The Secret to Successful Licensed Product Packaging: Part 1

Over the last 28 years, I’’ve attended quite a few packaging-related conferences where I’’ve seen plenty of case study presentations given by package design agencies citing the wonderful work they had done to refresh the retail packaging for their clients’ brands. These are always great to see. I mean, who does’n’t like a good ““before”” and ““after”” that shows dramatic improvement due to the refined design approach and brilliance of the design agency? The fact is, however, that presentations on package design for licensed brands are quite rare at these conferences. Most focus on traditional consumer product brand packaging rather than best practices in package design for licensed properties and the benefits to both the licensor and licensee when licensed product packaging is developed properly.

When I was invited to speak at the Packaging That Sells conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago back in 2013, I was given an opportunity to do just that. In my session, “”The Secret to Successful Licensed Product Packaging””, I provided attendees with an understanding of why licensed product packaging is inherently more challenging to address than traditional consumer product packaging. I discussed the most common mistakes made by brand owners when developing packaging for their licensed properties and how to overcome them. I then identified the 3 keys to creating a successful licensed product packaging program, and shared the benefits –– as well as the value –– of having one in place. Today, this presentation has become the single-most requested piece of thought leadership and actionable insight among our clients. And I’’d like to share it with our readership in a 3-part BOLT! series throughout the first quarter of 2019.

If you’’re a marketer, brand manager or a package designer for a licensed consumer product or entertainment brand, pay close attention. This approach could be a game changer for you.

Now, let’’s start at the beginning……

What IS a licensed product packaging program?

The best way to illustrate what a licensed product packaging program is, is to first illustrate what it isn’’t. Unlike traditional consumer product packaging, which leverages a structural strategy that typically consists of one packaging format in various sizes, and is merchandised in a single shelf set within one consumer product category, a licensed product packaging program is a cohesive package design system that represents a licensed brand, in a visually distinctive manner, while accommodating a diversity of packaging formats, across a broad range of consumer product categories, throughout the retail environment.

Let’’s say, for example, you’’re tasked with designing packaging for a traditional consumer product brand, like soup. Chances are you’’re designing a label for a can. Sure, you may have a couple of sizes to address. But, the label is the primary touch point for the brand at retail. Now, consider having to develop a package design system that would accommodate any packaging format. What if had to function equally as well on a blister card, a window box, a closed box, a platform or tray box, a clamshell, a header card, a hang tag, or any other conceivable structural configuration without compromise? As you might imagine, there are inherent challenges to infusing this kind of flexibility into package design. If you’’re a brand licensor, this, as I’’m sure you already know, is what you’’re up against.

The most common mistakes made by brand owners.

If you’’re the owner of a licensed property, there’’s a good chance that you’’ve been through more than a couple of package design iterations until you felt you nailed it. There’’s an even greater chance that you’’re still not happy with your packaging program, and you’’re hearing a myriad of things that are wrong with it from licensee partners as well as retailers.

This is most often a result of mistakes made not only in the design of your packaging, but also in how you’’re managing or supporting the implementation process. I’’ve identified the three most commonly made mistakes made by brand owners and why they’’re detrimental to the success of licensed brands in the marketplace.

The brand owner fails to see the value of a clearly defined and standardized licensed packaging program.

I can’’t tell you how many times I’’ve seen a licensed brand’’s packaging in complete visual disarray, then heard the person who works with licensees and retailers for the brand say, ““We don’’t need a licensed product packaging program. Our packaging is fine.””

Without a clearly defined and standardized licensed product packaging program in place, it becomes ““every licensee for himself””. Licensees will ““ad lib”” their package design, and will create a design that works best for their brand, without concern for how well it represents the licensed brand, or aligns with the packaging of other licensees.

The brand owner provides licensees with the property logo and a series of graphic elements with no standardization.

Believe it or not, many brand owners assume they have a licensed product packaging program if they have a logo and a handful of graphic elements that they can provide to licensees. Typically, they’’ll allow one of their licensees to take the lead in developing the look for their property’’s packaging while leveraging the logo and graphic elements however they please. That look is then shared with all other licensees as a template to follow.

This isn’’t a sound strategy because the licensee will develop a package design based on what works best for their products. They won’’t consider how the package design will function on other packaging formats or how the package design assets they develop will accommodate products in other categories. What’’s worse: the brand owner is relinquishing control of how their property is represented in the marketplace.

The brand owner works with each licensee to develop their packaging on a case-by-case basis.

Brand owners that don’’t see the value of having a cohesive, standardized licensed product packaging program in place often make the mistake of reimagining their property’’s package design for every licensee. Meaning: the brand owner takes a look at each licensee’’s brand and the type of products they manufacture, then develops a package design that works best to market their products on an individual basis.

Developing licensed product packaging in this way builds no visual equity for the brand. There’’s a tendency to leverage a variety of unrelated graphic elements and the placement of the property logo often seems like an afterthought. The result? A lack of visual consistency at retail because every licensee’’s package design has a completely different visual appeal.

What happens when mistakes like these are made?

The licensed brand fails to resonate with consumers and products fail in the marketplace.

So, how do we avoid these mistakes?

This is what I’’ll cover in next month’s issue, along with the three keys to developing a successful licensed product packaging program. Until then, please share your thoughts on the challenges you’’ve faced while developing packaging for licensed brands. We’’d love to hear from you!

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