The Importance of Product Design and Packaging in Branding


There are two phrases that constitute mottos when it comes to my professional life. The first one is: “Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.”, and the second: “A brand is the sum of its details.” They are imprinted in my mind so well, that I’ll probably carve them on my door or tattoo them on my body one day. They are the basis and reason I love this profession. Adding to the fact that I was raised in a family of architects and interior designers, you might say I’m no stranger to the concept of design and its value in everyday life.

According to Marty Neumeier in his book The Brand Gap, “A retail package is the last and best chance to make a sale.” Given that not all brands are products and not all products go retail, the truth is that product and package design are vital when it comes to brand image. Consider that more than half of purchases are based on emotions, especially when a client is unsure and must choose between two brands of products.  It’s no surprise that companies that master the art of aesthetics are on the top of their game- Apple, Bang & Olufsen, Nike, IKEA, Nokia, or Cassina- design is what defines them and gives them their competitive edge.

What exactly happens when we find ourselves in front of an aisle with tens of hundreds of products just staring back at us? We start to compare, remember and associate. Bear in mind that the brain is prone to classifying everything around us- it’s the only way we can organize everything we see, hear, feel or know. If we didn’t, we would all go bananas. Filling that slot or opening in that mental category is crucial, it’s what we marketers refer to in our jargon as the ‘Top of Mind’.

Whether we associate the product with its ad, with a friend who we know that uses it, or with the packaging’s color and layout and what those elements mean in our mind- elegant, simple, tacky, appropriate- product design involves form and function and for many, implies the beginning of the brand experience with the client. In some cases, it triggers the basis for customer loyalty. Even shopping bags speak to our clients and influence brand perception.

Even though we are not aware of it, our senses provide a significant amount of information in our day-to-day life. Research shows that consumers have a more favorable approach to brands that reach us through all senses. Design is an essential part of a brand’s approach in that it reaches people through the sense of sight and tact. Imagine pairing that up with marketing tools that target the other senses of sound, smell and taste. You’d be sitting in a winning lottery ticket.

From a product’s first prototype to its final version up on a shelf, product and packaging design reflect a specialty in itself and involves collaboration with industrial designers, manufacturers and packaging engineers. A unified and coherent approach from all levels leads to a powerful brand presence.

The functions of product and package design are:

  • Constitutes the physical representation of a brand's personality.
  • Draws attention to a specific product in a crowded retail space. (in this case a product’s packaging serves as a great promotional tool)
  • Positions a product amongst a certain category and perceived value, hence reflecting a specific potential price.
  • Serves as a protective container, as well as provides useful nutritional information or instructions of use.
  • Constitutes as an essential brand identity tool. Even a specific color might trigger an association to a particular brand.
  • Differentiates a product from its competitors and private labels by transmitting a sense of worth or a story.
  • Packages might also serve as souvenirs, collectibles or a source of storage.
  • When a product design is groundbreaking, it can influence the way we use something specific by shifting behavior patterns.
  • Reflects the level of modernism, creativity and cutting-edge qualities the brand might have.

Some product designs have forever changed the way we view a category’s look-and-feel. Companies such as Apple and Bang & Olufsen are known to have shaped much functionality that has inspired others in the market. They imply physical advancements in the industry.

In this day in age, design can be synonymous to style, usability and that personal stamp that defines a product. And not to mention a brand. With all the competition out there, physical differenciation is crucial if you want to stand out in the marketplace. It provides that added-value that customers cherish so much and benefit from, which in turn serves as a slingshot for you- your product's increase in desirability and percieved value can help you charge more for it. A definite win-win situation.

Vive la Différence.

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