Packaging: The Great Brand Differentiator
Work some magic on shelf by transforming your best marketing asset.
The need for packaging to play a more strategic role in the overall marketing mix is something we hear frequently from big and small brands alike. Marketing budgets are shrinking, and packaging has to sell the brand. There is a big difference, though, in writing that in a brief versus truly embracing the idea of using packaging as your main marketing weapon. It requires marketers to think differently and, in some cases, take (informed) leaps of faith.
- THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
- THE COMEBACK KID
- THE SLOW & STEADY BRAND
- THE CHANGE ARTIST
- PACKS THAT SELL BRANDS
That’s not to say using packaging to sell your brand means you have to create some epic redesign with all the bells and whistles. It actually means you need to get really smart and strategic about who your brand is for (hint, not everyone), what it will stand for, and what the category opportunity is. It may be a big change or small, but it must always be purposeful.
In 2011, a company called Meda Pharmaceuticals contacted Little Big Brands and asked us to redesign its Feosol brand of iron supplements. Meda hadn’t leveraged its packaging in the past but was primed to do so. With recognizable brands but very limited marketing dollars, it soon realized that packaging could be a key asset and transform its portfolio, re-energizing the company in the process.
I wanted to share a snapshot of some of Meda’s brands we’ve had the pleasure to work on in the past, in order to explore this idea of packaging as a transformative agent. The company shows a broad range of how brands can work harder and be a bigger contributor to your portfolio.
THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Feosol was an interesting challenge: The product itself was superior to what was on the market, but you would never know it. The portfolio was hard to understand, and the SKUs cannibalized each other. The brand was a mess in a very confusing aisle.
The first order of business was to understand what Meda wanted the brand to be. Collectively, we decided that Feosol’s strength was its ability to meet the complex variety of women’s iron needs. Once we aligned on that, we moved forward reinventing the brand into one that is relevant to today’s woman and stripped the packaging down to only the information that would help women shop the portfolio easily.
We avoided cliché category colors or dated female cues. We cut front panel copy, then cut it again, and still cut it more. The end result was a very different brand — clean, modern, simple and unique to the competition. It’s not a decision the brand team took lightly, but it was where Feosol needed to be taken to make an impact on a crowded shelf.
How to transform your diamond in the rough: Define your unique selling proposition and be willing to lead with it. Don’t be a “me too,” and don’t water down your message. Make sure you learn enough from consumers to give your team the confidence to make a real change, in order to have impact in the category.
THE COMEBACK KID
Geritol is one of those brands that just about everyone knows. It is trusted and has stood the test of time. It has a very unique situation as the name carries some baggage, coupled with packaging that looked outdated and dusty. It’s easy to see why the brand was becoming irrelevant. But here’s the thing — Geritol is a phenomenal product. It serves up nearly 100 percent of the recommended daily value of 12 essential vitamins and minerals, supporting energy, immune system and bone health in just the right amounts. No mega dosing here, just the support you need.
So how to approach this one? We knew by contemporizing the packaging and fixing its communication issues, we’d fix any attrition with our core demo, but the work had to do more than that. Meda was realistic about how much more: There was a chance to widen the net, but the brand still had the greatest opportunity with a sophisticated audience. And that’s a good thing. We like those loyal consumers. But we also know that women are acting and feeling younger than ever — 50 looks very different than it did 20 years ago.
All of these factors contributed to the redesign being an exercise in control and requiring calculated steps forward. Moving the brand from one-dimensional red to a vibrant palette was where we started. Adding dynamic iconography and loosening up the pack through typography and fluid lines automatically gave it a more youthful appearance. The updated logo is lighter, easier to read, and has breathing room.
One of the most important changes had nothing to do with design. A more intuitive naming system was created for the SKUs, with straightforward, minimalized copy. For example, Geritol Tonic simply became Geritol Liquid; Geritol Complete became Geritol Multivitamin.
How to transform your comeback kid: Know how far you can stretch. If you have additional marketing support, you can probably push out farther; if not, you may want to consider a more conservative approach. Since a “comeback” implies a time-honored brand, it’s important to be respectful of the brand’s heritage and equities. If you don’t know what’s meaningful about your brand to consumers, find out.
THE SLOW & STEADY BRAND
Our work for Contac was all about fixing the pack. The brand was happy with its target and resigned to the depth of competition on shelf in the category. Contac was always going to be a worker bee rather than the queen, and that was OK. But with each evolution and SKU addition, Contac had become confusing and hard to shop. It needed brand design 101.
The first step in the design process was assessing the line to determine what could be enhanced and what needed an overhaul. One big problem was color-coding. The daytime non-drowsy product was dominated by dark purple, and the nighttime product was a bright orange. Intuitively, it didn’t make sense nor did it follow category norms. The SKU colors were flipped and bold icons added to top of pack to clearly designate day/night.
The overall architecture and communication hierarchy was stripped down to drive home brand, SKU and symptom relief, making it a quick read for the consumer, as well as forming a strong brand block and a solid base for the introduction of new products. The Instant Cooling Relief Liquid line extension was created to align with the base brand but carries the addition of frosty snowflakes to mimic its instant cooling sensation. The updated Contac logo is true to the original, with a bit more action to cue healing.
How to transform your slow & steady brand: Not every brand can be a category leader; it’s a fact. But every brand can look good and have straightforward, easy-to-understand communication. If you’re a slow and steady brand, remember to keep moving and evolving. Keep your brand fresh and picture your whole line as you bring new products into the portfolio or develop new claims.
THE CHANGE ARTIST
We didn’t go into the Vivarin redesign with the intent to completely overhaul the brand. We did, however, think that the brand had the potential to make a bold statement. We also thought there might be an opportunity to capitalize on adjacent energy-related products. What we found in our research was a new audience very interested and open to the brand — but not as it currently looked. With hypothesis confirmed, we set out to create a seriously cool new design. It needed to be hardcore while remaining classy. No more in-between for this brand, we were moving forward with a strong point of view and a streamlined demographic.
The redesign started with a study and exercise in typography to find the right balance of strength and masculinity while remaining trustworthy and efficacious. It was also important to create a color palette that worked better for the brand and became more ownable. Black, a near-neon yellow ink, and silver foils were combined to achieve the ultimate result. Finishes were key to the overall look, with all the black matted down and the vibrant yellow glossed to achieve maximum contrast. Embossing gave the foil logo added depth and dimension.
Better communication was also a real challenge for the team. Vivarin has no mystery ingredients or fillers, unlike some other brands. The only active ingredient in Vivarin is caffeine. The redesign gives prominence to that information on three separate panels. Another key benefit is the tablet form. So instead of being an afterthought or taking its obligatory position low on pack, the tablet was incorporated into the logo itself, dotting the “i.” Lastly, the Vivarin brandmark was placed prominently on the top panel to avoid any bottom-shelf challenges.
How to transform your change artist: Develop some educated hypotheses, but make sure whatever is driving the change is confirmed with consumers. That said, don’t let research dictate your design or final direction. Research is a great tool for informing the process, but there are many factors that should go into your decision of what lands on shelf. Make sure that there is a real reason and need for a change; don’t just change for change’s sake.
PACKS THAT SELL BRANDS
While these four brands don’t cover off on every brand’s situation, they do take aim at some of the most frequent reasons brands are redesigned. No matter your challenge, the continuing theme of doing what’s right, not just what’s expected, is the key to packaging that fills a marketing role.
And that is hard to do sometimes, especially in the case of narrowing your demographic. It may feel like you are walking away from potential sales. In reality, by trying to speak to everyone, you may be speaking to no one well. The same goes for perceived equities. How much do you know about your equities? Sometimes what you think may be one is simply something that no one ever bothered to change but doesn’t, in fact, mean much to your consumers. When it comes to communication, let the phrase less is more guide you. We are all bombarded with so much communication every day that you can’t go wrong making it easy for consumers to understand your point of difference.
One more thing to consider if you are on the road to new packaging for your brand: Don’t forget to address retail realities while you’re redesigning. Are you bottom shelf? Does your category have stocking issues that can be addressed through packaging? Now’s your chance to fix some of that. Don’t get so caught up in the big picture that you forget to address the realities with which your brand lives.
It’s an exciting time to be in this business, when packaging has the power to not only grow brands but also serve as a key driver for entire companies. Given that, maybe it’s time to ask yourself, how much harder could your brand be working on shelf?