points on package designBRANDPACKAGING talks with Paul Castledine and Brian Wagner about propelling brands forward through package design. Additional insight can be found in Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions’ book “Creating Value Through Packaging.”

BRANDPACKAGING (BP): What does package design do for a brand?

Paul Castledine (PC): Packaging enhances a brand’s identity and helps personify a product based on its ability to resonate with consumers. For most brands, it’s the only touchpoint with the consumer.

Brian Wagner (BW): Every brand has a story to tell — unearthed, defined and brought to life through brand design. Since many consumers bring emotion into their purchase decisions and justify their decisions rationally, packaging helps tell the story on the shelf and throughout the consumer’s experience using the product.

Our research shows that all elements, visual and structural, play a role in communicating desired brand DNA elements. However, we have also found that very few package designs are achieving this successfully. Designers are doing their best with what they know — but are not connecting with shoppers.

BP: We know that package design isn’t just the art; it’s the structure as well. How should brands go about defining the look and feel of the package to match their story or values?

PC: Packaging starts with understanding the customer journey, because without this understanding, you don’t know what external effects will counteract that customer’s decision to pick up your product.

BW: Design has to work at shelf and throughout the user experience; integrated marketing communication strategies should include design strategy, with visual and sensory cues recognizing the psychology around how people shop and buy across channels.

We define Holistic Packaging by Design [PTIS’ trademarked process] as the purposeful synthesis of brand ambition, design principles and technical possibilities to drive brand advantage and business value through packaging.

BP: What are some questions brand owners should ask themselves or steps they can take to see if they are on track with what they want to express with a package?

BW: Who do we need to involve in the design process and how can key decision makers get involved early? Inclusiveness and empathy are key tenants of Holistic Packaging by Design, and we believe in including key stakeholders across the value chain, early and often in the design process. We engage with supply chain, manufacturing and suppliers to explore possibilities rather than constraints at the earliest stages of development.

Who on the team should be involved in consumer and customer insight test development, analysis and interpretation of the results?

Starting with the end in mind, what are supplier capabilities and constraints? We don’t want to limit design possibilities, but we also don’t want to deliver designs that can’t be manufactured or don’t provide product protection through the supply chain.  

BP: When launching a new design, how can brand owners overcome concerns about consumer reactions to the packaging?

PC: Companies must utilize a holistic approach to package design to ensure they are resonating with their audience; they should integrate expertise and input of all stakeholders, design disciplines and technology to achieve a brand’s vision.

BW: It is crucial to start with consumer and customer insights and your vision for the brand. Too often we see companies create graphics that ignore the importance of package structure and the connections or disconnects with brand DNA imagery. This doesn’t always mean new research is needed on every project or program. We regularly conduct research to understand design elements that connect with a range of brand dimensions and drivers.

This leads to a much higher chance of success when validation and design refinement testing is done later in the process. This sort of testing should be updated every two years or so and done across consumer demographic targets to ensure it is relevant.

BP: What research is needed in advance? And how is this data collected and analyzed to achieve best results? 

BW: Too often researchers do the research and hand reports full of data to designers for interpretation.

Additionally, we have found that nearly all consumer research agencies will say they can test packaging, but as one Fortune 100 VP of consumer and customer insight told me, 97 percent of consumer research on packaging is done poorly. It is critical to understand the subtleties of asking consumers about the brand and product in additon to listening and observing for insights on packaging. When researchers ask directly about packaging, respondents become engineers; they want to help provide answers and solutions, but their information is often misdirected.

In addition, having consumer insight, retail experts, packaging professionals, design and brand strategy involved in observing the research and interpretation and making recommendations out of the research is an important piece.

Testing should include methods to understand “why” consumers do what they do and diagnostics to help in design refinement.

BP: What are some best practices when a product is not moving off the shelf? How can brand owners determine if it is a package design flaw?

BW: We hear this all the time: “Sales are down, and our product is not performing at shelf.”

A couple of thoughts to consider include:

  • What is your process for understanding if your design is still relevant, contemporary and communicating intended brand DNA dimensions? A best practice is to validate designs every 18 months and to make small changes as needed to remain relevant and differentiated from competition. Again, examine imagery related to look and feel, form and function, and emotional connections. Very few do this, and instead, many designs sit for years before a new brand manager comes in and decides to make changes.
  • The fast-moving consumer goods world is full of stories of design failures — because changes were too drastic, not linked with initial insights, consumers perceived they were losing something, or they believed the product had changed as well as the package.

In this high risk industry where less than 20 percent of new products succeed, one has to treat design strategically and with great respect.

BP: How can teams identify elements to adjust in the design, or, if necessary, make the decision for a complete overhaul?

BW: There are a number of methods, and it is important to consider all of the key touch points or moments of truth including packaging’s role at:

  • The Zero Moment of Truth and connections to all advertising mediums as well as social media. It is important to note that design elements should be consistent throughout. For example, integrated marketing communications strategy should encompass packaging and merchandising design.
  • The First Moment of Truth, or the role of packaging at the store shelf (or onscreen for online shoppers). It is important to understand if the package fits with the brand and concept. Brand DNA alignment testing is needed and recommended both within and outside of your category.
  • The Second Moment of Truth — when the consumer or shopper is transporting the product, storing it, opening, closing, dispensing, disposing, etc. — should encompass good qualitative-quantitative-observational testing to understand how well the package is performing, and it should be conducted in central locations or at point of use. Alternative package options are often included to help inform structural design and communications.

Of course, the best test is in market, understanding actual impact of changes on sales — trial and repeat. However, this is expensive, so doing the right work up front is a worthwhile investment.

BP: What other trends or issues would you like to discuss? Are there any key points that would be important to those reading?

PC: It is key that clients understand that packaging doesn’t just stop at the point of purchase. Packaging has a life beyond the store, whether it’s in storage or ensuring a long cupboard life. There is more here, and that’s digital life: digital recognition, like the Marmite pack that delivers recipes or packages that know when the product needs replacing and alert the consumer.

BW: There is a trend toward moving “design” from a service function to a strategic function, and along with it, package design. Yet, big challenges and hurdles remain, including the need to break down functional silos and speak each other’s languages. Very few practitioners are multilingual and able to communicate with marketing, graphic design, structural design, product development, supply chain, etc. Consumer insight for design is also not well understood — and is not taught, so too often researchers apply techniques that work for product, advertising and brand research to packaging. Measuring the return on investment in packaging design and innovation is not well understood. Thirty years into my career, I am at least happy to see small changes and see packaging get a seat at the table.  

Brian Wagner has 20-plus years of experience as an entrepreneurial business and technical leader, with a concentration in the packaging industry. He is co-founder of Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions, a division of HAVI Global Solutions (www.havigs.com), and currently serves as vice president of consulting solutions. Wagner has led innovation and strategic efforts for Fortune 500 brand owners and supplier companies with a focus on achieving better results through innovation, design, consumer insight and strategic organizational work as well as developing new growth and productivity initiatives. In 2008, Wagner was inducted into the Michigan State University School of Packaging Hall of Fame.

 Paul Castledine is chief creative officer at BOXER (www.havigs.com/boxer), a HAVI Group Company, and works closely with clients to produce bold visions for their brands, delivering them in engaging and innovative ways. He takes pride in delivering “design that works,” connecting a brand emotionally with its consumers and bringing it to life through design on multiple touchpoints in bold ways. He has done this for global brands like McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Unilever, Whole Foods, Levi’s and national brands like House of Fraser, Tesco and Vodafone.