Avoiding Brand Dilution
Design architecture is the merger of art and science in package design strategy. It’s the blueprint for communicating how a brand is organized through package design and can help to maintain a strong brand identity.
Nearly every brief a design agency receives is accompanied by the client mandate, “Make this design pop.” Inevitably, there are sales objectives tied to the new initiative, and many clients (and some designers) believe that these sales can only be achieved through disruption at the shelf. But this approach to packaging design typically results in only short-term gains because each disruption at shelf also means breakage of the brand. Over time, the brand begins to lose its identity and no longer offers a strong, unified meaning to the consumer. Remember, 80 percent of purchase decisions are made at shelf, and when a brand begins to dilute its identity by offering too many disparate package designs, it will inevitably—and negatively—impact sales over the long term.
The fear of brand dilution does not mean a package can’t be designed to deliver on the unique benefits of the product, or message the product in a way that is relevant to and resonates with a particular target consumer. This can be accomplished while also maintaining reverence to the brand itself by using design architecture.
Closer-In or Farther-Out Design Strategy?
In the case of a new product offering, a key issue is determining how much of the original brand’s equity the new product is going to leverage. The closer the product to the core brand equity, the closer-in the design strategy needs to be; the farther away from the core brand equity, the more the design strategy needs to push out from the core.
This issue can be addressed by answering series of questions: (1) Does the product offering fit with the core equities of the existing brand? (2) If so, is the existing brand equity the primary driver of the product offering’s consumer selling proposition? (3) If not, does the opportunity represent a close-in stretch to the existing brand equity or a farther-out stretch?
Situations that involve a farther-out stretch from the original brand’s equity, and hence a farther-out approach to design strategy, include:
Reaching a new target consumer (particularly one who is not familiar with the brand’s equity or who would not previously have been attracted to it). What is important to this consumer? How do you communicate visually and verbally to this consumer? What is the role of package design in reaching this consumer?
Reaching a new product area. What is the category vernacular for this new area? Are there specific visual and verbal cues that are required to communicate the benefit for this product?
Entering a new pricing tier. What visual and verbal cues communicate higher or lower value? What visual elements are you willing to let go of to appropriately stretch the brand to this tier? What visual elements can you retain that won’t limit the brand’s appropriateness and ability to play in this new pricing tier?
Once you’ve determined your strategy about where various product offerings live in relation to the core brand equity, you can cluster those offerings around like patterns. Each cluster will then follow its own design strategy. The design strategies, taken together, will all have to relate to and support the overall brand look and feel.
Understanding Design Needs via Clusters
To begin the design architecture development process, you should draw design inspiration from many different resources in order to explore the design strategy for each cluster. In fact, approach it much like you’d approach package design. Looking at other designs in the category might help give you cues about the category language, while looking at products outside the category could provide the appropriate visual language relevant to a new benefit or attribute.
If you are working on a brand that organizes its offerings around consumer mindsets or behaviors, then consumer and design trends can provide key insights into your design architecture. Mining these trends will illuminate visual language that truly resonates with target consumers and will result in creating designs that delight shoppers at shelf. Various research techniques can also help elicit the right inspiration for design architecture, including collaging, isolating design elements, and building ideal design concepts.
Once you understand the design needs cluster by cluster, you need to take a step back and make certain that the individual clusters of offerings all relate to each other. Individual design strategies may need to be tweaked one way or the other to establish the right relationships between the clusters and establish a cohesive brand look and feel. An effective way to ensure appropriate cluster relationships is through shelf testing. Creating a mock or even a virtual shelf set and asking consumers to “shop” the shelf will help you gain insights as to whether the clusters push too far apart or don’t create enough differentiation to effectively communicate the cluster strategy.
Visual Blueprint for Future Offerings
A key to success throughout the design architecture process is to ensure that strategists and designers work hand-in-hand. After all, a package design is not simply the visual depiction of a strategy: It also needs to evoke emotion and, most importantly, to delight and connect with consumers. As your design team conducts a full creative exploratory in developing various packaging options, it needs to be willing to adjust the design architecture, if necessary. Once the creative exploration is finished and designs are finalized, the team can also “finalize” the design architecture.
A design architecture can serve as the visual blueprint for designing all of a brand’s future offerings. When an initiative is launched, the design architecture will indicate under which cluster the initiative fits, which design strategy it should follow, and which design elements should be leveraged to create a design that fulfills the requirements of the initiative and maintains reverence for the brand. Investing in the design architecture process up front can save clients and agencies time, money, and lots of design headaches down the road.