Co-ordinated Brand Design

When Andy and I set up Echo over a decade ago one of our core ambitions was to build cohesive brand stories through our FMCG designs. As product designers by training we were frustrated by too many projects developing identity and structural solutions out of sync.

Sometimes this was a result of the client using separate design agencies for each activity and sometimes it was the agency culture that wanted to start with the identity and finish up with pack shape. The main reason for our frustration was that the 2D and 3D parts of the design ended up competing with each other to communicate all of the brand values. This resulted in designs that lacked clarity or strength. We wanted to give each element of the packaging a clear role to play – the masterbrand, graphics, colour, finish, materials, form and function each telling the consumer part of a co-ordinated story that built a compelling and informative brand impression.

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Over the years we have had many successes in running projects this way, even when we are not responsible for all parts. We found a collaborative session at the beginning of a project to develop clear design principles was critical to define roles and responsibilities of each touch point. It was also important to work all aspects of the design in parallel as much as possible and assess the complete design at regular intervals. This kept the balance just right through the development and validation process.

As the digital and experiential aspects of brands come to the fore, this integrated approach to FMCG brand design is even more critical. We must think about the whole consumer journey through traditional stores and increasingly e-commerce as well. The same principles apply – planning parallel development, collaborative working and prototyping. It requires more cohesion and planning, but also provides many more opportunities to delight and engage the consumer. Getting this journey right is important for entrepreneurs and corporations alike but this co-ordinated approach to packaging design has specific opportunities to the big brand portfolio businesses.

Many corporations have developed category portfolios with each brand targeting different consumers. Traditionally this has resulted in each brand with its own expensive structural packaging. Or, in an effort to leverage scale and costs savings, multiple brands have been forced into sharing packaging. Inherited design rarely suits any brand and creates confusion in the consumers mind when the packs look similar or identical..

If we start out fresh to design a pack for multiple brands we can deliver both. There are many opportunities to gain economies of scale and simultaneously reinforce brand communication on shelf. We work with the different brand teams to establish common values and build these into the shared component of a pack such as the overall form, which requires the bulk of the investment. We then look to see how modifiable elements such as colour, finishes, small components, labels and printing can bring to life the individuality in each of the brands to build a portfolio system.

An example of this was the design of Unilever’s Dove and Degree For Women premium deodorant stick pack launched to great success in North America. Echo worked with the brand teams to establish the shared idea of femininity that we expressed through an elegant shared structure. Each brand’s unique values were then delivered through all the other sensory touchpoints that could be changed easily and inexpensively. Degree’s freshness was delivered through the translucent blue materials and Dove’s idea of smooth moisturising skin through the soft white opaque materials used on their pack. The identities amplified Degree’s performance and Dove’s care values still further resulting in distinctive and on-brand packs on shelf.

There has been a trend of increasing specialisation in the world of design and these specialists certainly have a role to play but in this complex and fractured world brands increasingly need the expert generalists to plan and orchestrate a co-ordinated approach.