What I’ve Learned About Packaging Design Projects

I’m knee deep in a packaging redesign and it got me thinking about things I’ve learned from past projects.  Over the course of my 10+ year marketing career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of interesting projects and in my opinion, a packaging design/redesign is a marketer’s most challenging responsibility.  It doesn’t get any bigger than planning and deciding what consumers see on the shelf. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of award-winning packaging designs, but I’ve also been a part of complete catastrophes.  Through this process, I’ve learned a few important things:

  1. Take your time – If you’re going to rush the design, just don’t do it.  You’ll be better off sticking to what you have or delaying the launch.  It really easy to fall into that trap of “well, we need the project finished by X date because the packaging vendor is paying for the set-up fees”  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But it’s not worth it.  Once that packaging hits the shelf, it’s part of the brand forever. There aren’t any “mulligans” in packaging.
  2. Complete redesigns don’t work – It’s really tempting to say “sales suck, so we need to reinvent the brand and give it a complete face-lift.”  Again, I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this one – and there is no better way to freak out of your sales team than to spit out a completely design that has no link to the brand icons and equities.  Make subtle improvements through time.  It costs more, but it’s way more effective.
  3. Let your sales people bitch about it – The good thing about about sales’ feedback is that they will look at it from a more functional standpoint.  Let them give you direction on the how it will fit in the shelf set and what the distributors/buyers look for.
  4. Go for it and don’t cut corners – Before you even think about spending money on anything else, you gotta get the packaging right.  If that means spending more on the packaging materials, so be it.  Take the money out of the advertising budget.
  5. Learn from others, but don’t copy – There are a lot of good ideas out there, so by all means learn from them.  But don’t ever try to knock off a brand that has been successful.  Consumers are too smart for that stuff and they’ll call you out on it.

4 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned About Packaging Design Projects

  1. great points! can you go into more detail about #2, though? i’ve worked on some projects where it seems like everything is broken and wrong. is incremental change still the right course?

  2. Sure, I would be happy to expand on that point.

    I have managed packaging redesigns and the knee-jerk reaction for a brand that is failing is to scrap everything except the name and start over. When you’re as close to a brand, (as a Brand Manager or Director/VP of Marketing is) it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that current consumers will accept wholesale changes and new ones will be attracted to the brand. And chances are that research will support that belief.

    But, based on my experience, it’s better to take your time, maintain core equities (as weak as you might think they are) and make big changes over a longer period of time.

    I’m going through this right now with brand that has been beat up and kicked around. When, we started the redesign process, it didn’t make any sense to just “tweak” the design – we might as well overhaul it right? NO.

    We eventually came to our senses and decided that the core equities needed to be maintained and I’m happy we got there. It will give the current consumer base something to work with.

  3. Ha, I can relate to number 3 having been in sales and advised on many packaging, even concepted then fed to PDD for feasibility review (if the forecasted order volume justified our investment).
    The most common redesigns were for displays (PDQs and POPs) because it’s either changing artwork, number of facings/items deep, or general size.

    In whatever case, it was up to us to really try and understand the buyer’s needs, preferences, and whatever information we could get up front so we minimize the possibility of sudden changes before order finalization.

    Thus it was our responsibility to be the investigator and provide feedback to designers. For the largest retailers, we’d just send the designers along to the sales meeting.

    Anyways, thanks for the insights.

  4. it’s better to take your time, maintain core equities (as weak as you might think they are) and make big changes over a longer period of time.

    gotcha- that makes sense, and that’s been my experience as well. there’s always something successful to build on, and it makes sense to work with that rather than start from scratch.

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