Marketing Matters: Defining Brand Traits

In hair care aisles across the globe, companies have been positioning their brands to catch the attention of distracted shoppers, working to differentiate these brands to claim a bigger share of the multibillion dollar hair care market. And competition is heating up in the hair care sector. So what are the strategies that can help established brands defend—and even expand—their turf on crowded shelves?

Recent relaunches appear to have diverged along three lines in striving to distinguish brands. One direction focuses on packaging that reflects an upscale, premium image. A second direction emphasizes feminine design cues for a category that is driven by female consumers, and a third targets teens and twenty-somethings by utilizing brilliant, eye-catching color.
Going Upscale

PZ Cussons, Joico Laboratories and ThermaFuse have created packages that illustrate effective methods in communicating an upscale message—and have also improved functionality.

In Europe, PZ Cussons strikes a premium note with its new packaging, an upright tapering shape. In addition to the new shape, the company added functionality with a smooth front panel complemented by textured side surfaces that enhance handling when wet. And while not mass-market, Joico Laboratories unveiled one of the category’s bolder shapes for its line of professional products, which are also sold to consumers through salons and beauty supply stores. The sleek, tower-shaped bottles are sloped on one side and pinched at the bottom, giving the packaging a contemporary wing-like form. Similar innovation is found in salon-focused Thermafuse, which is now packaged in a unique three-sided bottle in a range of soft earth tones.

LPK (Libby Perszyk Kathman) was involved with the restaging of Pantene Pro-V, a global billion dollar mass-merchandise brand. That process provides some insight into the importance that Pantene placed on using innovations in design to establish a premium aesthetic while aiding in the shopping process.

Pantene’s global redesign was a timely opportunity for the 60-year-old brand to re-establish itself as a serious cosmeceutical. Further, the redesign helped create an emotional connection that demonstrated that Pantene is in touch with women seeking to liberate the true potential of their inner beauty.

The recently introduced holistic brand expression reflects the dramatic changes the brand has gone through since 1985, when P&G acquired it from Richardson-Vicks. Originally, a gold-capped prestige product sold exclusively in department stores, Pantene migrated to mass channels and grew to become the global leader in the hair care category.

Healthy hair remains the cornerstone of Pantene’s brand character. From its founding as a “Swiss beauty secret,” Pantene evolved into hair care’s premier “conditioner,” helping to transform washing hair from basic hygiene to a true beauty regimen. That dedication to beautiful hair remains an integral part of the new brand expression, which provided an opportunity to reinforce Pantene as a serious cosmeceutical, catering to hair-involved consumers seeking a routine that would allow them to care for hair damaged by styling and coloring.

The result is an evocative design with an upscale color palette of pearl white, shimmering bronze and cobalt black with hints of blue. Rather than flooding the packaging with color, as other brands have done, negative space was utilized to create a premium look and feel that emphasizes a sophisticated, understated quality.

While the previous packaging used a consistent color for all SKUs, the redesign introduced color cues to make it easier to navigate the shelf set, categorizing the different SKUs into collections. Each bottle is adorned with a foil band in one of four colors that correspond to each collection. These metallic bands of vibrant jewel tones draw upon the aesthetics of cosmetics, and are used sparingly to embellish, accent and help consumers navigate the shelf set.

For other brands in the hair care aisle, relaunches offer the opportunity to add softer elements to their packaging. Global manufacturer Unilever, for instance, restaged its Suave Naturals and Suave Professionals lines in slimmer bottles with curved feminine shapes. The Suave packaging was recognized for its innovation with a DuPont Award in 2006. Beiersdorf, as well, relaunched its NIVEA Hair Care with feminine shapes, and also added color-cued lids in contemporary hues to help distinguish each product series on shelf.

Focus on Color
The third redesign strategy, emphasizing color, has been a favorite approach for brands that appeal to younger audiences.

Color was a defining element, for example, when Unilever launched its Sunsilk brand in the U.S. in squeeze bottles that were color-coded for each of eight product variations. L’Oréal’s Vive also made a bold move in North America by relaunching with packaging in highly saturated colors (fuchsia, orange, red), abandoning what was considered to be its premium white brand presentation with the objective of reaching a younger target audience.

But perhaps the most emblematic of new thinking in color has been demonstrated by Garnier Fructis. Launched in 2003, the brand’s vibrant green packaging is credited with helping catapult Fructis into the category’s top five brands and increasing its popularity with the key 12–24 year-old female demographic, according to industry publications.

The LPK team was also involved in the redesign of Herbal Essences, which rolled out in 2006. Herbal Essences sought to reinvigorate itself and compete for its share among young women consumers, who are both hair-involved and exceptionally style- and trend-conscious. And while color was the obvious choice, the team felt strongly about utilizing color and shape in combination for a more holistic approach to the redesign.

To further enhance the brand expression and to relate more directly with its target consumer, Herbal Essences was segregated into 10 collections of products based on end results, with evocative descriptors such as Body Envy, Dangerously Straight or Totally Twisted. Each collection was identified by a bright, vivid color that distinguishes all of the products in that collection.

Color also played a part in helping the brand deliver in unexpected ways to “delight” the consumer. One such strategy uses an unanticipated color interaction between the bottle and the product. In the Body Envy collection, for example, the bottle appears orange but is actually a color fusion of yellow product and translucent magenta bottle. When the product is dispensed, it provides consumers with a fun, surprising experience.

The previous packaging presented other challenges as well. The bottle was a dated shape, heavily influenced by old-fashioned apothecary glass and out of step with contemporary women. The overall silhouette also had round shoulders and a mushroom cap that suffered in consumer comparisons with the competition’s integrated caps.

Therefore, shape was identified as a powerful packaging asset for signaling a fundamentally new brand to Herbal Essences’ target, and was given significant consideration during redesign. The final design was a curved feminine-inspired shape that created a nested shelf pairing of shampoo and conditioner, which visually suggested using the product in tandem. This complementary shape integration was accomplished in a cost effective manner by adding an integrated two-color toggle cap that allowed the same bottle to be used upright for the shampoo and upside down for the conditioner.

Whether premium, feminine or youth-oriented, all of these recent restagings underscore the increasing importance of distinguishing a brand in a crowded marketplace. That challenge will only be magnified as new brands continue to enter the market and existing brands expand their offerings.

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