Smart brand owners know the value of developing a well-conceived packaging program for their consumer product and licensed brands. They know their retail categories intimately. They’re diligent about market research. They study how consumers interact with their products in the retail environment. And they understand that establishing an emotional connection between their brand and consumers can be a powerful way to motivate purchase decisions. They do everything in their power to ensure that they’ve created a visually distinctive and cohesive retail presence for their brand. One that lives up to the brand promise and reason for being.
Why is it, then, that these same smart brand owners often allow their packaging programs to deviate from the standardization that they’ve worked so hard to institute? Why do we see so many perfectly packaged product lines become peppered with ”one off” packaging that defies all visual logic?
There are many reasons why marketers and brand managers are led astray. Too many, in fact, to address in a single blog post. I’ll do my best to highlight the most common motives, then allow readers to impart their own observations regarding others.
Every brand owner wants their product line to grow. But, sometimes the potential for growth isn’t considered while the brand’s package design system is being developed. The manner in which future product varieties and product segments will be introduced to the line must be addressed during the package design process. Without proper forethought, this growth tends to give rise to ”one off” packaging for each new product, ultimately diluting the visual system and confusing consumers.
Multiple levels of segmentation
Expansive product lines often necessitate multiple levels of segmentation (i.e. one to differentiate between varieties, one to communicate product purpose, one to convey good/better/best, etc.). Overlapping segmentation systems need to be carefully and strategically constructed to avoid a fragmented presence on shelf. A complex matrix of segmentation requires more than a few products from each segment to be placed at retail to tell the complete story. If the retailer doesn’t commit to enough product, the segmentation system may not function properly.
Also, multiple levels of segmentation inhabit more on-pack real estate. This often results in the segmentation color outweighing the core brand color palette, making it difficult for the brand to build visual equity in a particular color while diluting the visual impact of the entire product line at retail.
Highlighting unique products
In an effort to draw consumer attention to an innovative, new product, brand owners sometimes resort to doing something ”special” with its packaging. They may introduce a unique color, a distinctive printing technique, or even veer from the brand’s structural strategy in favor of a dramatically different package shape. Sometimes they reconfigure the brand communication hierarchy to make room to call out benefits and features in a larger, more sensational manner. Slight modifications to the package design system can effectively make a product stand out, if done carefully and strategically, and with respect to the rules of standardization. However, if these ”exceptions” become the norm, the product line will eventually become visually disjointed and shoppability will be compromised as a result.
Brand owner’s responsibility: Package design standardization
Ultimately, it is the onus of the brand owner to police package design standardization. Rules for packaging implementation should always be documented in a style guide to ensure that the package design system doesn’t take an evolutionary tangent due to “one off” packaging or poorly conceived segmentation methodologies.
Again, these are just a few of the reasons that packaging evolves away from its standardization. If you play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of your brand’s package design system, please share your own observations on this topic.