Something is afoot in the world of branding. Over the past ten years, not only did packaging replace advertising as the chosen medium to communicate a brand story, but new brands coming to market have very different ideas about what constitutes success.
Yes, sales figures are still important, but brands are increasingly using more intangible measures of success – from environmental impact to behavioural change. And to achieve these goals, our design approach has had to change.
Brands these days are more sophisticated, more mature. From day one they are thinking beyond packaging and looking to launch with a fully-fledged brand story and personality that translates across all touchpoints, from physical packs to digital apps and tone of voice on social media.
The naked truth
Using design to connect with consumers, to influence sales and change behaviours, has only become more important, but with the rise of social media and wider communication channels, packaging design is now only one part of the story. Albeit a fundamental one.
When we started out nine years ago, our first client was BEAR, a challenger brand looking to take dried fruit out of the baking aisle and into snacking. For them, packaging was an intrinsic part of telling their brand story – alongside a large dose of knocking on doors to get supermarkets to understand the massive opportunity that BEAR offered as one of the first healthy snacks.
The packaging was instantly recognisable with its hand-drawn BEAR logo on the front and collectable cards inside, and quickly became a mainstay for parents on-the-go. It also landed us our first DBA Design Effectiveness Award in demonstrating design effectiveness in terms of commercial, behavioural and societal impact. We even won the Grand Prix – the first time for a start-up.
Fast forward to 2018, and where BEAR – with whom we still work closely – was able to gradually grow and develop its product range, social media footprint and expansion into new territories, younger brands now want to launch as fully-grown and respected category leaders.
Don’t skip the core
For a modern brand of any scale to make an impact and achieve long-term success there needs to be a true purpose at its core. It’s this story and mission that consumers connect with and, once solidified, will be the matrix around which the wider brand world is built.
One of the great challenger brand success stories of recent years is Pip & Nut. Launched by Pippa Murray in 2015 as a range of three nut butters it has evolved into a trusted lifestyle brand with a strong social media following and wide range of nut-based products.
Pippa’s infectious enthusiasm and drive to reinvent nut butter as a healthy snack underpins every element of the Pip & Nut brand world, adding depth to the brand from day one.
At the beginning, we delivered a characterful logo of a leaping squirrel and an energetic brand language that brought the packaging to life. However, these days brands are no longer constrained by logo and packaging alone, and whilst this identity works hard across the pack it also provides a playful language that translates into the wider brand world, underpinned by Pip & Nut’s core messages.
Even if a brand gets it right first time and achieves immediate success, it’s still got to keep moving. The core brand purpose stays the same, but the packaging and identity need to move with the times to give consumers the experiences they crave. Consumers are like hummingbirds. Regardless of how good the product is, if a brand stays still they will be drawn to a more exciting or relevant alternative.
These days, it’s now less about asking what consumers want and giving it to them but having a belief in something that could change the world for the better and taking consumers on that journey. If the brand purpose is right, they will follow. It’s more time-consuming but more effective and will have greater longevity.
Share your personality
Brand engagement on social media is now under more scrutiny than ever before, and whilst this presents its own challenges – heavy on resources, limited control over follower engagement – platforms like Instagram and Twitter have opened new doors for brands to express their unique personalities.
As a visually-led channel Instagram lends itself to lifestyle brands, with the opportunity to tap into wider trends like health and fitness, creating instant connections with a global pool of consumers. It’s easy for brands to get carried away on social media though, and the key for sprawling brands is to make sure everything comes back to that core brand purpose.
There’s also an assumption that brands need to focus purely on glossy lifestyle imagery to build a strong following. Not true. In fact, the most popular posts on Pip & Nut’s Instagram are packaging shots.
The stars aligning
When we create a brand, believing in the founder and feeding off their passion for the business is imperative. Delivering a new concept – or revamping an established brand – is always nerve-wracking as it can go so many ways and it’s difficult to gauge how effective a design will be for the first year or two. True effectiveness is only seen three, four, five years down the line.
Getting the name, identity, packaging and messaging on point is obvious, but there are many external factors that impact a brand’s success. Is there a change in consumer behaviour? New legislation coming in? The threat of a competitor?
When you’re a larger mainstream brand making a branding tweak or releasing a new variant this is less of an issue, but start-ups are more vulnerable to market conditions. This is why a shared vision and longstanding relationship between client and agency are so important in the development of a new brand.
The demands on a brand have evolved dramatically over a short five-year period and whilst there is still no ‘one way’ to define brand effectiveness, recognising the more intangible measures of success alongside sales figures helps build a more comprehensive picture of which brands are having the biggest impact.
And whilst for start-ups this approach is now second nature, we’re increasingly seeing their influence on our multinational clients, with larger brands waking up to the influence of challengers and adopting their more agile mentalities – and seeing greater effectiveness as a result.
Lisa Desforges is strategy director of B&B studio