Packaging a brand – so much more than fonts and photos
Brand strategy and packaging design are vital to how we shop for food and yet, done properly, become imperceptible during the shopping process.
Success in the food and beverage business means getting a shopper to identify as much with your brand as much she does with a set of political doctrines or comical animal-based meme and, most importantly, ensure your packaged product gets put in to the shopping trolley again and again and again.
Designers and Brand Strategists possess the power to make a product succeed or fail. These skilled professionals can coax a vision from the food or beverage producer and translate it in to an image that tells:
- need to know information about the product
- the possibilities of the product
- the personality of the brand
- the shopper to pick it up and put it in the trolley.
It takes a special kind of creative business consultant to interpret the needs and wishes of the client and match them with the retail environment and the habits and whims of the consumer. Two such special men are Daniel McKeating of Studio Lost and Found, Perth and Tim Wilson of Point 3 Design, Melbourne.
Crackling cornered each of them recently and didn’t let them go until they had shared their secrets and been extremely modest about their impressive portfolios. The result is a three part series of articles because it is not possible to condense this topic in to a thousand words.
There won’t be any recipes or pictures of cupcakes but as a reward, if you stick with all three articles, there will be a link to the top twenty worst food strategy decisions of all time because there are VERY funny.*
Daniel McKeating and his wife Rebecca run a Perth-based creative agency that specialises in strategic brand development for the food and beverage industries. After travelling most of the world they returned to Perth, mindful of the vast potential of small and medium sized food producers and winemakers in the south west of this state.
We meet for coffee in the ever-fashionable suburb of Subiaco. “I treat a brand like a personality,” explains Daniel. This does not sound like a trite bit of marketing speak in the least. Daniel is a modest, highly personable fellow who mixes genuine concern for the client’s success with a firm hand on what is going to work in the retail environment. So for starters, before we get to pack shots and final proofs of your favourite groceries, let’s listen in on the first meeting between Brand Strategist and client.
“We get to know the producer by starting with a comprehensive brand audit. We find out what has driven them to create their product, what they hope for its future and why it is special.” Studio Lost and Found’s client portfolio includes Chocolatiers and boutique vineyards and yet the approach to all types of food or beverage is the same. “We need to know if the client is bringing us a new product or an extension range, do they want to shift some surplus stock or is a ground-breaking innovation? The reason this product has been made is the starting point.”
Before he flips the cap of an Artline or mocks up a mood board Daniel must advise on strategy. It is no good producing the funkiest retro-punk graphic for a new line of toffees if the perception of that brand in the market place is bogun or bogus. That is why a large part of Daniel’s job is to know what similar products and brands are out there and to draw out unique points of difference that the client’s product brings to the shopping experience.
“We have to coax things out from the client rather than putting words in to their mouths in these brand strategy meetings,” continues Daniel over beautiful bottle of cold-pressed fruit juice that I rather wish I had ordered. “It is the client’s baby, and they are responsible for managing the brand on a day-to-day basis, so they need to be 100% on board with the proposed strategy. We are always honest in our counsel. We would be doing the client a disservice if we didn’t give them our professional advice on how we think they can own and defend a particular space in the market for commercial success.”
Market-place space is always hard won and usually rewarded by repeat business. The team that defends the fortress of eye-level shelf space for a certain soup brand is legion, for example, probably ten times the size of their research and development team. Which goes to show that once a producers has nailed the product formula then the long game begins.
Aside from being a frickin’ great artist, Daniel has a Masters of Communication Design from RMIT, Melbourne. He knows about Market Research, Brand Architecture and Brand Positioning Strategy. He teaches Identity Management and Positioning.
“There is sometimes a big difference between actual and desired brand perception. The client may think that their wine brand is perceived as a quality drop worth $30, but it is our role to find out how the buying public perceives their brand. Perhaps the truth they just don’t see the wine’s value on the shelf,” explains Daniel. “It is this feedback that can allow us to make some recommendations on how to position and package the brand to really connect with a specific target audience and communicate the desired price point. Whatever the feedback may be, that is the area we always look at before we commence the design. This has to be the starting point, as you can’t prescribe a solution until you’ve diagnosed the problem”
As Daniel goes to the counter order cakes for us I hear him suck his breath over his teeth and he give an involuntary shudder. He’s looking at the packs of coffee beans. “High gloss on the pack says “Cheap”. Uncoated paper is best, it doesn’t reflect the light on high display items, a small thing but important,” he explains. “I wish clients would come to us before they even choose the packaging. It would cut out a big step if they started with the right packaging for their brand personality.”
Once the brand strategy has been agreed and translated in to a strong idea the product’s focus becomes visual and the design process can begin. Ruby Slipper Fortified Wine is a good example of a strong idea represented in a simple graphic image which takes the traditional fortified wine out of the back ranks of the drinks cabinet in to a younger more dynamic space. This product is not going to rub shoulders with the Advocaat and only come out at Christmas, wouldn’t you say?
Next time we get the pencil cases unzipped, fire up the Adobe Creative Suite and meet Tim Wilson of Point 3 Design. We learn about the Hero Image, how to represent vanilla visually (it is really just black dots when you think about it), and the look at the long list of legal must-haves to be crammed on to a food label. We also find out if the phrase “Shoppability” is made up or real.
* African condiment Shitto is the Crackling household’s all time favourite packaging food fail.