Brands that design packaging for online experiences

Beyond the shelf: pack design for online

Beyond the shelf: pack design for online

An urgent new reality for brands.

Everything that’s happened during 2020 has reshaped the consumer landscape for brands. IBM’s Retail Index indicates that the shift away from physical to online shopping has been accelerated by 5 years during 2020. Sales from physical department stores in particular have declined by 75%.

Whilst product packaging still very much needs to pop ‘on-shelf’, it now needs to compete and influence purchasers on the virtual shelf… through digital marketing campaigns and ecommerce stores.

Branded packaging is presented online in a variety of ways: in lifestyle photos, in images of kitchens, living spaces or out-of-home locations. Pack designs could be glimpsed briefly in video clips or show up in thumbnail form on an ecommerce category list.

There are two areas where packaging design thinking needs to fundamentally re-focus:

Packs must be good-looking

With the internet’s obsession for image manipulation and idealism, pack design that looks good is a must. Brands must leverage the ‘I love it! What is it?’ phenomenon that explodes in the form of a gazillion Instagram shares.

Packs must be bold and original

Whilst the immediate response to this headline is probably ‘Duh, yeah of course, dummy!’ it’s hard to find those brands that are doing a really good job of making sure their packs still work on a 70mm mobile screen as well as shouting from the shelf. It’s really no surprise that brands such as Oatly and Rxbars are accelerating fast and outpacing their competitors.

Rethinking packaging design was always an inevitability, as life in general is increasingly influenced and guided by our online experiences. What the past year has done is to make that change much more urgent!

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    The new consumer-brand connection

    Who needs relationship counselling?

    Who needs relationship counselling?

    The new consumer-brand connection.

    A decade or more ago, the way brands and customers related was very, very different.

    Brands would control consumer perception by creating miniature, magical universes and then invite customers to step inside, leaving ordinary life behind. Consumers were very happy with this arrangement, it seems.

    More recently though, things have changed dramatically. Consumers have completely redefined the way they interact with brands. It’s now consumers who are in control, demanding much more of brands, and making choices based on a new way of thinking.

    Light-speed truth

    Fake news, institutional corruption and misrepresentation by certain brands, combined with an explosion of social media and constantly accessible informative content, has completely changed the landscape. When a vulnerability or an untruth is uncovered, the news is across the entirety of the internet-connected world in the blink of an eye.

    The new landscape

    This is the catalyst that has caused consumers to reinvent how they choose to relate to brands. Honesty, transparency and trust are premium attributes in this new landscape. With connectedness, consumers know they have a choice and every opportunity to search for the brands they feel they can align with.

    Brands that develop real clarity of purpose, social responsibility and perceive customers as individuals rather than socio-economic groupings are the ones that will succeed. They are the ones that will cement strong consumer-brand relationships.

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      There's no such thing as Brandless

      Why there's no such thing as 'brandless'

      Why there's no such thing as 'brandless'

      Brandlessness and success are different destinations.

      When ‘Brandless’ launched in 2012, their stated intention was “to make better stuff accessible and affordable for more people. Our mission is deeply rooted in quality, transparency and community-driven values.” To achieve this they immediately set about ‘not being a brand’.

      But guess what: not being a brand is your brand. Right?

      Unfortunately, Brandless closed its doors recently. No surprise really, with revenues of US $20.2m and a net loss of US $48.8m.

      In part at least, Brandless’ failure came as a result of pretending not to be a brand. It’s a duplicity that too many consumers could see straight through. “You can fool all the people some of the time…”

      On a different level though, Brandless’ problems were also rooted in a belief that ‘brands’ are somehow bad and that branding and marketing are not investments with which to develop a financial return, but simply costs to be minimised.

      Unfortunately they refused to recognise that consumers love brands. Brands are a shortcut that makes it easy for people to understand what they’re buying. It’s why customers come back again and again and again to the brands they trust.

      Anyone out there who thinks their service or product is not a brand, please re-read paragraph 4. Consumers are sensitive, intelligent and judgmental.

      The question is not whether or not you have a brand. Because you do have a brand. The question is: are you proactively controlling and managing your brand to maximise your success?

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        Short-term sales vs brand building

        Why sales-focused companies are less competitive.

        Why sales-focused companies are less competitive

        Short-term gain creates long-term pain.


        Companies that regularly redirect marketing spend at hitting quarterly sales numbers rather than brand-building, are just storing up problems for the future.

        Certainly, this type of marketing will usually give a very measurable ROI – so if nothing else, companies know where they stand cost-wise.

        But there’s no long-term effectiveness in short-term sales focus, meaning this type of activity needs repeating over and over and over, every time the graph begins to dip.

        Compared to long-term brand building, it’s a very poor value proposition all round.

        Big vision

        When companies develop powerful brands and invest vision and creativity into a long-term ‘build’ they win recognition and trust. Their marketing drives consideration as well as conversion.

        Those brands are no longer dependent on short-term sales-focused campaigning to drive up the quarterly numbers. Because there’s longevity in carefully planned brand building, the cost of marketing falls overall.

        Over time then, the cost to companies that focus their marketing purely on driving sales is higher, because they have to repeat marketing campaigns each time they need better numbers. This makes the product more expensive, or the company less profitable as a result.

        Careful brand building makes companies more competitive financially because they need to market less frequently. It offers simple routes into future product diversification and can attract investment thanks to the stored equity in respected brands.

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          Brand purpose can create new fans

          Brand purpose. Does it actually sell more?

          Brand purpose. Does it actually sell more?

          Having a purpose can make a brand more alive, more memorable and more appealing to customers.

          A couple of examples: For years now, Dove has been carefully building brand fans, by pushing back against the idea of a ‘perfect body.’ Since its inception, Body Shop has stood against animal testing and cruelty. Both brands can be described as having an additional dimension to their personas: purpose.

          What customers want

          That doesn’t mean that brands without a stated purpose are necessarily unsuccessful. But in a competitive environment, and in an age where consumers are becoming increasingly socially conscious, brands with a purpose are likely to rise in popularity faster than those which do not.

          Customers want companies to deliver sustainable change, because people are becoming more and more aware that companies can create change much faster than governments are willing or able to.

          Health warning...

          Beware: slathering on some ‘brand purpose’ like cheap make-up is likely to do more damage than good. Once customers see through the facade, there will be a sense of betrayal, followed by some difficult-to-repair brand damage. If brand purpose is to be meaningfully expressed, it must be genuine, believable and not overstated.

          Brand purpose can offer big brands an opportunity to protect their position and continue growth in mature, competitive markets.

          A genuine purpose can give small brands the ability to punch above their weight and fast-track their rise to fame.

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            Retail design - feel vs. real

            Turning browsers into brand addicts

            Turning browsers into brand addicts

            High street retail is far from dead - it just hasn't unlocked its true potential.

            Nobody needs reminding that retail has changed dramatically. As online increasingly becomes the place where transactions are done, bricks and mortar stores are more and more about the touch and feel experience of products.

            Touch and feel vs. 'the deal'

            Online is a world of social, friends, curated ‘good things’ and captivating content. It’s also a crocodile pit of online retailers scrambling for every dollar and cent they can get, with offers, discounts and bundles to get your business – an impossible environment to compete with as a high street store.

            It’s pretty much guaranteed that we’ve all done some retail store browsing where we find something we like, then whilst still sauntering around the racks and shelves, search for the item on our mobile and get pricing and offers from a dozen other retailers.

            In that one moment, we’re fulfilling our need to touch and feel, read the box or try on for size, and at the same time making sure we’re getting the best possible deal. The danger for the high street is that the best deal is likely to be online.

            The unique advantages of being real

            So why are retail stores still so boring in their approach to store design? Why not play to the unique advantage of being ‘real’ and dial up the experiential aspect of shopping to lock customers into the emotion of the purchasing journey?

            Why not engage customers more deeply with unique, inspiring spaces and displays, instagrammable locations, informative and enjoyable experiences that harness the emotion of the purchasing journey?

            Imagine walking into a travel agency where none of the staff sit at a desk, and greet you in beach-wear, holding a tablet, the walls are floor-to-ceiling screens playing a relaxing tropical beach scene, while sounds of exotic birds can be heard in the background.

            How about a pharmacy make-up stand where augmented reality is used to show you yourself in different outfits, in different settings, with matching make-up themes, revealing your optimum choices as you go?

            Think of an auto accessory store where the centrepiece is a partially disassembled vehicle and customers can try different parts and tools to learn the differences between them, whilst having a fun and engaging experience.

            All online has to offer is the convenience of sedentary shopping and maybe a few dollars off. Bricks and mortar though has the potential to make you come back again and again and again for a fantastic experience that satisfies so many more senses and emotional needs, turning browsers into brand-addicts.

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              Content marketing - a long road to nowhere

              Content marketing: a long, slow road to nowhere?

              Content marketing:
              a long, slow road to nowhere?

              An 'engagement' is not a sale.

              Touted by marketing ‘gurus’ as the best/only/most effective way to develop a brand, there’s actually very little evidence to suggest that content marketing has much effect at all on growth.

              Pain vs. Gain

              In terms of scale of effort vs. reward, it doesn’t look good. A great deal of content must be created, then trickled out to audiences over a long period. And each portion must be engaging in its own right.

              Subsequently, all of the audience feedback must be monitored and dealt with – you can’t use an audience engagement concept and not interact. What would be the point?

              Collectively, that’s a massive amount of time and effort spent. But wait. You can’t recycle your content or your brand will be ridiculed by all those people you’ve spent so long helping on board. To remain engaging, content needs refreshing constantly, so it’s back to the start again. And again, and again, and again. If you’re paying a 3rd party to create and manage your content, you’ll need deep, deep pockets to keep the pump running.

              Consider also, that so many others have adopted this method of marketing that as a potential customer, the amount of subliminally branded content that reaches you is way more than you could ever digest.

              One of the other key issues with using content marketing as a central marketing pillar, is that it allows companies and content marketing agencies to be lazy. There’s no real imperative, no immediacy. Results are nebulous and difficult to gauge.

              With content marketing front and centre, it could take aeons to see any significant brand growth.

              Sales vs. engagements

              Consider this: is it not the entire purpose of a brand to be shaped in such a way as to create an immediate connection with its audience, wherever it is encountered?

              Is not the purpose of advertising to put forward brand concepts that immediately appeal to, and resonate with the target audience.

              Is not the real point of advertising to bring immediate awareness to a large audience in a way they will find alluring and within a timeframe that suits the competitive nature of business?

              A well-crafted and arresting ad campaign has the power to turn heads, fire imaginations, switch on customers and make sales happen (that’s SALES not ‘engagements’), all in the blink of an eye.

              Brands that brazenly walk out on stage and deliver a memorable performance are the ones that get noticed and the ones that get the sales. And don’t forget – you can’t have brand loyalty without first making sales.

              A strong and well developed brand, combined with impactful, creative advertising remain far and away the optimum choice for rapid brand growth in a competitive environment.

              Content marketing can be effective in this scenario by playing a limited support role, helping to cement new brand converts into place, post-campaign.

              But position content marketing as the main thrust of your marketing effort and expect a long, exhausting and expensive walk in the shadows.

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                Brand Names

                Brand Name Guide

                The Fizzbuzz brand name guide


                A unique and well thought-out brand name has the potential to help awareness of a brand grow far more quickly than a bland name, or one whose values are misaligned with customers.

                Our brand naming book has lots of useful hints to help you brainstorm a meaningful, memorable and unique name for your service or product. Just click to download it – we hope it helps!

                Download (PDF)

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