Concept to shelf: Bringing a brand to life

Nearly 75 years ago, Walter Landor helped invent branding. Through innovative consumer research techniques (many of which he pioneered) and an exceptional grasp of great design principles, Landor inspired an entire industry to focus on the importance package design plays in product purchase decisions. Since then, we have come to understand that one of the most fundamental aspects of a successful consumer packaged goods brand is its presence on-shelf. Packaging is often where consumers are introduced to products, so this “first moment of truth” plays a critical role in convincing them to purchase one brand instead of a competitor’s. It promotes loyalty and a belief in the brand promise. An impactful package design does not come easy, however. There is a complicated road from inspired vision to finished product. Here’s how we bring brands to life at Landor:

1. Perform research analysis

Landor’s strategists begin by performing exhaustive research to come to an understanding of the product, its place in the market, and its differentiation. They perform a competitive audit, construct brand architecture, and determine a product deployment strategy. After all of this work comes the daunting task of navigating the packaging supply chain to bring a cohesive brand message to market.

2. Discover feasibility

It is important that the feasibility of a particular branding strategy is evaluated prior to locking down the design. Every type of printing, decoration, and converting can be used in a product’s packaging and display. A single launch of a Febreze initiative, for example, included flexography, gravure, and offset printing decorated as folding cartons, heat transfer labels, direct-printed aerosol canisters, and blister cards. Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each of these methods is critical to maintaining a consistent image across the various product forms. This due diligence prevents the awkward situation of having to solve a problem after the client has fallen in love with an idea. Potential challenges don’t necessarily need to be resolved early on, but they may at least be identified and quantified ahead of time.

We often include a supply chain profile when launching new initiatives. Designers make informed aesthetic choices thanks to print examples from vendors, which are presented along with warnings. Print partners support this initiative by providing the latest and greatest examples of their work to designers and brand managers. Vendors can answer: What new and innovative substrate or solution is in the development pipeline? How can we differentiate our product without breaking the bank? Undertaking periodic reviews of your capabilities helps build an informed design team equipped with the tools and techniques to bring their ideas to life.


3. Get exposed early

Designers are often skeptical about sharing concepts early in the process because they don’t want to waste time on designs that will never see the light of day, they don’t think that the artwork is ready for critique, or their client has not yet blessed the direction. Most valued partners are willing to risk extra work for an advance glimpse of the design concept and can be trusted with confidential information. Printers, production houses, color separators, and packaging engineers are grateful for this luxury. They can start their own plan of action, gauge resource allocation, ask important questions, and provide valuable feedback and warnings. Just knowing that a design includes photography and may have foil stamping is helpful for planning, even if the photo shoot has yet to take place or the foil has not yet been specified.

It is equally important to include a cross section of client departments in this advance review. Regulatory and legal approval is crucial to speed an initiative to market. For example, knowing whether to use whole fruit or sliced fruit for the sensorial imagery of a product is helpful to knowbefore design lock and the eventual photo shoot. These obscure requirements do exist and no one can be expected to know them all. Having more than enough information is preferable to encountering later challenges that delay or derail a breakthrough design idea.

4. Develop your strategy

Just because we may not be able to safely blister seal on a foil-stamped back card within a particular converting pipeline does not necessarily mean that we would discard foil accents on a folding carton for a sibling product in the same campaign. Landor makes thoughtful strategic decisions to maintain brand equity across diverse forms, resulting in a consistent visual solution on-shelf. We use approved faux metallic ink on the blister card to match the foil stamping on the carton, which matches the effect of transparent ink over a metallic substrate. We develop different solutions to achieve the same cohesive aesthetic result without surrendering to the least common denominator. We don’t shortchange a successful design idea because of a weak link.

We’ve found that we don’t necessarily have to bring fully formed ideas to our partners. We communicate the hero design and ask the experts how to achieve it. We try to avoid spending a lot of time solving imaginary problems that the experts in our network have already solved.

5. Create representative samples

Even though Landor may be capable of a cradle-to-grave approach to design deployment, we do not often perform all of the functions involved in bringing our creative ideas to the shelf. We instead develop the successful brand strategy and create representative examples of our designs in context on a limited number of product forms. Our partner production houses then use these “rep SKUs” as a guide for extending the brand idea across the full line of products. Once approved, these production art files are then handed off to a color separator to convert the artwork into print tools for the packaging converter.

The challenge is to maintain a consistent message throughout this process with a minimal amount of costly and time consuming upstream input. We take advantage of the momentum of our early exposure by reintroducing the refined design to the supply chain prior to our release to the production house. Vital details are relayed to interested partners and revisions from preproduction critique are incorporated into the design. For example, perhaps a flexo printer is not comfortable printing copy built from two colors. We would collaborate on a one-color solution that is consistent with the design intent but that gives the printer the best chance for success. A review of the release timeline and division of labor ensures accurate and timely handoff of work.

6. Execute consistently

By selecting the appropriate rep SKUs in advance, we ensure that a good range of packaging is included in the original design creation. Both large and small versions are prepared, as well as forms that pose a challenge to the design strategy. We anticipate exceptions and solve for them in advance. If a club tray presents a large horizontal billboard not represented on a bottle label, for instance, we make sure that there is enough key visual background image available for the execution of this variation.

7. Make your guidelines fun

We establish brand guidelines, which include all pertinent details surrounding the design initiative. Fonts and colors are meticulously specified. Purposeful, targeted instructions provide boundaries within which design and production partners can create packaging and collateral materials. Can the logo be white on a black background? Can marketing copy be adjacent to the product icon? These important questions are answered and most anticipated scenarios are solved and clearly communicated. Brand assets are provided in appropriate formats for acceptable conditions.

The brand guidelines for iD gum were presented as an artist’s idea book, consistent with the brand theme.
The brand guidelines for iD gum were presented as an artist’s idea book, consistent with the brand theme.

There is a tendency for brand guidelines to be cold and clinical, but that is not necessary. We are trying to engage our partners in a brand vision. The success of our design depends on the loyalty and participation of its stakeholders. An encyclopedia of dos and don’ts will not provide the equity protection that a brand deserves. We often emulate the brand theme in a playful version of brand guidelines. Our partners are better motivated to live the principles of the brand if they are simple and true. Successful brands are backed by the proud people who bring their ideas to life.

This article was first published in Package Printing (January 2014).

© 2014 North American Publishing Company