Why High-Performing Packs Should Embrace Both Design And Marketing


Dr. Steen Tjarks is the President and Co-Founder at T&T Design, a global packaging and artwork agency that specilaizes in private label.

The design industry is multifaceted and sophisticated. But while some elements have torn up the rule book, I believe fast-moving consumer goods (known as FMCG) packaging is caught in a time warp. When a pack fails to fly off the shelves, everyone is bitter. But who is at fault, and how can such lemons be avoided?

As the president of an agency that specializes in private label design, I’ve seen that digital design has had a radical overhaul. Immersed in consumer psychology, clients and agencies put themselves in the customer’s shoes and painstakingly create an overall brand experience. They orchestrate the entire user journey, from initial interaction to empathy, reinforcement and ongoing loyalty. In essence, it’s all about end-to-end delivery on a brand’s promise.

Why Packaging Must Not Work In A Vacuum

Yet, when it comes to packaging, that joined-up thinking often breaks down. Brand owners often limit their sphere of influence to design, which means they are disconnected. They feel marketing is simply not their concern. Dare I say it, it’s even a dirty word, while the marketers view designers as precious and blinkered.

But this isn’t a case of apples and oranges; instead, I believe marketers and designers are peas in the same pod. Perhaps the answer is to borrow from our digital relatives and replace “marketing” with “user experience.” Since the rise of online shopping has been accelerated by the pandemic, packaging teams should by now be digital natives anyway.

All About The Customer Experience

Andrew Barraclough, vice president of design at GSK, summed up the issue perfectly in an article in Branding Magazine. “Brand language can be considered in terms of two key elements — visual brand language (VBL) and experience brand language (EBL),” he said. “And it is by bringing the roles of marketing and design closer together that it becomes easier to make the transition from simple VBL to EBL — improving every facet of the customer journey.”

It’s no secret there can be tension between design and marketing functions. From my perspective, designers are the custodians of the brand, its visual representation and its positioning. Marketers have sales targets to hit and are obsessed with driving choice at the retail shelf. Their demands intrude upon pure design, which can result in a clash. Yet, when design and marketing do work together, they can realize that patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet. By shaping the brand experience as one harmonious team, great things can happen.

A Tonic For Design And Marketing

Gordon’s Gin offers a perfect example. An innovative, emotive-driven strategy, known as the “Shall we?” campaign, was developed. The campaign targeted a 5 p.m. “stop and enjoy” moment with playful messaging and simple visuals that included images of gin and tonic served with a recently redesigned Gordon’s bottle. The initiative reinforced a bold new pack design, to which 6% volume growth was attributed within a one-year period. From my perspective, the retail promotion, removed from the econometric modeling, will no doubt have played its part by priming customers at the point of purchase.

By breaking out of the silo, designers can play a vital role within the wider customer experience. That co-creation is key to a beautifully architected brand solution. Just as important as the right on-pack messaging and callouts are the design extensions that punctuate the entire customer journey and ensure that every touchpoint plays a part in influencing the purchasing psyche and delivering on the brand promise. It’s not about meeting separate objectives, but about achieving a common goal.

Wholesome Retail Brand Strategies

Instead of a breadcrumb approach using a myriad of disconnected specialists, the various steps in the customer journey should all hang together in unison. Working as a conjoined team, design and marketing should take collective responsibility for a series of interconnected competencies, including pack design, point of sale, shopper marketing, on-pack promotion, in-store activation, online activation, advertising and trade communications. By taking a holistic approach, brands can win the hearts and minds of customers on every shelf.

For example, as an advocate of the cohesive approach, Barraclough used the example of Sensodyne toothpaste in the Branding Magazine article. He explained that most customers discover the product via free samples at the dentist. To encourage follow-up purchasing, the brand had to look at how to improve the entire customer experience journey.

The Pith Of The Matter

The design industry invented the concept of UX and it underpins digital design thinking. But most brands are held back by the conventional separation of design and marketing, pulling in different directions. It’s time to switch stagnation for collaboration. Here are four takeaways I recommend keeping in mind to get started:

1. Many brands are owned by large companies with complex matrix structures. Break down the barriers within your own organizational construct and put yourself firmly in the shoes of the consumer.

2. From a consumer standpoint, identify all the steps in the user journey. Break them down into silos, and then piece them back together to understand all the potential points of influence and how they link together.

3. Establish a diverse, extended team of designers, marketers, researchers and behaviorists. Get to know one another’s respective competencies, knowledge and experience. Be inclusive. Build respect, while challenging preconceptions and keeping an open mind.

4. With your expanded team, always retain a commercial mindset. That shouldn’t compromise groundbreaking design; it should stimulate it. Deliver an end-to-end solution that breaks records and blows minds. Everyone can be a hero and enjoy collective success.

By linking the customer journey and working with agencies on wider briefs, you can unleash the combined power of design and marketing — power that can squeeze maximum brand performance at the retail shelf.


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