Own it or Lose it.

by Ted Mininni, Design Force Inc 

Brand proliferation and no end in sight. At least the recent recession slowed it down! Have I got a beef against more brands coming to market? No. The problem is too many branded products and packaging look alike!


There will always be a plethora of similar products. But isn’t the primary job of marketers to successfully differentiate their offerings from everybody else’s in the marketplace? When are consumer product companies going to decide to “own” it?

In the 10-20 seconds the consumer scans the retail shelf, what pops? That’s why ownable design strategies are increasingly important given the sheer number of products in every category. Otherwise, consumers can’t distinguish one brand from another; often walking away confused and empty-handed, as a result. 

The few brands that “get it” are usually category leaders. These are brands with strong points of view, differentiated and supported by an ownable creative strategy. It’s a visual thing. Consumers are people and people are very visual. Strong brands with unique design strategies can be spotted and ID’d from a distance on the shelf, or in an ad. They’re consistent and cohesive in every consumer touch point of the brand. Ownable creative dictates everything.

Take a look at successful packaging. It can comprise a unique structure, signature color, graphics, typography, distinctive logo, or any combination of these. Unique package structure? Think about the new Method Laundry Detergent with Smartclean Technology™. A sleek 20 oz package with pump top will do 50 loads of laundry that can be held and dispensed with one hand! Ownable signature color? Think Garnier Fructis in brilliant lime green. Strong key visual? Think Kellogg’s Special K’s huge red “K” or Tropicana’s straw plugged into a fresh orange. Differentiated label defining the brand? Think Heinz’s keystone label. 

When a signature color and graphics come together to make complex ideas simple to grasp, it’s a winner. Think Danone’s Activia. Graphics outlining the torso with visible “belly button” and arrow pointing downward on a dark green ground get the point across. It’s clear: this is about “regulating the digestive system”. Activia has become a star brand because the marketing campaign and packaging deliver seamlessly and “ownably”. 

But what about established brands? Can they successfully develop new creative strategies, including packaging, to become highly differentiated? They can, but it’s crucial to find out which elements of the current packaging consumers are attached to; and which ones can be changed for the better. Good research invariably yields answers that may surprise even veteran marketers.

Enter in Listerine. Research showed that consumers found the Listerine package cumbersome. It wasn’t easy to grip, and pouring the contents could be problematic. Seizing on the opportunity to address these issues, a new ergonomic barbell-shaped bottle—much more distinctive than the original—was developed. Easily gripped by hands of all sizes and strength. 

The new structure resonated with consumers who clearly identified Listerine’s heritage assets while appreciating the new easy-to-handle design. The ergonomic bottle made it easier to pour mouthwash, so consumers used the product more frequently. Far from putting consumers off, Listerine’s new package led to faster repeat sales. 

Easy to accomplish when a company has deep pockets and substantial resources, right? Not necessarily. Even small companies and start-ups can develop ownable packaging. It takes the right mind-set and a commitment to developing a differentiated creative strategy, then putting the elements and tactics in place to achieve and maintain it. 

Start-up, Help Remedies, recently entered the market with six commonplace OTC products, but a decidedly unconventional approach. The brand packaging is entirely compostable, made of molded paper pulp and a bio plastic primarily made of corn. 

Each white, pillow-like package is edged by color and the word “help™” appears in that same color in the upper left-hand corner. “help™. . .I have a headache”. Or, “help™. . .I can’t sleep”. “help™. . .I have allergies” appears with information about the contents in a few short words. Simple solutions for common health issues. Ask yourself: will these products stand out in aisles loaded with OTC medications? 

By distilling the brand to its core, a unique creative strategy can be developed. Then, packaging, advertising and web sites should all refer back to that brand cohesively and consistently. That will only happen if a style guide and package design system based on the ownable creative are put into place and consistently maintained. The beauty of developing this kind of strategy: it can be stretched without diluting the property’s brand essence. It can adapt to evolving customer tastes and trends. Yet, it retains all of the brand’s core visual attributes if consistently leveraged. 

Over time, ownable creative design can become iconic to consumers. It matters now—more than ever. In today’s marketplace—it’s own it or lose it.

Ted Mininni is president of Design Force Inc., the leading brand design consultancy to consumer product companies with Enjoyment Brands™. Design Force helps clients market brands that deliver positive, gratifying experiences by connecting consumers to brands emotionally with compelling visual brand experiences. Design Force, Inc. can be reached at 856-810-2277, or online at www.designforceinc.com

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