How to put your best brand foot forward in packaging

Posted on Feb 13, 2020 by

Making a brand become real

Packaging is an important tool in connecting, building trust, and creating loyalty with the consumer. It is the visual and physical summary uniting brand and product, and guiding consumers through the purchasing process. Most importantly, subject to form and functionality of a physical structure, package design conveys the all-important brand story; as such, it has to remain consistent and reliable in translating brand messaging and standards to packaging graphic design systems, potentially across a wide variety of SKUs.

Unfortunately, especially when small organizations come to the point of needing packaging, it is often the package design alone that they look at. It can be a totally new and/or unique product or it can be an extension or improvement of an existing product. Whatever the case, the dialogue cannot be exclusive to creating “just” a packaging design; rather it has to begin with how to unite, identify and market a product to generate sales so consumers come to know and trust what you offer – and that requires a brand. Being sensitive to the investment of time and energy that goes into developing a new product, is it appropriate to spend the same amount of time and effort defining what you need for branding?

Building a brand where there is none

Whether you are updating a legacy brand or developing branding for a new or innovative product, before you begin the graphic design process, the first steps are to go through a brand discovery process – defining what “is” the nature of your brand, beyond your product name or logo.

Ask yourself:

  • What are my business strategies and objectives?
  • What are the specific attributes and values I want consumers to embrace?
  • What is the desired market position and messaging for my product?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the key value proposition behind the product?

This discovery phase may include research, competitive analysis, distribution channel review and an understanding of your sales process. But more than any other factor, this process will drive the success of your package design.

Why define these things? Compiling this data helps the design team create and communicate the appropriate tone for their creativity to appropriately communicate or “promote” those defined values to the consumer – to ensure the design elements they use correctly differentiate your product. For example, luxury products most definitely would not share the same design criteria as a commodity or an institutional product. A graphic design system should appeal directly to the targeted consumer, resulting in an understanding of what they can come to expect from a product. And, all of this understanding has to occur within approximately a 5-second window.

Making data work

The collection of appropriate and related data should always be provided to the graphic design team as a component of a creative brief, along with relevant comments on color, image or messaging to avoid in the creative and design process. If not previously provided, a detailed brand guide (detailed doesn’t have to be complex) ensures brand standards and constraints can be uniformly applied in a clear and consistent manner. Otherwise, the result can be a visually compelling design that doesn’t sell because the brand story and value proposition don’t connect with the consumer.

Keeping it consistent

Once a brand and graphic design system have been approved, the challenge that exists is applying the design to all package SKUs; ensuring brand and design integrity remain consistently uniform. This can become problematic when you have high variability in the structural sizes and formats you are managing. For instance, think of a 50 lb. package of dog kibble versus a single-serve can of dog food. You may have 600 square inches for a full package face panel or you may have three square inches for an entire label – in any case, the brand and design grids have to be visually consistent from package to package. I say visually because changes have to be managed in relationships to provide the visual impression of consistency but in truth are not mathematically perfect in their adaptation.

With a thorough understanding of brand constraints and the design application, you can bring incredible consistency and continuity to a package that connects with the consumer and generates the desired sales. Over time, there may be tweaking to a brand mark or guide as your brand matures, and there may be design changes as graphics are refreshed and/or renewed. Throughout this process, keep in mind that in successful packaging, attention to the brand must always lead your design development.

What becomes important is for your creative team (going back to the creative brief) to fully understand marketing communications, consumer, and brand manager priorities. This will ensure the team creates and deliver branding that has a clear point of differentiation across all SKUs and throughout all marketing channels – and that connects with consumers no matter when, where or how they make their purchasing decisions. Put your best brand foot forward on the smartest package you can design to build and reinforce brand loyalty.

If you need help with the packaging design process, we invite you to start a conversation with us by contacting us at