Strategies & Insights

A Consistent Recipe for Success Helps Fulfill Each Brand's Promise

Posted: September 8, 2009 by
Jim Stringer

In today's fast-paced consumer-driven market, effective packaging programs depend on many factors and decisions that change as quickly as the trends that drive them. But there is a proven recipe for creating top-of-the-line packaging with bottom-line success.

If you enjoy cooking then you know the secret to a successful meal is having a great recipe and quality ingredients. Package design is a process, just like cooking, and it works best when you have all your ingredients prepared ahead of time. Then it's just a matter of combining everything in right amounts with the right skills. The XO Create! firm recently applied this recipe for success to launch the America's Kitchen gourmet food line.

What's the recipe?

At the heart of it all is a genuine story or brand promise. This will be the foundation upon which you will base all the elements required for a successful launch. Why start with a story? Today's consumer doesn't simply want to purchase a brand; they want to be a part of it. The best way to facilitate this is with a simple message that can be easily understood in the minds of consumers.

To create a compelling story or concept we first need to understand exactly what it is we are trying to communicate. The more direct the concept, the more effective it can be in occupying a coveted position in the minds of your desired audience. Packaging presents us with a unique opportunity to tell this story on many levels in many environments and make the all-important emotional connection with today's savvy consumers.

Ingredients alone mean nothing without a great recipe—one that specifies all the ingredients, proportions, and skills you're going to need to launch your new packaging program. When working with America's Kitchen to develop their signature line of gourmet food packaging, the creative team at XO Create! adhered very firmly to this recipe and delivered a versatile packaging line for seven SKUs in less than eight weeks.

Ingredient #1 - The Shopping List

XO Create! started with a review of the America's Kitchen marketing objectives to build a shopping list of desired outcomes. This assisted the design team in envisioning the "what we need to say" component of the brand's message, which was "premium master chef quality food." An analysis of this promise in conjunction with our own category research and observations allowed us to write a design brief that connected the creative objectives to the business objectives.

Ingredient #2 - The Constraints

The second ingredient to be considered are the constraints the project must work within. These consist of elements such as timelines, production, and retail merchandising require-ments, filling/converting issues, and any government guidelines required. The constraints are often where inexperience and reality meet with unexpected and often costly results. In the case of America's Kitchen, understanding how and what their manufacturing plant was capable of before we even started the creative process gave the experienced design staff great insights into the form their packaging should take.

Product managers don't always bring the design team to the table early enough in the process, and thus let potential future problems slip by until later stages when they are more costly in time and money. While the constraints aren't typically the place most firms begin the creative process, getting them well-documented and understood by everyone involved is time well spent.

Ingredient #3 - The Budget

One of the most common misconceptions when discussing finances is the myth that outstanding creativity depends on a large budget. In fact, many firms do their best creative work within tight constraints and budgets. In order for a firm to come up with truly differentiated work on a given budget does depend on understanding the fiscal limitations long before the team starts the process rolling.

One of the value-added services XO Create! offers their clients is creatively working with their budget to accomplish the desired objectives. No firm worth their fees wants to know your budget just so they can spend it, more often it helps when making sure concept development and all the other creative elements (photography, illustration, die lines, and so forth) have been given adequate consideration.

Ingredient #4 - Answers

Next on the list of ingredients are answers. Not long ago it was quite common to have crucial business and marketing objectives still being determined after the design phase began. These days this is seen as a critical error, which more often than not produces poor performance and a lackluster connection with consumers. To truly connect your story with consumer expectations, you have to ask and answer the big questions: Why are we launching this product? What objectives are our top objectives? Where are we selling the product? Who are we speaking to? How are we speaking to theses consumers?

For America's Kitchen, it was determined early on that the key creative concept needed to reflect the high-end luxury values the brand was intent on delivering. The premium quality message needed to be communicated to gourmet consumers and food fans (or "foodies") desiring five-star dining experiences in their homes. Underestimating the importance of knowing your core audience and their values waters down the story your trying to tell or, maybe worse, creates misunderstood brand messages. By spending the time up front to answer these "big" questions, the design team can break your message down to its core ingredients allowing consumers to more readily digest your unique message.

Unlike print advertising or marketing, packaging is interactive. It is important to consider how consumers will engage and interact with your brand and how packaging can provide value-added opportunities for the brand to create an overall positive brand experience. Is the product easy to open and use? Does it need to be resealable? How will consumers interact with the product once they get it home? Don't make the consumer struggle to get to the product or bombard them with so much information they would rather not read it. If you deliver on your brand promises and make it easy, the user will remember you for it.

Ingredient #5 - Category Audit

In its simplest form, a category audit is a review of your competition and what current trends or practices they are involved with, the retail spaces you will occupy, and who your neighbors will be in this space. Category audits can also reveal opportunities for your new packaging to be more effective, change particular category observations, and better position the brand. When assessing the situation for America's Kitchen, the XO Create! design team discovered that the very nature of the product along with the actual packaging put them in a unique stocking/shelving situation with little to no direct competition in store, which in turn affected design decisions.

The Holy Grail in today's overcrowded market is differentiation in the mind of the consumer, and yet we are inundated with shelves full of "me too" products. Smart companies are already matching their brands with consumers' own desires, values, and needs. They also know packaging is the first touch point the consumer sees or interacts with and that first impression has to be a good one. The brand's story, values, and promise all need to be represented through packaging that fulfulls a real brand promise with the target consumers. If you've done your preparation and chosen your ingredients carefully, your recipe will provide all tantalizing elements today's demanding consumer expects.

Jim Stringer is Creative Director for XO Create! in Alpharetta, GA, and has produced innovative packaging designs and packaging programs for some of the most well-respected brands on the shelf. He can be reached at 678-319-4242 or