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The Link is the Thing: Determining a Cohesive Packaging Strategy

Abby Penning
  • Think about the non-conscious priming that can deliver an emotional charge and that brand a message.
  • Function, style and fun >are all important.
  • Identify the overt branded element and what makes the brand special, and then translate that across your products’ packaging through a harmonious implementation.
  • Within a brand and a product line, you need to have differentiation to avoid confusion with multiple formulas.
  • The relationship between consumers and a brand is what keeps them coming back for the same beauty products and reaching for products in the same brand family when they seek out something new.

When you think of your very favorite beauty product, what hits you first? The feel of it on your fingers? How it looks on your skin? Maybe its scent?

Ask consumers this question, and many would likely respond with a description of the beauty product’s packaging—the shape, the color, the height, the dispenser, the heft and so on. Vision is the dominant human sense, and as such, the visual details of a product are paramount to its success. However, the consumer’s idea of the visual details of a beauty product typically aren’t of the product formulation itself—they are of the packaging. Therefore, in the development of brand loyalty across SKUs and even different beauty categories, a cohesive package design strategy is a must.

“As we think about package design and the role that it is already playing between brands and consumers, we feel that there’s just an inordinate amount of untapped potential in those spaces,” says Tracy Scott Doherty, director of design, MWV. “So we’re really focused on trying to figure out how to improve and enhance the consumer experience, both functionally and emotionally, in those areas.”

That includes figuring out how to link products in the same line and from the same beauty brand. Nathalie Nowak, director of marketing and innovation, Rexam Personal Care, expands, “Rexam’s role is to work in partnership with our customers to develop visual, tactile and auditory packaging cues that extend across each SKU. Color, shape, style and decoration elements should ideally harmonize so that, as seen by the consumer in the retail set, the overall impact communicates the brand essence.”

And developing that brand essence is essential for each individual SKU because it’s rare for any beauty product to exist solely on its own, apart from a line. “Retailers are no longer satisfied with dedicating space to a singular-item product line, [and] long gone are the days where marketers gain measurable success or shelf space with an individual item. They must create and build a brand, an image, even a lifestyle conveyed through their product line, which will be offered to a consumer. In addition to the formulation, at the core of a brand or product line is the packaging; the packaging is what makes all the difference and sets brands apart from one another,” says Benny Calderone Jr., sales and marketing director, YonWoo International/PKG Group.

The Building Blocks

Creating a cohesively packaged beauty lineup isn’t as simple as just choosing a packaging family and being done. There are many considerations, especially when you take into the account the importance of the package, as Scott Doherty notes. “Consumers interact with your package—they touch it, they feel it, they look at it,” she says. “There needs to be something there to connect it.”

Calderone explains, “When developing the packaging you must first define the parameters of what the brand requires in terms of size, image, aesthetics, function and, of course, cost of goods. Often times the most viable method will be through the use of existing stock designs, or custom adaptations utilizing an existing platform from stock designs. Both of these methods allow marketers and brand managers a fast, versatile—and most often an economical—method when compared to the creation of a fully developed custom component. Once this first phase has been completed, you can then organize all other design elements for the packaging, inclusive of color and secondary decoration features, which need to be capable of following suit across all materials, shapes and sizes involved.”

Carrying those design features through is a key to cohesive packaging strategy, but it’s also about determining which features should be more prominent on a specific product package. “A commonality of some, if not all, elements helps to deliver the brand message,” notes Nowak. “Then, once these core design elements are decided upon, brand owners can use custom decorative elements to set each new product within a range apart. In the case of Lolita Lempicka’s Si Lolita fragrance, the initial product used the XD11 fragrance pump and cap, and later editions have a custom twist, such as a different color scarf for each collar. Elements ideally work together for the greater good of the brand, much like notes within a musical scale. This heightens the total sensory impact.”

Scott Doherty continues this thread, explaining, “We really believe that packaging is an extension of the brand, so if the brand stands for simplicity, the packaging should be simple—it should look simple, it should be simple to open, and it should be simple to use and dispose of or recycle. If a brand stands for undiscovered surprises, the package should be surprising, or it should look like the kind of package that would hold something that’s surprising or offers an unexpected experience. For us, brand is really about emotion, and you think about the non-conscious priming that a package can convey, that can deliver that emotional charge and that brand message.”

To develop that priming, Scott Doherty notes it typically starts above-the-line, but can end below-the-line. “Shapes, colors, textures—we would think about that as a structural, graphical material base in terms of substrates and those kinds of things. And all of those things obviously can act as a quick way to codify SKUs in the same product family. Obviously you see that all the time because it makes a lot of sense,” she says. “I think of Garnier as a great example—it does it with the bright green bottles. Olay does it with the metallized swoosh. The key is whatever that unifying connection is that doesn’t take a lot of effort for the consumer to [make the line/brand connection]. So what is that connection that is really non-conscious, where it takes just minimal effort and not even conscious effort around figuring out that those things are related? It’s got to be overt enough and the visual ordering has to be consistent enough that it can be understood.”

Often, the best way to develop that core idea of a line is to reverse engineer it. “Let’s say that we’re talking about an existing brand and we’re working on a brand extension,” says Scott Doherty. “We need to look at the existing package and figure out, okay, what is that overt branded element that, if you took away everything else, would still be there? The one that, if you changed it, it would cease to be that brand—that is the thing we want to hone in on.”

That hook can be nearly anything intrinsic to the brand, reaching beyond simply color and decoration to ideas and methods. “To create intra-brand product pack unity and communicate the eco-friendly qualities consumers crave, we use innovative materials, injection and decoration techniques,” says Nowak of Rexam’s work for environmentally friendly lines.

Additionally, other unique packaging technologies can also help separate one brand’s products from another. “Consumers crave new delivery systems for their beauty products. Function, style and fun are all important. That is what led to the enormous global acceptance of the one-touch foam dispenser for soaps, shampoos, and so much more,” Nowak explains.

Scott Doherty sums it up by saying, “That key linking factor, whatever that thing is, should be that brand element that is most own-able to the brand. Whatever that is, that consistent packaging element should be the element that is most branded.”

Setting Products Apart

Inherent to a beauty product line, though, is the fact that its different products have different needs. “In a product family or a brand family, we really believe that brand essence not only needs to be delivered consistently and obviously be on brand, but it needs to be delivered in a distinct way for each SKU,” says Scott Doherty. “Where something that is ‘simple’ in one product may have one meaning, ‘simple’ delivered via another product may have a totally different meaning. If you’re talking about hair spray versus hair gel, ‘simple’ is very different when you think about those two products. So it needs to be delivered in distinct ways because each of those things has their own personality and their own differentiating characteristics.”

Calderone takes this concept further, noting, “Package design elements should also differ for unique or specialized applications within a family of products. For example, if you have selected one jar for both day and night formulations, you should introduce differentiation between these two formulations via the primary package aesthetics in addition to the outer carton,” he says. “The fact of the matter is, if the consumer is going to put the day cream on in the morning and the night cream on before bed, elements of the design should be intuitive and easily discernible to the consumer at the point of application, which is well beyond the retail level, all while maintaining the brand image.”

Additionally, Calderone points out another opportunity for distinct differentiation. “We also see a lot of hero or flagship products where marketers want to create elements of differentiation,” he notes. “In this regard, there is often an emphasis to achieve a higher level of detail through the use of specialty decoration or even a more substantial package combined with unique decoration elements for the hero product.”

Size can be another way to pull attention, and although economy-sized products are fairly common, smaller sample sizes that mirror full-size SKU packaging sizes can also bring attention. “One thing we do note is the additional element of the mini product to extend the impact of the brand and further integrate the brand experience into the consumers’ lives,” says Nowak. “Because of their sophistication, these mini products can be designed to perfectly emulate the full-size retail product and used in bundle offers and cross-promotional packages, as well as with flankers. With mini products, the cohesive pack branding strategy is thus extended.”

(For more about this sample packaging strategy, read “The Basic Message—From Sample to Brand Fan” and “Creating Brand Impact with Sample Packaging.”)

The Link is the Thing

So not only does a cohesive package strategy link together a beauty brand’s products, it also helps strengthen the brand overall.

“One constant in beauty product packaging and marketing is an intense desire to create a recognizable brand image that consumers can relate to,” says Calderone. “In the retail or e-commerce environment, consumers make their purchase decisions very quickly based on several well-documented factors, inclusive of aspects that take place long before they arrive at the store or log onto their favorite website. When dealing with [something like] the mass hair care category—specifically within a retail environment consisting of hundreds of competing SKUs placed in close proximity—the challenge is to help the consumer quickly find that product—your product—which they are seeking. Brand elements—and the intense desire to create a brand image across multiple SKUs—remain increasingly important in the retail, as well as e-commerce, environment for these reasons.”

It’s about identifying what makes your brand special, and then translating that across your products’ packaging through a harmonious implementation. “A lot of times, whatever that overtly branded experience is from a package perspective shows up in research,” says Scott Doherty. “So our consumer and market insights group will go out and try to help us narrow to whatever that own-able brand element is, that sameness, with a package within a given category.

“Ideally, this sameness—the reason that we keep having sequels, whether its movies or books or anything else—is because there is the perception of reduced risk from a consumer perspective,”

Scott Doherty continues. “So ideally this family linkage or this sameness helps breakdown those barriers to adoption. Because the consumer is essentially acting on past experiences, this is not a wholly new experience for them. They’re thinking, ‘I’m basing this on past experiences because I trust this brand, I know this brand, and it’s worked for me before.’ So it’s really an extension of that perceived value or expectation of a performance from an already-familiar product to a new one, which maybe isn’t so new because there is already that level of familiarity and comfort.”

That type of relationship between consumers and a brand is not only what keeps them coming back for the same beauty products but also reaching for products in the same brand family when they seek out something new.

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