings find their way into a brand’s category, rash decisions are often made by brand managers and marketers with regard to packaging. A breakthrough product extension or a new product segment may present opportunity for their brand, and they’ll want to make it stand out among all other products in the line. This often results in a disregard of the package design’s standardization guidelines, rather than working within its parameters. Exceptions are made. And made again. Before they know it, the only thing consistent about their package design system is a lack of visual consistency.
Sometimes, even with the greatest intentions, a brand’s package design simply does not accommodate brand growth. This lack of foresight can lead to a disjointed look at retail, particularly if poor decisions are made when determining how product line segmentation is conveyed on pack. Perhaps the new segment isn’t communicated in an obvious enough manner to resonate with consumers. Or maybe it’s communicated too powerfully. Perhaps the segmentation system has too many levels for consumers to understand. Or the retailer may not have purchased enough SKUs for the segmentation system to make the proper statement on shelf. Poor decisions like these may lead to waning consumer trust and sluggish sales, which are devastating for any brand.
Evaluation, Diagnosis and Prescription
There comes a time in the life cycle of every brand’s package design when it needs to be thoroughly evaluated for its effectiveness. If sales are slow and concerns have been raised about its ability to connect with its target consumer, or if retail buyers are questioning its potential for success within its category, that time may have already passed.
When an evaluation of a brand’s package design is conducted, every aspect should be analyzed, including its brand identity design and usage, the impact and consistency of its package design architecture, its color palette, its segmentation strategy, its use of imagery, its brand and marketing communication and its structural strategy.
The evaluation should consider the retail environment as well – particularly how and where the brand is merchandised at every channel. The packaging of key competitors within the category should also be analyzed. And the approach that brands in other categories may be taking to appeal to the same target demographic should also be a part of the evaluation.
If expertly conducted, an evaluation will uncover and diagnose issues with how the brand’s package design system has been maintained and implemented over time. It will expose inconsistencies, one-off treatments and multiple exceptions to the guidelines that weaken the brand’s presence at retail. Most importantly, it will provide a prescriptive path for its refresh in the form of substantiated recommendations.
During a conversation I had this weekend with a friend about my struggles with mastering the bass guitar, he cited rugby coach Larry Gelwix’s quote, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” This holds true with regard to the evolution of package design as well. In the same way he suggested that I take a few lessons from an expert bass player, lest I continue down a path of imperfection, I would urge brand owners to engage a package design expert to evaluate their brand’s current packaging, then to heed their advice before extending its design to the packaging of new products in their line, and perpetuating its inherent shortcomings.
Learn about our diagnostic engagement, The Package Design System Evaluation. Or, if you’re ready to discover what’s wrong with your brand’s current package design system and begin a prescriptive approach to improving its impact within the retail environment, contact me directly.