Brand owners know their vision for image and story better than anyone else. After all, they created the company and poured themselves into the products. But brand building can’t exist in a vacuum—in a healthy scenario, input comes from a variety of sources. And undeniably, whether it is in-house teams or outside agencies, designers create the visual magic that draws customers to a brand.
Five talented agencies share their secrets of how they help shape brands into greatness through packaging structure and design.
#1. learn and grow
Understand that design is a true talent. Staying inspired—and working despite creative ebbs—is a choice and a discipline. Agencies that nurture themselves through creative means aren’t just having fun and being “artsy”: They are developing the ideas that will separate your brand from the crowd.
“At LBB, we emphasize a culture of learning,” says Pamela Long, partner, Little Big Brands. “We can all learn from each other, and good ideas come from everywhere. Our whole studio is very collaborative and low ego, and mentoring is a natural outflow of that. We encourage sharing creativity and good ideas—whether that’s daily all-company emails with something cool an employee has found, or putting new practices in place that make us better at what we do. Our company outings tend to be another outlet for inspiration—like our trip to the world’s largest rooftop farm to see (and eat!) organic produce at its finest, or our upcoming night out at Cirque Du Soleil’s Broadway debut. We’re very supportive of employees bettering themselves through continuing education as well as providing regular opportunities to attend industry events, conferences and lectures to everyone from the intern on up. We also offer unlimited vacation to employees and encourage them to travel—it’s such a great way to see creativity and perspective from different parts of our country and world.”
“Our motto is family first, which may not seem super relevant to shaping brands, but it makes a lot of sense in life,” Long continues. “Work hard and do the best job you can, but don’t forget that it’s just work. Make sure you are making time for family, your health and the things you love—that’s what life is all about, and it will likely make you happier and more productive at your job too!”
To foster creativity and inspiration, package design agency Haugaard makes it a point to ensure its corporate environment remains fun and, to a certain degree, carefree. With whimsical office décor, a loose and unapologetically quirky team, and management that constantly encourages field trips to assess and conduct grocery store audits, Haugaard offers ideal conditions for creativity to flow.
“We believe in professional goals and supporting them in any way possible,” says Linda LeTourneau, VP, Haugaard Creative. “We encourage our team members to continuously strengthen their skills by attending seminars and workshops. Planned field trips and group sessions are frequently held so as to push our team to immerse themselves in environments, cultures and markets that play important roles in the CPG industry.”
Tradeshows and conferences are other excellent learning tools. And being knee-deep daily in the industry’s trenches strengthens and empowers designers, says Christopher Durham, VP of retail brands, Theory House and founder, My Private Brand.
“We stay tapped into the latest trends and industry developments with a robust program which includes: blogging (mypbrand.com) and social media outreach, industry conferences and trade magazines, and workshops and classes. Also, our global customer base provides rich travel opportunities to discover inspiration from Boston to Shanghai.”
Michele Sawyer, CEO, Sawyer Design Vision, agrees: “We attend trend and marketing events, industry tradeshows and regularly go to museums for both classic and contemporary exhibits.”
In addition to the above traits and practices, you know your brand is in good hands when you hear your designers speak about doing their jobs with intensity.
“We do a lot of shopping,” says Long. “Walmart, Target, major grocery and drug chains as well as a retail mall are all within three blocks of LBB—it’s never a bad idea to take a walk and see what’s new on shelf and the environment our brands are living in.”
“We listen. A lot,” says Stefan Hartung, co-founder and creative lead, Ideas That Kick. “We get out in the market, attend trade shows, go on merchant visits, conduct research, go on speaking engagements and attend design industry shows. Kick also has a dedicated international trend team and a network of partners to keep us current with the latest in global retail and design trends.”
So don’t judge a firm by the studio’s think tanks, trinkets and office dogs—or lack of them. These mean nothing—or imply a creative deficit—if an agency doesn’t also value perpetual employee growth, travel, trips to the store and time off with family. Habits like these keep designers in the know as well as relaxed enough to let their skills shine.
#2. go deeper
Where your new packaging design or redesign project begins determines how it will end—and how well your brand will be perceived at shelf. Good design relies on so much more than color knowledge and hierarchy of copy. Strong firms place as much value on the behind-the-scenes processes as the surface aesthetics when creating packaging for brands.
“Package design is critical to bringing your strategy to life,” says Durham. “However, great package design will not fix bad or nonexistent strategy. Every package design project we work on starts with strategy. We believe that the strategy must be centered around two key elements: first and foremost, the customer, and secondly, the specific business need or objective. Design and structure are then powerful tools that we use to solve the customer’s need or the specific business challenge.”
Also important is a customized approach to each specific brand product. Treating all categories as the same or lumping similar situations together may streamline work for a brand or agency, but it doesn’t bring the most impact.
“With package design, the approach isn’t about the brand or the consumer, it is both, with an inclination towards to the needs of the consumer,” says Milagros Sabarots, account executive, Haugaard Creative. “We approach package design beginning with the brand and understanding how it translates to consumers’ wants and needs.”
“We always get a kick out of agencies that tout their ‘proprietary trademarked processes,’” says Long. “We take a very different approach because we think each brand and each brand challenge is unique and deserves a customized solution. How in the world can you put cold-pressed juice and diapers through the same funnel and expect a meaningful result? It just doesn’t make sense. Our approach is really a marriage of logic and magic. Logically, we want all the information on the brand we can get, and to understand or uncover meaningful consumer insights to guide the work—how we do that depends on the product, the brief, goals for the work, client culture and budget, to name a few variables.”
The best work comes from designers who lend listening ears and understand that while selling packaged goods is business, products are bought by real people—not faceless, nameless consumers—and build their efforts from there.
“At Kick, we think people,” says Mary Kemp, co-founder and brand strategy lead, Ideas that Kick. “We create meaningful human connections by digging deeper into audience mindsets, tapping into the emotional thinking that motivates behavior and becoming subject matter experts. The more we understand, the better we communicate and connect. Once we are armed with that foundation, our design team delivers inspired design solutions that elevate brands on shelf and beyond. Our goal is to uncover the magic inside each brand.”
#3. create impact
These days, most companies know that the role of packaging in brand and product differentiation and customer connection is no small thing. Good designers get it too and will push brands to step up their game in these areas.
“What you put on the face of your product is the first impression of your investment and therefore, your most powerful weapon,” says Jose Parado, VP/creative director, Haugaard Creative. “Having a great product means nothing if it does not grab the attention of the consumer and compel them to make the purchase. It takes a consumer between three and four seconds to make a brand selection among a number of competing products in a category. At that first moment of truth when the consumer encounters the product, the brand has to deliver and establish an emotional connection. While advertising can help plant a seed, and public relations and social media can spark interest and curiosity, package design is the only direct one-on- one impression.”
“Package design is the foundation of the brand,” says Sawyer. “Every time the consumer sees your package (shelf, online, TV, digital, social media) and uses your product, the packaging keeps reinforcing the experience of the brand. All visual elements work together to transmit the unique aspect of the brand. The package is the brand experience. The visual brand has to be authentic, tell the story and stand out on the shelf. The challenge for the designer is to emote the brand’s unique characteristics through graphics, materials, structure, copy, color in such a way the consumer wants to touch and feel the product and package.”
“We can always make your brand look better, but without meaningful information ‘in,’ the output is going to fall short, no matter how pretty it is,” says Long. “If you need your packaging to work hard for you (and most brands do these days), make sure you are giving your agency the tools to really elevate and stretch your brand to a meaningful place for consumers. And if you don’t have that information, just raise your hand. We can help!”
#4. take ownership
And brands, when your new packaging design or redesigned pack takes off at shelf, know good designers are just as excited as you are, because they personally invest in your success—which makes all the difference in the quality of the work.
“Over the course of 24 years in the business, there have been many rewarding moments,” says Parado. “Beyond the obvious (increased sales), the perpetuation of a brand’s heritage has been the most rewarding. A brand’s longevity on shelf, one with staying power, validates every step from conceptualizing to realization and helps build consumer loyalty.”
“We love to see our brand development and package design drive sales and ultimately loyalty for our clients,” says Durham. “We measure our success by their success.”
Kemp is thrilled when brands see tangible and immediate results, as is Sawyer. “The best news Kick can receive comes from happy clients saying things like: ‘Our business grew double digit over last year because of your new designs. Your packaging won us new accounts. You’re our secret weapon.’ Our personal favorite? ‘You guys are badass!’”
“The most rewarding thing a brand has come back to us with is that they love their brand image and packaging, and that the program has resulted in increased sales, media attention and brand awareness,” agrees Sawyer.
For LBB, the best feedback comes in the form of action, when a brand gives the agency another project.
“Honestly, there is no flash and dash here,” says Long. “We are in it for the long haul with our clients, and there is nothing more rewarding to us than a long-standing partnership. We think that not only speaks to the quality of our work and the level of service we provide, but also to the culture we’ve built here. That said, getting a call—like in the case of Phazyme—that after our redesign, sales increased nearly 100 percent isn’t too shabby either. We like those calls too.”
hold sway with your package design
In today’s crowded, competitive retail space, it’s more important than ever to stand out on shelf, reiterates Hartung. “Don’t be a me-too. Stand for something. Stand out. Let your branding stretch its wings.”
“Stop copying, mimicking or stealing,” says Durham. “Be unique. Be brave.”
After all, you created your brand in excitement and your products with passion, so let your designers to do the same with the packaging. Make it fresh and fun, advises Kick.
“Consumers are hungry for new things,” says Hartung. “Millennials in particular get tired of the same old. They’re not loyal to their parents’ brands. Creating or renovating brands should be, and can be, fun. It’s your chance to let people fall in love with your brand all over, again and again.”
And with the help of talented design teams refining your brand’s emotional pull and infusing your packaging with impact, you can bet customers will be doing just that.
Theory House is a retail marketing agency specializing in branding, package design, strategy and activation—with a deep emphasis on helping clients succeed at retail.
location: Charlotte, N.C.
client short list: The Fresh Market, Belk, Staples, Family Dollar, Food Lion, Delta Faucet, Cole & Mason, Zyliss, Liberty Hardware, Klein Tools, Liquid Wrench
Little Big Brands
Little Big Brands is a brand consultancy focused on doing brand building and innovation a little differently. The agency has touched all categories, and works a lot with food, beverage, OTC, personal care, household and pet care brands.
location: New York
client short list: Bolthouse Farms, Campbell’s, Fleet Laboratories, Georgia-Pacific, Matrixx Initiatives, Pinnacle Foods, Prestige Brands, Stew Leonard’s, Sun Products, Unilever, VetScience
Sawyer Design Vision
Sawyer Design Vision is a premier design agency that has done much work in the beauty and beverage world especially, working with global and independent brands.
location: New York City
client short list: Bliss, Estée Lauder, Smartskin, Illy Caffe
Kick is a creative agency that designs human connections through strategy, branding, packaging, retail experiences and online engagement for national and international markets.
location: Minneapolis, Minn.
client short list: Aveda, Best Buy, Blackwood Pet Food, Cargill, Deckers Brands, eyebobs, Johnson & Johnson, LonoLife, Oxbow Animal Health, PepsiCo, Post Cereals, Target
Haugaard Creative is a packaging design studio dedicated to building, refreshing and reinventing brands through brand strategy, visual identity, graphic and structural packaging design, marketing communications and more.
client short list: PepsiCo, ConAgra, Jel Sert, Morton Salt