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Great Packaging Delivers on a Brand’s Promise

There’s a lot of adequate packaging out there. But it’s the reason why so many category products don’t stand out. What we ought to be aiming for is disruptive packaging. It garners immediate attention and sells the brand because it connects with the consumer. Well-executed package design not only appeals to consumers’ rational thought process but to their emotions which trumps features and benefits every time.

Decision made, the consumer’s choice is reaffirmed when the packaged product delivers on the brand promise. The process begins to build trust and loyalty as the consumer consciously looks for the brand when repurchasing products within the category and in new categories.

Great packaging isn’t status quo. It doesn’t blend into the appropriate product category; it transcends it, often in a highly disruptive way. Translation: it makes the brand stand out in a highly differentiated manner. Standing out and standing above the competition creates category leaders. Not only that: it makes the competition irrelevant to brand devotees. The behemoths of the CPG industry, like Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, have understood this for a long time.

Before package design is developed, a strong brand, well-positioned and offering articulated value, must be in place. A go-to market strategy with clear focus of the targeted customer is the next order of business. Research uncovers the brand’s key drivers as well as the customer’s. Package design can then be developed that aligns with the core brand, its values and the consumer. A hierarchy of visual cues and brand communication is developed to support the brand and to cue the targeted consumer that this is a “fit” with their lifestyles. The correct imagery and key words make the point quickly and efficiently.

Every component of packaging: substrates, structure, color, imagery and texture should come together to tell the brand story. This is achieved by using imagery and targeted and selective brand communication to show the consumer why this is the only brand for them. Remember that packaged products are an important representation of the brand for consumers, so it’s crucial to get this right.

Great Packaging isn’t Status Quo

Method Home presents great brand packaging. Unique structures, minimal materials and pared down brand communication deliver the brand’s core assets: our products are lean, clean and green. As cool as their brand packaging has been from the start, Method hardly rests on its laurels. The company mission of sustainability moves forward with its latest packaging coup. Its new “2 in 1 Hand & Dish Soap” is packaged in recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic. The “ocean water droplets” molded into the packaging communicates this very well. Environmentally sound products in pioneering environmental packaging: great storytelling or what? Consumers have flocked to this brand and still do, passionate about its values.

Brand values and stories don’t only hinge on sustainability as their core. How about getting the idea of clean food products across with few, simple ingredients sans a hodgepodge of impossible to pronounce chemicals via packaging? How is the message delivered? With clean, simple packaging that tells the story to a contemporary audience that is ever-more conscious about what they’re consuming. Great visuals, selective brand communication tell the story. The Haagen-Dazs “Five” line is a perfect example. Nabisco Shredded Wheat and Nutella are a couple of others.

Luxe and High-end Brands?

It’s tough to beat Godiva chocolates in those beribboned gold-foil ballotin boxes. Luxurious packaging opens up to reveal equally luxurious inner wrappings. Unfolding them leads to a great deal of anticipatory pleasure for the brand’s fans. The same is true of Apple. Sleek, black packaging says “cutting edge tech” rather than “decadent luxury”. Unfolding the layers of packaging to get to that new iPhone or iPad is part of the experience. Minimalist packaging isn’t the focus of these kinds of brands. In both cases, the packaging tells the brand story and aligns with the core of each very well. It’s no accident that these brands have such powerful fan bases. The people who love these brands are true zealots; these are brands that align with their lifestyles perfectly.

Starbucks packaged coffees deliver the brand perfectly, as well. Pared down white packaging intimating the purity of the product, features the mermaid cartouche more prominently than the Starbucks brand identity. At this point everybody on the planet knows that the iconic mermaid stands for Starbucks and only Starbucks. The name of each coffee variety, a short descriptor and the words “whole bean coffee” keep brand messaging short and sweet. Imagery does the rest. Veranda Blend features a lovely porch swing. Pike Place roast features the Starbucks at that historic location. Fair-traded Italian Roast features a motorcycle in front of the Coliseum. Brand and product messaging: perfectly delivered.

Retailers are catching up as they market and package their store brands in a meaningful manner. Aligning private label packaging with core brand values and their customer’s lifestyles is the goal. Think Zara. The high fashion Spanish retailer’s clean fragrances appeal in simple, contemporary packaging with beautiful fashion illustrations, of course. Simple one-word perfume descriptors simply state: Iris, Violets or Rose. As an international brand, Zara’s simple package designs are elegant and break language barriers. This is packaging that delivers the Zara brand and meets customer expectations.

Brand of the Street?

H&M is terrific for its urban chic and the way it incorporates that arty edge when it comes to packaging. What else would you expect from the European retailer that specializes in quick change artist fashion apparel, accessories and fashion for the home? There’s nothing snobbish about H&M. Responsive to new fashion trends at price points that the street can bear gives the brand plenty of cred among the hip youth of the world. So why shouldn’t the retailer’s packaged items reflect the brand’s arty attitude?

It’s really crucial for brand owners to get it now; packaging isn’t about selling products. It’s about selling the brand as the one and only.

Part of turning consumers into brand fans and then into zealots is the ability to align core brand values with their own; and with their lifestyles, becoming indispensable to them in the process.

What is your packaging saying? Is it selling the brand? If it isn’t delivering its core values or telling the story, it’s time to repackage.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Use Design as Theater to Create User-Centered Packaging Experience

It is no longer enough to be merely purchased and consumed, products have to relate to customers in a way that creates brand loyalty and longevity as an expression of the consumers’ life.

If “all the world’s a stage,” then brand managers need to think like playwrights, CEOs need to become producers and brands need to become actors. In their 1999 book, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage, B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore implored us to recognize that products and services must become “theater” for consumers in order to make a meaningful, emotional connection and to avoid commoditization.

“Businesses are no longer selling goods and services-they are staging experiences.”

Consumer product marketers may think retailers or service providers have an easier job in creating “theater” within a fixed venue. Certainly, retailers may have more opportunities to convey the brand message through multiple touchpoints. Yet, this also requires greater coordination in accurately delivering the brand message across all channels. Everything from the signs on the door, to the front line associate, to the product itself, to the shopping bag, to the displays, must consistently embody the brand message. With consumer goods, the primary touchpoint is the product itself. So, it’s the package and the product that must deliver the “performance.” The product must project itself into the lives of the consumer in a meaningful way. So, how can a product and package become theater?

The Method method

The foundation of theater is the human-to-human experience and connection. Package design must convey the human experience and “perform it” authentically. Package and product designers should, therefore, think like Method actors embodying the brand identity and personality within the design.

When the great acting theorist Konstantin Stanislavski developed the notion of a “believable truth” for actors (and his Method), he was asserting that theater was only going to be meaningful if it went beyond external representation and into emotional connection. The objective was to create truthful and deeply felt performances that were equally believable and meaningful to the audience. The same holds true for branding.

The believable truth is that which the customer sees, experiences, and remembers. The brand, therefore, needs to connect with the customers’ own feelings, memories, and experiences in order to be recognized as genuine and meaningful. In order to accomplish this, a designer must utilize and internalize these memories, feelings, and experiences to create the brand “performance.” This performance, or presentation, is how the customer will ultimately experience the product or service.

The journey for the Method actor starts with researching and assembling all external facts about the character before he can then use his own feelings, memories, and experiences to create a complete and believable individual. In branding, a designer must assemble all external and internal facts about both the product and the customer in order to find the common bond that will create the experience and make the emotional connection. Then, using intuitiveness and expertise, create it. For an actor, the character traits are internalized to project the true nature of the character. If these traits are not incorporated into the performance, the actor can only present a one dimensional character-offering nothing to which the audience may connect.

For the brand designer, the character traits, or “pillars,” are those unique core values that must be internalized and embedded into every aspect of the design process in order to project the genuine personality of the brand. If these are not present in the design elements, then a one-dimensional presentation is the result-one that has no emotional, cultural, or intrinsic value to the consumer. It is merely a product, not an experience. Embedding the core values into the overall design enables the product to project those genuine, unique values to the consumer. The result is a meaningful connection and brand loyalty.

As an example, outdoor retailer REI realized that their store brand products were perceived as having less value than the various name brand products they carried. After an in-depth character analysis (therapeutic brand evaluation) the specific traits that the company embodied were defined; among these traits were rugged, gritty, and authentic associations. Once identified, the product and packaging were transformed to match these qualities. The entire interior visual branding system and environmental graphics combined all elements into a cohesive message speaking to their customers’ outdoor enthusiast culture. It’s about how the customers see themselves-and they see themselves in the REI brand.

Personality profiling

While demographics, sales, and customer data can provide an overview of customers and how the brand is integrated into their lives, those will only provide an external perspective of the brand’s character. Understanding the underlying psychological realism that constitutes the emotional connection between the brand and consumer is crucial to understanding how best to communicate or portray the brand message. One of the best ways to understand this is through the use of personality profiling.

Personas have been used in a number of ways since Carl Jung defined the term in the early- to mid-1900s. In the realm of branding, the use of personas has evolved into a way to develop unique brand identities and create emotional connections. At its core, the persona is what is presented to the outside world around us in order to relate with others. This is exactly what the actor does on stage or on film. It becomes that which is identifiable with other people.

To maintain the psychological realism required the make the emotional connection, the persona must have both negative and positive characteristics. In developing personas, it’s key to look at both sides in order to develop a unique, holistic and genuine personality. For instance, being self-centered may be considered a negative trait, but it may be exactly that with which a core customer might unconsciously identify.

Creating personas involves both qualitative and quantitative research in order to have a complete and reliable model on which to base the personality categories. The qualitative information can best be gained through direct observation, in a cultural anthropological research model, in order to gather the traits, characteristics, goals, behaviors, needs, wants, desires, etc. of core customers. The customers can then be divided into several persona types-each with their own unique characteristics. These defined types can then be tested through quantitative research analysis tools, such as customer sales data, to confirm that the category assumptions are correct. It’s important to have both. As we all know, human beings don’t always say what they mean or want, nor do what they say!

Creating the entire experience

Categorizing persona types can be used for any consumer product, retail operation, or financial service. By creating a holistic and realistic “character,” the brand designer can then create an experience that best presents those traits to the consumer.

An actor connects with the audience based on a truthful expression of the character through personality traits brought out through his own feelings, memories, and experiences. Where an actor has the use of his body, face, and voice to bring this to life, the brand designer has color, texture, shape, size, font, message, etc., to accomplish the same thing. The brand designer must become the brand. By internalizing the core characteristics of the brand with the persona of the consumer, the product will become that character. And the customer will see themselves as they want to be in that product. Hence, the ultimate consumer-brand connection is created.

A differentiated, believable brand experience is developed from a realistic psychological foundation utilizing the unique personality traits of both the customers and the brand. The meaningful experience that will ultimately connect the brand to the customer is created through designing the unique-yet genuine-brand character and creating the experience around it. Just as the actor portrays a character that creates a meaningful theatrical experience, the brand becomes a meaningful experience by projecting the believable truth.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David