It doesn’t matter if you are managing a large product line for an established brandname or launching the first product of a fledgling company, keeping your packaging aligned with the brand should be a critical goal. Brand alignment is the coordination of all extensions of your company and its brand identity to create a unified and easily identifiable persona for customers. In-store, face-to-face with the consumer, product packaging is the most influential way to communicate your brand and is critical to the success of the product. Here are a few details to keep in mind when developing a packaging strategy that can help keep your packaging aligned with your brand.
Keys to success
- Identify your brand’s personality.
Pick just one trait that defines your brand or product and build around that. The personality can be a description of the product category, for example it can be high-tech, eco-friendly, or for child use. Or it can be more of a human trait projected onto your brand, for example trustworthy, strong, honest, feminine, playful, etc. While it may seem obvious not to use feminine shapes and colors if you are marketing a men’s product line, other personalities may not be so literal, so it may require some inspired thinking. In 1985 Coca-Cola made an unforgettable mistake when they tried to change their beloved formula. But that error also led them to realize Coke’s true persona was one of “Tradition”. The strategy to reestablish the brand while focusing on tradition and nostalgia still echoes 30 years later with the iconic curved green glass bottle and script logo. Other examples of packaging reflecting personality include:
Apple iPad/iPhone/iPod – Even from the early versions of Apple’s iPod it was packaged with simplicity and lifestyle in mind. They are packaged in a white box with just a large product photo and the Apple logo. They intentionally capture the product’s simplicity and avoid burying it under call outs, feature benefits, and other graphics.
Muji – a Japanese brand focused on minimalism with a few stores in California and New York. They reflect that identity in the packaging by using limited packaging made from recyclable materials. A typical product comes in unbleached brown paperboard with no logo or graphics, just text to identify the product. This “no-brand” image has essentially become the brand identity and is understood by consumers as such.
- Consistent design language.
The primary way to carry design language across packaging lines is through consistent color and font usage in the graphic design. A shared color palette is something that can be easily identified by consumers even from a distance.
Structure should remain consistent as well. For example a clamshell with a highly organic shape does not relate well to another product that is in a clamshell with a very plain geometric shape. This does not mean that all the packages across the line need to be literally identical structurally. An organic shaped clamshell can share a brand family quite well with a simple cube folding carton if the related organic elements are represented in the artwork with flowing shapes and gradients with similarly organic flourishes. And vice versa, a very geometric clamshell would be tied to a carton on shelf if the artwork is simple, bold and geometric. Some examples:
Microsoft Xbox360 – The game system and all of the games share the same logo banner across the top and feature a white and green color palette that is easily identifiable on shelf next to games for other systems. The components and accessories all share the same color palette as well while they come in a clamshell that mimics the console’s hourglass shape.
Crayola – Since the early 50’s most all of the Crayola crayon product line has shared the yellow box with green font in the header and green stripes on the lower corners, which is still easily recognizable today by kids and adults alike. As their product line expanded into other children’s art supplies, books, and toys they maintained that yellow color and green logo to create an unmistakable presence on store shelves.
Band-Aid – The product line is easily distinguished on shelf alongside competitors because they all come in a blue box with a white banner across the top bearing the Band-Aid name in red.
- Keep it simple
Avery simple message visually is easy to maintain across multiple platforms and product lines. Especially for large brands that span across many categories. This simplicity also makes it easy for the consumer to identify your brand, product, and personality. Good examples of packaging and graphic simplicity include:
EOS lip care products – The primary package and secondary packaging are both very simple. The balm comes in the immediately recognizable egg shaped dispenser and they made the bold choice to omit graphics other than a small “eos” embossed on the lid. The blisters packs are equally simple with a pastel color band to match the egg and minimal amounts of text in a small sans-serif font.
Campbell’s – Simple doesn’t always need to mean minimal or plain. Campbell’s soup cans are actually quite bold. The very large script on a red and white background is clear and concise while at the same time dominates the grocery aisle. The brand and flavor are easily identified by shoppers while many flavors also include a photo.
Method – Another example of easily identifiable minimalism. Most of Method’s household cleaners come in packaging that is translucent, a bright color, and is a simple, yet unique geometric shape. There is little artwork other than text in a simple sans-serif font.
Things to watch out for
- Avoid making it too complicated. This is probably the most common mistake. People want to share as much information as possible. Brand managers want their product to relate to as many people as possible as well. Even the most experienced designers can struggle with the desire to “fill up the page” It’s very hard to leave just open blank space in the graphics or structure. But overcrowding and an overly complex message is confusing to consumers. If the consumer has a clear idea of what your product is and how it works, sometimes it is better to let the product sell itself rather than burying it in verbiage and artwork.
As part of the development process it can be painful to watch great projects go down this path. There have been times I work on a project thinking “this [one element] really turned our perfect”. Then after a review someone wants to add another feature. Then someone else wants more graphic space. Finally with nothing working quite as well as it did in the first revision, larger changes are made to compensate. In the end nothing quite works the way it should have and the package turns into a Frankenstein that in no way relates to the product or brand.
- Misrepresenting your brand
By trying to make your product or brand take on too many personalities you can confuse, deter, or even mislead your target customer. Be honest with yourself and your brand. If your product does not fit the trendy category of “sustainable“, don’t style your package as such. A potential customer may be just as turned off, particularly if they think the message is not an honest one. Trust the niche that sells your product over a competitors and highlight it. It will enhance your brand. While trying to force the identity of a leading competitor onto your brand can make it appear as a knock off.
- Over-packaging or under-packaging based on value.
More often than not companies want to drive cost out of packaging. While this is typically a good thing for consumers and companies alike, it is not always the best for the brand.
Putting an expensive product in a cheap package makes the product look cheap too. If your brand demands top of the line prices, consumers expect the packaging to reflect that. For example a manufacturer super-premium Japanese hi-fi audio systems used to even smell-test their packaging, to ensure it relayed the brand identity of perfection down to the smallest detail.
On the flip side, over packaging can hurt you too. If you sell your brand as an economical commodity, having holographic foil printing gives the consumer the impression that they are paying for packaging not product. Be realistic where your brand lies in the marketplace and package your products accordingly.
By just keeping in mind your brand’s identity when developing packaging, and having a clear concise message, while avoiding these few common pitfalls, you can enhance your product, your company, and your brand.
Ryan Falkman, IDSA, CPP, is a product designer at Transparent Container Company Inc.