Putting packaging design at the heart of brand strategy

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Packaging design is a key strategic element in expressing and achieving core brand objectives. In today’s intensely competitive business environment it is increasingly important for brands to look at packaging as part of a complete strategic system and roles it plays in creating brand success. Consistency, affinity and experience are the three key parameters that drive the success of a brand-led packaging.

The aspect of consistency comes from the brand attributes. This is an amalgamation of both the expressed design and expressed narrative of the brand. The elements of the brand’s design expressions are fairly simple to decipher, follow and create. A well defined brand identity system is the single most critical place to look at for every brand expression, including packaging. It’s the repository of semiotic and symbolic codes of what the brand stands for – as in its place in the category, in relationship to the competition, the purpose that it fulfills in its consumers life and the principles that drive it in the current social context. Between the name, typography and graphic elements, colours, fonts, etc, there are embedded hints towards the brand essence. So, it’s cardinal to study every aspect of the identity to form the key influencer for the packaging design.

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The next aspect in the brand-led approach to packaging design comes from the category. What are the category codes that emerge as the packaging principles? What’s common to the category? The form, colours, hierarchy of information, design elements, kind of pictures shown, every aspect becomes a part of the category and how it operates in the consumers mind. The commonness and consistency in the category creates the “I Know” space. The comforting zone of familiarity.

The customer is out here in the store for some grocery shopping. Nothing more. So there’s significant merit in making it easy for him. That’s what the category code achieves for you. And only when you understand the category code significantly and inherently that you will be in a position to play around, to tinker with the category code and create some magic. My frequent advice to most young, budding designers has been to ‘do the boring/me-too/conformist design first’. It is only when you create something from within the category first is that you begin to appreciate the finer aspects of why and what is working for this system. You get a grasp of the nuances. And now when you create your own inspirational, highly original piece of packaging – it has all the elements working and creating an impact. It will not only pull the audience and signal all the right messages, it will also delight and surprise. Remember, when it comes to category code, the way to non-confirming begins with confirming.

It’s time for packaging designers and brand custodians to think beyond the design framework and look at the brand’s strategic perspectives holistically.

 Packaging is the brand in your consumers’ hands:

In a brand driven successful packaging, the consumer holds and is gratified by a series of experiences that are consummate to the brand’s ethos that they’ve bought into or believe in:

  • Brand’s visual and graphic assets
  • Brand’s narrative: the story it stands for
  • Brand’s purpose and function
  • Brand and sub-brand architecture
  • The hierarchy of information: what you bring to the consumer
  • Emotional appeal
  • Ingredient story, key highlights, etc
  • Shape, form and material

Going beyond the above pointers, the strategic aspects to keep in mind while evolving a packaging design include the following checkpoints:

  • Does it support the brand strategy
  • Does it add to the brand equities (Ideally, it should build, foster and strengthen the equity of the brand)
  • Does the packaging design structure allow for creation of lighthouse products
  • Could the uniqueness and simplicity of design be envisaged to impacting sales positively
  • Does the overall packaging provide a clear point of reference to the shoppers
  • Does the form and design structure allow for flexibility (Think of the future of the brand, the new markets it will expand into)
  • How can this packaging be made an integral part of customer journey
  • The design and approach should not be ‘the flavor of the season’ design: it needs to be designed principally for longevity

In sum, a successful brand-led packaging system should be enhancing the product and brand experience; function as a sales tool; stimulate emotional branding; and become an anchor of recognition.

Your quick guide to basics of packaging

Learning through quick examples

1. The importance of category:

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Look at the shelf space of any category – you know without reading anything at all that the category is salsa sauce. When you go and visit the stores and look at the shelf, see from a distance first to understand at the most generic level what codes make your category a cohesive unit.

For example, when you study the category, what are the cues you are looking for: Look at the white label packaging – it does not have the prominence of Red, Yellows and Green that is across all other brands.

The ingredient graphic is above the brand name – which is not in any other packaging

Look for colours, hierarchy of information, placement of ingredients and where are the highlights

2. Find your story – place it in design:

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Notice how the designer has created a significant clean space for the design idea of hand pressed and also made it integral to the design by using the device of ‘D’.
Placing the idea in design means that the design has not been loaded with any other graphic elements. The brand name and the product descriptors have essentially been used to balance the complete space. Once you have a good design idea, put it in the heart of your design and work around it to create a neat balance.

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Notice how the designer has created a significant clean space for the design idea of hand pressed and also made it integral to the design by using the device
Never have any elements that are a visual diversion from your idea.
Also, notice how the core design idea can be evolved across a range of flavours. Look at the background colours. How they support the different flavours. Notice the change in font colour of the product descriptor.

Notice the balance.

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Notice how the ‘Cola’ colour has been used as highlight – on top and against the red background in the font.

3. Leveraging colours to create consistency and dynamism in packaging design

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In the above example of a tropical fruit juice brand, notice the way colours have been used. The background creates space for the brand. The entire central section is used to bring alive the specific flavor. The choice of colours are subtle and yet vibrant – to narrate the tropical story.

This style of colour usage helps create absolute consistency when you have to develop a range of flavours within a brand. And yet give importance to the flavor by giving it a clear space.

4. Using colour to make design appetizing: get your flavor into the packaging colour.

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Before you begin designing, define the primary colour for your flavor. Create a mental picture or a flat space with just the colour. Proceed to design, only if you think it represents your flavor and you find it appetizing enough.

5. Get a sense of graphics: Establish your graphics in advance

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Graphics can play a great role in enhancing the mood for your food/beverage. It almost always makes sense to use the graphics in a subtle manner, unless you’re creating a ‘clutter by design’ packaging. Leveraging graphics in a subtle manner helps create a seamlessness and synergy between a range of different flavours. Also, if the graphics become a part of the overall packaging design, they add a discoverable layer, rather than being loud and upfront.

6. Get a sense of hierarchy and structure: work in doodles, scribbles or create structural spaces for different elements of your packaging before you jump into designing

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Some things are evident – where the Le Fruit logo is and how the flavour name is in the central position. But also notice how there is always a graphic element on the top right. Notice that the fruit graphic size is much larger and is always in the left side of the packaging. Look at the right corner for graphics that state ‘natural’. It makes sense to define the exact space for each element to create consistency in your range of flavours.