Advice from the Pros: Steve Kazanjian, MWV Design


“Among the earliest and most forceful advocates of the theory that the twenty-first century marketing class stands essentially helpless before a mighty new breed of in-control consumers was A.G. Lafley, chief executive officer of Proctor & Gamble.  In 2005, he declared that the new consumers ‘expect more from the brands they buy and use every day.’  Companies like his would have no choice but to meet their demands: ‘Consumers have grown accustomed to having it their way,’ he said.  ‘It’s a consumer revolution… The rise of this powerful consumer boss marks one of the most important milestones in the history of branding.” - Rob Walker,  “Buying In

Over the past year, this excerpt from Rob Walker’s latest book has stuck with me.  It very much speaks to the critical juncture that modern marketing has found itself.  As the traditional advertising model slowly erodes, its relevance has started to loose the same impact that it once had.  Marketers, understanding this new paradigm have started to look elsewhere in making those “all important” brand / consumer relationships.

As marketers and consumers equally flock towards the latest in online social networks and forge these new consumer bonds, we must never forget the other critical connection point that is of equal importance - Consumer Packaging.

As these “digital” brand experiences mature to become more individualized, own-able, and even communal, they also inherently become more ephemeral.  Packaging, still representing one of the strongest key physical connections to a brand, is becoming increasingly more relevant and powerful in evolving marketing strategies.

Making Brand Impressions, Not Just Containers

Much has been written in the past few years on modern branding and, not withstanding a few exceptions, most speak to the same key driver; developing an indelible emotional connection with the consumer.  It’s with the goal of creating emotional bonds in mind that we conspire our attention and develop the following critical tool in our packaging ideation process; the brand packaging strategy.

Building a Strategy

First and foremost, you should understand your customer’s brand personality.  In the simplest of terms; what are the fundamental character traits of the brand?  What’s the associative context?  Is it passionate or inspiring?  Caring or radical?  By anthropomorphizing the brand, we can start developing clarity.  This “character sheet” will help provide understanding in how we start processing the stacks of data in the second step; Marketing Insights.

We’ve all looked through those two-inch decks of quantitative data that seem to suck the last bit of creativity from our brains before we even put pen to paper.  However, within those pages of quantitative, qualitative, ethnographic, and focus group analysis hid the “Sparks of Innovation.”  Is it an unmet consumer need, an unexplored competitive advantage, a unique engagement strategy, or even an unrealized customer base?  Hold steadfast, take the time, sift through the info, and find those sparks.  They will ignite all that will follow.

Then comes consumer trend analysis.  Don’t just stay within packaging.  Explore entertainment, architecture, industrial, automotive, interior design and even fashion.  Consumers do not live segmented lives; our inspiration should not come from just one source.  It should present a visual representation from all facets of our intended consumers’ lives.

As you construct these “spheres of influence,” you should start to notice repeating patterns.  For example, if the packaging assignment focuses on moving the consumer “up the value chain,” are you noticing that personal rituals are the key emotional markers?  And are those markers creating intangible value?  If so, are there examples outside of category that are relevant and can be applied?

Let’s take Grey Goose Vodka as a very basic example of building an incredibly effective brand packaging strategy.  In 2004, Sidney Frank sold the manufacturing rights to Bacardi for $2.2 billion in cash; impressive because the brand was less than 10 years old at the time.  Positioned as an ultra-premium vodka, Grey Goose needed a powerful brand personality.  While the French may not be known for their Vodka, they certainly are for their wines.  Frank capitalized on this existing relationship and aligned all consumer touch points towards a specific end goal.  What physical touch-points did the consumer need to “grant them the emotional license” to make that type of premium purchase?  The cork gave tactile and auditory cues creating recall from premium goods outside of category.  The frosted glass spoke to connoisseurship. The bottle shape “borrowed” from Absolut and existing wine bottles also created a sense of familiarity and yet elitism.  While this is an incredibly simplified distillation of a very complex marketing plan, it does show how a brand packaging strategy can provide very effective design solutions and help to foster new relationships with your client’s consumers.

The Design Group at MWV has found that taking the additional step to build a brand packaging strategy before jumping into structural design and engineering has become a critical component of our design process, and most importantly, has helped to create successful and memorable consumer packaging engagements.

About Steve Kazanjian and MWV (MeadWestvaco)

Steve Kazanjian is the Global Creative Director of MWV Design, MWV’s packaging design and innovation division.  MWV  is a global leader in packaging and packaging solutions for the personal and beauty care, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, dispensing solutions, home and garden and media industries.  MWV has sales, manufacturing and converting facilities on six continents and customers in over 100 countries around the world.  Steve Kazanjian has over 15 years experience in developing brand strategies for some of the world’s largest consumer products and entertainment brands.  He is the former Vice-Chairman of Promax (Promotions and Marketing Association), former Chairman of BDA (Broadcast Design Association), and has been an adjunct professor at Otis College of Art and Design.