Food & Wellness Brands, Beware: How Redesigns Go Wrong

09.05.18 / David Lemley

When you were a kid, you probably begged your parents to let you have cookies before you had dinner, right? You wanted the sweets before you ate your vegetables.

Now that you’re running marketing for an indie food or wellness brand, you still want the good stuff (cool-looking, trendy identity, and packaging) before you’ve had the good-for-you stuff (business strategy).

We’ll be the grown-ups here and tell you: No design until you’ve done the strategy first.

This design-before-strategy trap is becoming even more prevalent: We’re finding that about 75% of our prospective clients just want something pretty and they want it now. Why the rush? These are the most common reasons we see for moving forward quickly with design changes:

  • Brands haven’t allocated appropriate resources (dollars or people) to develop a sound foundational strategy.
  • CEOs and CMOs have been burned in the past by hasty redesigns, and they’re not convinced they should spend the time or money to do it right. See the irony here?
  • People in business tend to overestimate their own taste and expertise; they’ve supervised design projects before so they think they can fast-track the latest one.
  • Design is a tangible outcome and research is not, and it’s hard for people to be patient enough to wait for that outcome.
  • There’s a false sense of urgency: the sales team wants the change now, retailers are barking at the door, competitors are coming into the market.

We get it. Setting the stage for an effective design or redesign takes time: The process we walk our clients through typically runs six to eight months. It’s intimidating: Research might reveal mistakes you’ve made; category reviews might show that your competitors are trouncing you at retail. It takes resources: You need to allocate budget and secure the commitment from your leadership team.

And it’s worth pointing out that brand strategy does not equal creative strategy; one comes before the other, which is important to keep in mind when you set your expectations for working with an agency.

The Problems of Redesigning without Strategy

Design becomes a beauty contest. Let’s line up three splashy new packaging systems and pick one. Which one? The one the loudest voice in the room (the CEO) favors. This is a great approach only if your leadership team knows exactly how to pick a winning, on-brand, culturally relevant design that not only appeals to current customers but also captures a huge new audience. (I have met just two in thirty years who could do this.)

Design is just guess. Without the appropriate competitive analysis, trend forecasting, white-space mapping, and brand-driven positioning language, creative execution is a total shot in the dark. How do you make design decisions that will stand out on shelf, attract buyers, and stand the test of time if you don’t understand what the market needs and wants?

Design is a short-cut solution. You’re under pressure from retail partners seeking greater velocity, and you need a redesign — fast. So you skip the three months of strategy work and go straight to picking colors and typefaces.

Design is knee-jerk reaction. You’re just chasing trends in search of a sales spike. So you redesign every 18 to 24 months in response to what’s hot in ingredients, graphics, or food photography.

Redesigning becomes an endless cycle. When the creative execution fails to move the needle, and it inevitably does, the marketing team takes another swing at it. Bad design begets bad design, and pretty soon everyone thinks it’s the design’s (and the designers’) fault. It’s the natural outcome every time.

What does a smart redesign in our space look like? Check out Kashi’s 2016 brand overhaul. They updated the logo, dropping the swishy rectangular background and emphasizing the leaf motif. The mark plays a more prominent role on packaging, yet it’s still familiar to fans. New boxes feature super-close product photography on a stark white background. A primary typography system reinforces the brand’s iconic green. It’s a pretty major redesign, but still completely in line with what the brand was before. The Kellogg team clearly built the redesign against Kashi’s existing brand strategy and in response to the marketplace, instead of changing for the sake of change.

And we’ll bet that Kashi’s marketers won’t be doing another redesign anytime soon.

You only have to look at Coke and Pepsi to know that a brand’s design can last for years. They hang on to those design systems because there’s so much equity — customers freak out if the brands make even the smallest tweak.

So, that last design your brand team unveiled … How’s that going? Not what you wanted? Thinking about a do-over? Let us guide you through it — the right way.

Ready to talk about your project?

Or give us a call at 206.285.6900