From the Insight Out: Package Design Unlike Any Other

While it’s true that design adds substantial value and equity to consumer product brands, I’m the first to admit that it all depends on how well-conceived and realized the design solution is for each brand. Not every one is a resounding success at retail, right? That leads us to conclude that product and/or package design is not optimal, rendering it invisible to consumers. Or that the brand is not well-marketed. Yet, many smaller brands have limited marketing budgets and still do well at retail, which brings us back to product and package design.

As a result of fast-changing market conditions and a restless consumer who is always eager for something new and exciting, design experts and brand marketers are endlessly looking at the manner in which they conduct research and tapping into every new technological tool. Many are talking about their proprietary methodologies in approaching the design process. These ideas may have some merit, but, bottom line, the most effective design solutions aren’t uniquely focused on the new and the exciting, but rather on delivering emotionally satisfying experiences. That can only be achieved if we truly understand consumers.

There are no shortcuts to research and design expertise

A true understanding of consumers comes from years of learning in the trenches, experience and intuition. There’s no substitute for these assets. Understanding also comes from honing in on specific industries and design disciplines in a deep and meaningful manner. All of this directly leads to our knowing how to research and to be able to discern what matters most in the information that is divulged. This level of expertise leads to insights that change the way we look at things because we begin to see things as the consumer does, leading to flashes of insights that are invaluable. These are the assets that, taken together, lead to design solutions that add tremendous value for brands.

Package design rooted in consumer insights

Henry David Thoreau once stated: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” The consumer for whom a product and package is being designed is the most important consideration. We need to not only see what they see, but feel what they’re feeling and respond to the most human of elements that drive them as people. Knowing the brand and its audience and how to align the attributes of the former with the desires and emotional needs of the latter translates to being able to deliver optimal design solutions. This deeper understanding enables design teams to create a visual expression of the brand that speaks to the consumer’s core desires and satisfies their emotional needs.

While product design matters a great deal, the first thing consumers see is packaging. In essence, the package is the product when consumers approach the retail shelf. When brand owners put substantial effort and financial resources into the design of their products, but then rush the package design process or underfund it before going to market, they have dramatically short-changed the odds of being successful.

If packaging doesn’t set the stage for a meaningful experience between the consumer and the brand, the brand itself has utterly failed. The most important contribution of package design is the strengthening of consumer ties to the brand because it offers emotional benefits that competing product brands do not.

Packaging as part of the product

Packaging that becomes part of the product is desirable not only because of its increased functionality, but because it continues to leverage consumers’ emotional satisfaction with the brand with each interaction. It is also the utmost expression of sustainability. Toy packaging is a great example. When it is used over and over again to store much-loved toys, we have achieved the ultimate in functionality as product and packaging become one.

The Fisher-Price Imaginext brand does a masterful job in this regard. One of the fifteen top holiday 2015 toys at Toys R Us was the brand’s Ultra T-Rex. The well-articulated toy appears photographed on the package, superimposed over a primordial landscape as background, clearly appealing to its dino-loving, demographic group ranging from toddlers to early tweens. Verbal brand communication matters to the product’s success with claims that T-Rex “walks and stomps” and “stands and roars”. Kids are invited to lift the 5th panel so that they can see T-Rex stand at his full height of 2 ½ feet. With LED-lit eyes, spikes and a chest that shoots boulders as projectiles, this T-Rex has all of the special effects that delight young children.

This packaging is highly functional; it suggests that it should be retained and used to store Ultra T-Rex and its small parts. But the ultimate value of this packaging lies in the depiction of the toy and its “special effects”, which feed the creation of story lines in children’s minds, suggesting new possibilities each time kids take the toy out to play with it. And each time they put it away.

License, but don’t lose the brand in the process

Licensing a brand is not a small undertaking and it demands a great deal of expertise. While many property owners dream about licensing, too many licensed brands minimize their chances of being successful without putting style guides for its licensing program and package design system in place. If these assets don’t exist; or if they are not expertly designed, licensed products have a high likelihood of failure. Even if they don’t fail, they will never maximize their potential because the core brand isn’t fully leveraged at retail.

OYO Sports has been successfully licensing highly authentic products for the NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS and NCAA since 2011. But because each league, and each team within these leagues, has its own packaging requirements, the licensed brand had no visual cohesiveness or consistent representation at retail. When we began work on the refresh of their licensed product packaging program, our primary goal was to create a single, common look for all OYO Sports packaging – one that would accommodate each league and its teams but also emphasize the OYO Sports in a consistent manner. It was important to create a new package design system to reflect OYO Sports brand values as well as selective visual and verbal cues that meant the most to sports fans. We knew that would establish incredible value and equity for OYO Sports as the brand began to consolidate its power in the marketplace.

The company recently released its redesigned NHL packaging via its new hockey rink sets to acclaim from kids and hockey players alike. The authentic and realistic details of the new rink sets presented in new packaging for the 30 NHL franchises are resonating with fans. They capture the excitement of the sport and the genuine appeal of its great star players. New York Islanders winger, Kyle Okposo, made an appearance at the NHL store in Manhattan in mid-November when the products were launched, signing autographs and engaging kids in spirited hockey games. There were “thumbs up” from everyone who built the rinks and played.

There’s nothing more gratifying than leveraging the licensed brand on packaging by hitting the sweet spot with sports fans; it comes from knowing and understanding each sport intimately and years of working with licensed consumer products for sports brands. And it comes from being fans ourselves; what thrills us likewise thrills the audience for each sport.

As OYO Sports rolls out products for their other licensed sports brands in the new package design system, it will give full expression to the values of each league and its teams, as well as those of OYO Sports. By leveraging emotive visual brand communication that fans of various sports leagues and teams respond to, and by using selective verbal communication, we are confident that the refreshed licensed product packaging program fully hits the mark. More importantly, it will give the OYO Sports brand a competitive advantage, making an impact that will ensure the creation of legions of dedicated, loyal fans.

The biggest benefit leveraging consumer insights in package design

We, as teams of designers, have the power to create impactful, enduring relationships between a brand and consumers. We can actually shape the experiences that bind them together in satisfying, emotive interactions. We, too, share in these experiences. We’re people designing for other people and our deepest joy comes from creating meaningful, lasting relationships between consumers and brands. When we have a deep understanding and respect for both, we can make magic happen.

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