Licensed Product Packaging Standardization at the Extremes

Licensed Product Packaging Standardization at the Extremes

Some licensed product packaging programs are underachievers. They consist of very little in terms of package design assets and they offer very little direction with regard to standardization. The licensed brand owner doesn’t give packaging much thought or concern because they’re extremely product-focused. And they don’t realize that having a well-conceived, properly-standardized packaging program in place is critical to the success of their licensed brand in the marketplace.

Other licensed product packaging programs are overachievers. They consist of far too many complex package design assets and often require a master’s degree in applied mathematics to properly follow their standardization guidelines. The licensed brand owner, in this case, tends to micromanage the package design process without providing enough built-in flexibility to allow licensee partners to properly market their products.

While at extremes, each licensed brand owner described above believes that they are managing their brand’s licensed product packaging program perfectly. While their respective approaches may work initially, both can be highly-detrimental to the success of the licensed brand over the long haul.

Let’s take a closer look at how these two approaches differ, why they ultimately fail, and how best to achieve the right balance between them.

The Underachiever packaging program

Licensed brand owners with underachieving licensed product packaging programs believe that the property logo and a handful of imagery are all that is needed for licensees to develop retail packaging for their products. They believe that it is each licensee’s responsibility to establish the look of their packaging on an individual basis, and have no issue with the fact that each look will be different. Rather than driving the design process, they react to it, often spending an enormous amount of time rethinking each package design submission until it “looks right,” while wondering why it’s so difficult for their partners to get it right the first time on their own. At best, they’ll adopt a package design created by one of their more design-savvy licensees as their brand’s “official packaging look,” then distribute the production files to all licensees to use as reference as they create the packaging for their products.

This isn’t a sound strategy because each licensee will design their packaging with only their own products in mind, often with their brand prioritized over the licensed brand. And they certainly won’t consider whether or not the look they’ve created for their products’ packaging will function on other packaging formats or how the package design assets they’ve created might accommodate the packaging for products in other categories. When licensed brand owners take the underachiever approach to licensed product packaging design, they relinquish control of how their property is visually represented at retail, their brand’s shelf presence will appear disjointed due to the myriad of packaging interpretations, the brand will struggle to resonate with consumers, and products will ultimately fail in the marketplace.

The Overachiever packaging program

Licensed brand owners with overachieving licensed product packaging programs believe that standardization should address every aspect of the package design with mathematical precision. They use an equation to determine the proper proportion for all package design assets based on the size of each package panel. In their quest for absolute visual consistency, they get caught up in the complex minutia of standardization guidelines instead of effectively conveying the overarching visual aesthetic in a way that’s easy to understand and implement. Their written instructions are extensive, and their packaging templates and examples of dos and don’ts are exhaustive. Rather than inspiring licensee partners to develop great packaging for their products, the tone of their standardization guidelines is one of intimidation and restriction. They provide no margin for even the slightest reinterpretation, even if doing so would allow the licensee’s products to better connect with the target audience at retail. This strategy doesn’t work either because the expectations are too high. Not every licensee partner is equipped with a design team that can adhere to such complicated standardization. As a result, most initial package design submissions will be poorly-designed, requiring considerable reinforcement of the guidelines, which partners likely struggled to understand in the first place. The overachiever approach to licensed product package design leaves very little room for licensees to highlight the unique benefits and features of their products in a creative manner, or to address special scenarios, such as incorporating a segmentation system to make the product line easier for consumers to shop, or rethinking the relationship between modular package design assets to accommodate a unique package configuration.

Striking a balance with standardization guidelines

As I’ve mentioned, these two approaches to licensed product packaging program standardization are at the extremes. The packaging programs for the vast majority of licensed brands in the marketplace fall somewhere in the middle.

However, if you feel your approach leans toward either extreme, consider the following:

  • Approach the design of your brand’s packaging program from a modular point of view, ensuring that its package design assets will seamlessly accommodate any potential structural format.
  • Deliver standardization guidelines linearly. Introduce the package design assets first, with each presented in the order in which they’re incorporated into each panel of a product’s package.
  • Then introduce the packaging templates with call-outs detailing the assembly process, being sure to address and feature all of the primary packaging formats for your brand’s categories.
  • If necessary, address any special circumstances, such as extreme vertical, extreme horizontal or odd-shaped structural configurations.
  • Ensure that all instructional guidelines are written in an approachable, easy-to-follow tone. Then test and refine it to make it fool-proof.
  • Encourage creativity and allow enough flexibility within the standardization guidelines to accommodate unique marketing scenarios necessary for certain products to properly engage consumers.

Include standardization methodologies for retailer exclusives and co-branded products if these are prevalent within your brand’s categories.

Packaging standardization that benefits licensees and the brand owner

Having designed and standardized the packaging programs of countless licensed brands, we’ve refined our approach and evolved our philosophies around the method in which standardization guidelines should be presented to licensee partners. Our goal is to provide licensee partners with the guidance they need to develop their packaging with ease and to perfection, which saves a considerable amount of time and effort for brand owners and maintains a visually-cohesive presence for the brand throughout the retail environment.

If you have concerns about the standardization of your licensed brand’s current packaging program, or if you have a licensed product packaging program design or refresh initiative to address this year that would benefit from our expertise, let’s talk.

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