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The Link is the Thing: Determining a Cohesive Packaging Strategy

By: Abby Penning
Posted: November 26, 2012, from the December 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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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