Does branding lead packaging design… or does packaging shape the brand?

07 Dec 2020

In today’s retail environment, no business is purely the sum of its parts.

When aiming to connect with the consumer, a brand takes on a life of its own with visual identity and signifiers – which naturally must connect with the packaging that reaches the consumer’s hands.

However, there are a few different perspectives that come into play when trying to identify which element is more dominant when it comes to commerce and the all-important consumer experience.

Does the brand take full precedence over the packaging design, or does it work the other way around? Is it brand identity that exclusively informs packaging design, or does the packaging become the brand identity?

Of course, retail and buyer behaviour are rarely this simple, and the branding and packaging both have an important role to play – but it’s a great opportunity to look at the important connection between two commercial elements that cannot operate in isolation.

The brand leads the packaging design

Initially, when considering whether the brand leads the packaging design, it seems like a simple answer. The logo must be on the packaging, along with any relevant straplines or taglines. However, there is more to it!

In business, the intangibles of a brand are just as important as capital, assets or resources. A strong value proposition for a product is great, but it’s the consumer that decides who a brand is, and if it’s relevant to them.

This is where iconography and brand reputation come into play. Under the value transfer model, a theory of buyer behaviour, consumers attach meaning to certain visuals. For example, if a brand is particularly well known for its colours, such as Apple, Starbucks or Cadbury’s, consumers can essentially go onto ‘autopilot’ and intuitively know what to expect.

The DNA of a brand isn’t just in its assets or products – values and ideals play a role too. To fully ‘connect the dots’ for consumers, it’s natural that this also has to be reflected in the packaging.

As consumers, when we visit a store and choose products to purchase, we’re not basing our decisions on one singular element. Whether conscious of it or not, everything we know about a business, from its history to CSR efforts, helps to inform the decision.

Branding can lead packaging design, but it’s much more than logos and colouring – the packaging has to reflect the essence of the brand.

The packaging design leads the brand

In contrast, we could also consider whether packaging instead shapes the brand.

To see this perspective, we see iconic packaging designs that have taken on a life of their own, and in many cases, become more iconic than the brands behind them. In many cases, the packaging becomes the brand.

Examples of this in action include Coca Cola, Toblerone, Pringles, Jack Daniels, Grey Goose and Matey bath products. In these cases, the packaging is extremely well known, but companies behind them are not as prominent and perhaps less visible to the public eye. In these instances, packaging designs do much of the ‘heavy lifting’ with regards to brand recognition.

Campbells Soup labels are another strong example. A fairly unassuming and simple design, the soup tin labels are an embedded part of pop culture and instantly recognisable, despite Campbells as a larger business being, by contrast, not well known. Just like the previous examples, the packaging becomes the brand.

One significant advantage of allowing packaging to inform brand identity is that packaging engages the senses. Unlike a brand identity, it can be physically touched and held. The importance of feel has given rise to the term haptic marketing, used to describe the consumer value of touch.

Because of this, tactile finishes and coatings become even more important. Premiumising a product with a more engaging feel is one of the most direct routes to a stronger value proposition – and can be one of the most cost-effective.

In Summary

Of course, whether packaging leads brand identity, or brand identity shapes packaging, can become a complicated question. The reality is that the design of packaging, and the lifecycle of a business, is rarely that simple.

In reality, it is a mix of both. Brand identity, logos and assets help to tie a product in with a business ‘at a glance’, but the packaging then needs to add further value to the brand.

Looking to strengthen the connection between brand and packaging design? Speak to the team at Creation Reprographics.

Creation specialises in turning great on-screen design into outstanding on-shelf appeal, perfectly positioned to help printers and brands harness their prepress operations as a competitive edge. Click here to discover more.

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