Can you Design for Retail Without Compromising your Brand?

By: Anna Coffou

Here’s a scenario: you’ve gone through a redesign that you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into (and so has your agency). You’ve been thinking about retailer asks along the way, but when it’s time to present to the customer you get thrown for a loop at the 11th hour. The ask(s) seems out of left field and you struggle to see a solution.

For a lot of our clients, saying no isn’t an option because a few SKUs, at one retailer, represents the life of the business. The impact of not finding a solution becomes real, very quickly. Knowing that a lot might be at stake, how do we protect the brand?

Brand managers and marketing teams face this all too frequently, and the challenge is one that does not appear to be going away anytime soon. Rather than feeling like you are stuck in a compromising position each time this happens, let’s start a conversation about how to shift the dynamic between brand, sales, and retail for the better. We want to empower cross-functional teams to work together on behalf of the brands they manage, ultimately putting the consumer experience and level of engagement (at a brand and retail level) as center focus.

There are multiple angles to consider: your point of view, your sales team’s, and of course, the retailer’s.

Change Your Perspective

This is the hardest one. Changing how you think and the way you story tell can be extremely difficult since you live and breathe the brand every day. Navigating your brand through a different lens can help some common scenarios you find yourself in.

For example, your brand is orange and they ask for blue instead. Instead of saying “No, we can’t make it blue,” find the root of the ask. If they say blue because they think blue resonates with consumers a certain way, look at other pillars of your brand to borrow from. Do you have an already established asset that you can leverage for this specific retailer? Looking at your brand as a whole can bring a resolution that keeps a consistent look/feel for your brand, and ultimately helps with navigation on shelf when shoppers are looking for your brand.  

Another way to have the conversation is by using data, insights, and trends as proof points to protect your decisions and brand. As you go through your design process, think of little tidbits of information that helped reassure you that this was the right decision for your brand. Keep track of these along the way that you can use to shape, and more importantly, support a story that will empower your sales team to change the conversation with the retailer—ultimately leading to a win for everyone, including the consumer.

Re-train your Sales Team

Your sales team is always thinking about the retailer. We need to retrain them to think about the consumer so they can start to change the conversation.  

Get them excited. Take your sales team through the same journey you went through. Show them how we got here to make them feel like part of the team and a part of the journey. Involve your sales team as early as possible, consider including the team in project kickoff and important milestones.

Develop a story for your sales team. This is an important step in giving your sales team the tools they need to succeed. It not only helps them tell the right story, but gives them the confidence to have a conversation with the retailer and push back in a way that’s on brand and strategic, and ultimately in the consumer’s best interest.

Empowering your sales team with what they need to re assure the retailer that you have kept the consumer top of mind is key. Your sales team is your friend. Use them to your benefit throughout the journey to generate new ideas together, but remember, your sales team is only as strong as what you give them.

Think Like the Retailer

Retailers are trying to build their own brands and experiences that go with them. They want the brands they sell to fit within their language.

For example, Costco tries to go above and beyond with the consumer to make their selection process as easy as possible by offering fewer choices and enforcing easy navigation requirements. While Apple requires brands to adopt a very clean and sophisticated pack that downplays the role of the product’s brand.

How do we address the problem, when the ask pushes you out of your brand’s comfort zone? What is the risk of not conforming in not meeting the retailer’s requirements? For example, if you push back, and they drop that SKU, how much business are you losing?   

Knowing the retailer, brand, experience and business is extremely helpful when trying to sell in product/new packaging. Be smart. Customize each presentation to speak to the strengths of the design that supports the retailer’s brand. Show them how your brand decisions will help them help the shopper.

Don’t be afraid to fight for your brand. Share your excitement. If you have the data and the insights, brought your sales team along the journey and gotten to the root of the retailer ask, it will be a win-win for all, including the most important person, the consumer.


Anna Coffou
Account Manager, Kaleidoscope

With 6 years of experience building brands, Anna provides leadership to clients in regards to planning and brand management decisions in categories such as food and beverage and home and housewares. Having spent time at Treacy Marketing Group, her agency consulting and strategic brand management experience allows her to bring a unique perspective to engagements.