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How to differentiate your brand through effective product design (Article 5 in the series)
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With the prominence of branding, packaging becomes the living embodiment of a brand’s personality, says Richard Stone, creative director of Yellowwood Future Architects, writing exclusively for Marketing Mix.

The look and feel of a product is what makes a consumer want to buy it. And in today's overcrowded retail market where consumers are spoiled for choice, image is everything. Thus packaging design (how a product is presented) plays a crucial role in creating and maintaining consumers' perceptions of brands. With the prominence of branding, packaging becomes the living embodiment of a brand's personality.

Unpacking the dynamics of packaging

Packaging dynamics are important to master as they reflect consumers' basic needs. And because consumers' needs remain constant, packaging dynamics need to reflect that constancy. Faced with a range of products to choose from, consumers either fall back on experience when selecting a product, thinking 'What did I buy last time?', or they are influenced by visual merchandising, sales promotion, or packaging design.

With established brands, consumers' perceptions are likely to be ingrained. In this case, the task is to make sure that a brand's packaging reflects these perceptions. When it comes to younger brands, packaging design can be manipulated to portray the intangible values you want the brand to have.

Differentiation through design

The primary role of design in product differentiation is to give meaning to a product's proposition. Thus the design should exploit every aspect of a product's inherent features and format to engage with consumers. This can be achieved through creative use of imagery, colour, shape, format, or even the tactile qualities of the packaging materials.

In most cases, a packaging design brief would require shelf impact. The logic is simple - if a product 'shouts', it will attract attention. Unfortunately, if every product shouts, the shelf becomes a cacophony. So achieving on-shelf impact is not about making as much noise as possible. Instead, it's about creating a powerful product position - and communicating it in a way that resonates with your target market.

Always keep in mind how many different choices consumers are faced with. It provides the context for design and illuminates the scale of the task at hand. If you fully appreciate and understand your competition, the final product is likely to be that much better.

Do your homework - research category behaviour

Just like people, every market category behaves in its own unique way. Over time, this behaviour can evolve into established category rules or 'sector cues/equities'. Thus brands come to exist in defined competitor sets, which act as the frame of reference within which each brand operates.

These sets can impose certain constraints, and the communication of your own distinctive brand values must take place within these boundaries. If you ignore too many of the category rules, you run the risk of moving outside the consumer's frame of reference.

Beginning the design process

All packaging design projects begin with the brief. Don't underestimate this first step - the success of a project is often reliant on the quality of the initial briefing.

Douglas Hofstadter, a renowned scientist, once said: "I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity." Norman Berry, a creative director, echoed this when he said: "Give me the creative freedom of a tightly defined brief."

Designers need to be provided with the parameters of a project - ideally in the initial brief. If the designer understands the target market and its rational and emotional needs, he/she will be better equipped to deliver a solution that speaks to consumers. The more one knows about the competitive set and retail environment, the more likely one can design a truly differentiated product.

In short, a good design brief 'anchors' the designers to a set of key objectives and provides a process for evaluating the proposed design solution. In doing so, it also eliminates subjectivity.

A good design brief should include the following information:

  • What are the objectives of the redesign/design?
  • If a re-design, to what extent should the design be: evolutionary or revolutionary?
  • What is the brand positioning i.e. what is your brand proposition that you are promising to your consumers?
  • What is your brand's personality and the experience you want to create?
  • What is the role of design in the marketing mix? Is it to replicate the overall positioning or to emphasize certain aspects of it?
  • Insights into target consumer: who are they, what are they like, what do they think/feel/do?
  • What competitive choices do they have? What do they feel about these?
  • What do you want them to think/feel and do as a result of the new packaging design?
  • Where will your product be sold?
  • Specific design issues, mandatory information to include and production constraints.
  • How will the work be evaluated and by whom?
  • Timings, budgets and deliverables.

Once you receive the design concepts, your brief will ensure both you and your packaging designer are using the same criteria to judge the work.


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