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Creating brands, not design

I love brands and it seems that consumers haven’t forgotten their love of brands either. I’m sure you haven’t missed what was the huge success of Coles’ Little Shop promotion: Mini branded collectables, covetable I believe, because they are brands not because they are just little products.

And seeing some of these iconic brands small is a lesson in brand equity and how important unique visual assets are in building recognisable and emotionally relevant brands. 

Packaging with purpose
There is no question that unique, disruptive branding is one of the biggest assets a company, be it big or small, can have. The type of packaging likely to attract both niche and mainstream audiences and have cut through, is packaging that clearly conveys a brand’s values and voice.
 
Of course clearly defining and clarifying what your unique brand message is the first challenge and today’s consumers want that message to feel personal to them. Determining how best to appeal to the individuals whilst also appealing to the masses is a tricky line to walk, however the focus for a brand should not waiver from being true to itself and its own purpose.

Iconic symbolism
Creating meaningful brand assets and using them consistently over time, simply put, is how iconic brands are created. It’s their use of emotionally resonant and purposeful brand symbolism that sets them apart, however it’s the consistency of use that ensures they continue to build trust with consumers and have longevity.

Our recent redesign of Mil Lel, whilst a step change from the old packaging design, the tone of the brand remains unchanged. The new assets, such as the roundel with its rough painted edge and script variant descriptors, have been created to appeal to creative cooks, those inspired by recipes but not held back by them. By embracing a messier foodie aesthetic, consumers can now find a brand that's more relevant to their cooking experiences at home.

In summary
Iconic brands emotionally connect through the consistent use of their brand assets, building trust with their consumers. And it’s these brand assets that are the start point for any brand to evaluate whether they are being chosen on their values rather than on price. Brands need to push themselves to uncover their own story so they can be clearly unique and create equities that reflect their point of view.  If the Coles Little Shop promotion has taught us anything it’s that when we see our packaging small it still needs to convey our uniqueness, after all if internet food shopping is to grow in Australia like it has worldwide small might be the only way we see the pack before we buy.

Claire Riley
Founder & Strategy Directory, The Mill Brand Design Agency, Melbourne
Contact Claire if you would like to take advantage of her 20 plus years in the branding and packaging industry. With experience in the UK and Australia working on consumer goods brands, from cheese to gin and everything in between, Claire is passionate about creating unique brand assets that tell stories and increase the bottom line.



Rob Riley
Little shop of brands

How ironic that the outgoing Coles Managing Director John Durkan said the retailer wants to increase private label penetration to 40% by 2023 and yet their ‘Little Shop’ promotion of mini branded products has had such a positive impact on business that they’ve extended it another month. (And no it’s not just so you can get the mini Nutella pack!).

Would the promotion have been as successful if they were private label minis, or do consumers connect more with these little pieces of plastic because they are brands that they love?

The rise of private label

Citigroup analysts have estimated Coles private label penetration is currently at around 28% of total grocery and to meet their aggressive target of 40% by 2023 they need to drive growth in packaged grocery goods.

So for consumers this will mean a reduction in choice and whilst Durkan insists that this is due to customer demand rather than forcing branded goods off shelves, the shopping aisles will change and not necessarily for the better.

Getting it right

So how do brands get battle ready for the next five years and what are the opportunities for growth and innovation. 

1.     Health

The trend for healthier products across categories continues to be a priority for Australian consumers. Growth in low sugar and wellness products is not confined to one demographic but is becoming a new Australian mainstream behaviour. Consumers have demonstrated that they are prepared to pay more for products that have clear health benefits, a real opportunity for brands to build value.

2.     Premiumisation

Australia sells 40% of its products on promotion, one of the highest in the world. This has given rise to a consumer that is extremely price aware, driving behaviours such as pantry stocking or shopping across multiple retailers to get the best price. This is not a long-term strategy and can devalue a brand in the eyes of their consumers. Premiumising your brand through innovation, limited editions, driving new occasions and delivering experiences are all still relevant ways to elevate your position no matter what category you are playing in, consumers are only as price sensitive as you make them. 

3.     Distinctiveness

Ensuring your brand is telling an authentic, brand led story is key in differentiating itself within the category. Whilst playing to category cues aids familiarity standing out from the crowd is more important. For example take Woolworths new private label packaging which now in some categories looks foodier than some of the more expensive brands on offer and that’s just down to some nice photography.

In conclusion

Australian consumers love brands more than their European counterparts and the rise in private label share has been much slower this side of the pond. And whilst we can’t quantify the success of the branded minis versus a private label version, we can conclude from the emotional responses of consumers that seeing something so recognisable but in a mini format tells us how important distinctive brand assets are for a brand.

 

Claire Riley
Founder & Strategy Directory, The Mill Brand Design Agency, Melbourne
Contact Claire if you would like to take advantage of her 20 plus years in the branding and packaging industry. With experience in the UK and Australia working on consumer goods brands, from cheese to gin and everything in between, Claire is passionate about creating unique brand assets that tell stories and increase the bottom line.

Rob Riley
A good brief is great for business

It’s easy to forget how important and defining a great brief can be. I’m sure we’re all guilty of being in that meeting where the project is discussed, words are bantered around and you leave thinking you get it. But are you all actually aligned, probably not. Words thrown around in a meeting can look quite different in black and white.

And if you’re the one left to create the brief, you’ll know it can be challenging, time consuming and quite frankly hard.

Good briefs however are invaluable. In the long run they save budget and time, and should not be forgotten as the process moves further away from the initial concept round, they should be referenced and used as a guide to realising the vision.

Unless you’re a seasoned marketer working on multiple brands, packaging briefs are not necessarily something you’ve ever done before. So understanding what should and shouldn’t be included can be tricky.

Here’s a few of my top tips on what we love receiving when we get a brief, and what we think are the most important elements.

1. Brand Ambition

To understand your goal we need to understand why you are doing this and what you want to achieve. Sometimes the answer is simple, but usually it’s full of complex business decisions mixed up with a brand opportunity. Separating the tactical from the strategic is key here to ensure you move forward with a clear direction that is purpose driven.

2. Define Your Target

We’ve all moved on from the general sweeping generalisations of the ABC consumer types and whilst knowing someone’s shopping basket is interesting, an attitude or passion is what gives us a greater understanding of our ideal consumer. This allows us to uncover a more relevant insight and have greater empathy when creating visual assets that connect emotionally.

3. Out of Scope

Designers are cheeky. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them the logo is not in scope they have a tinker anyway because of course they know better. So whilst this might sometimes seem a pointless task what it does tell us is how conservative we need to be with some of your assets.

In Summary

Writing great briefs is hard, but definitely worth it. It should be a collaborative process, both internally and with your agency, it’s not a burden to be carried alone, especially as everyone needs to sign it off. The best briefs are focused but not rigid, and whilst you can use design to explore a variety of positionings it’s not always the most time efficient or cost effective way to run a packaging project.

Claire Riley
Founder & Strategy Directory, The Mill Brand Design Agency, Melbourne
Contact Claire if you would like to take advantage of her 20 plus years in the branding and packaging industry. With experience in the UK and Australia working on consumer goods brands, from cheese to gin and everything in between, Claire is passionate about creating unique brand assets that tell stories and increase the bottom line.

Rob Riley
Can you afford not to redesign?

Redesigning your packaging is exciting (maybe I’m a little biased), but can also feel costly and time consuming from a marketers perspective. Is there ever a right time to invest in a refresh? Is it just before a range review, in response to competitor activity or when you want to add a new sub-range into the mix?

In my experience all of these are relevant times to be looking at your packaging, be it a refresh or a complete overhaul, packaging is the tangible part of your brand that your consumers physically interact with on a weekly or even daily basis. And whilst other touchpoints excite, emote and remind consumers about your brand, all roads lead back to the pack and the sale.

With this in mind I thought back to all the conversations I’ve had over the years with marketers and what their rationales have been for doing a redesign.

Brand growth
A brands success can often lead to a focus on innovation to maintain momentum and consumer interest. Over time when new products or sub-ranges are added, packs can become cluttered with messaging, inconsistencies arise and different assets are created to try and get new ranges to stand out. By taking a step back and reviewing the brand assets across the range you can plan for the future, creating a platform for innovation which is now right for the brand.

Threat of delisting
This is not a great place to be and often comes with very tight timings and challenges. It’s very competitive in Australia, with only two supermarket chains dominating the landscape, getting delisted can be fatal for any brand. On a more positive note however this threat can be very liberating. By analysing the brand, it’s competitive set and the potential opportunity, insights are uncovered and a new positioning created which challenges those brands in the status quo.

Competitor copycat
They say copying is a form of flattery and this is so true for packaging. If your pack is being copied then you are setting the benchmark for some of the category semiotics. However, should this be the case, now is the time for a refresh. Build on your success, strengthen your brand assets and behave like the leader to further your position in the eyes of the consumer, otherwise when faced with a cheaper copycat pack, consumers might question the on-cost.

Dated design
Big brands are constantly evolving their packaging, think pack refresh not full range redesign. And whilst they might have the budget to constantly update their packaging, these subtle shifts do often reflect the latest design trends in colour and photography styles. So if you haven’t updated your pack in the last 5 years, then perhaps it’s time to review your assets and ensure your pack reflects your purpose and sets the direction for the next 5 years.


Whilst this list is not exhaustive, it does show that not all packaging redesign projects need to be revolutionary. Often it’s about taking the assets you have and strengthening them, ensuring they are relevant and distinctive for your target audience and category.

According to Byron Sharp availability is the key to brand growth, not just physical but mental availability. And this requires a brand to have distinctive assets that are used consistently over time to ensure your brand is always front of mind. So when looking at your packaging if your assets are interchangeable with those in your competitive set now might be the time to do that pack refresh.


Claire Riley
Founder & Strategy Directory, The Mill Brand Design Agency, Melbourne
Contact Claire if you would like to take advantage of her 20 plus years in the branding and packaging industry. With experience in the UK and Australia working on consumer goods brands, from cheese to gin and everything in between, Claire is passionate about creating unique brand assets that tell stories and increase the bottom line.

 

Rob Riley
Using consistency to cut through

As we navigate our very busy lives we find ourselves defaulting to trusted brands, brands that consistently deliver and meet our immediate needs. So whilst consistency sounds a tad dull it’s how those big iconic brands draw us in. They make it easy, they deliver (most of the time) and even if they have an off day we forgive them because we are already hooked on their reliability.
So what’s the key in balancing brand consistency with innovation and reinvention to pull new consumers to your brand?
 

Brand Health
Firstly you need to understand how healthy your brand is in the eye of your consumer. Brand health isn’t just about brand awareness, it’s about a brands ability to be clearly differentiated from its competitors whilst delivering a consistent brand promise. If your brand is not healthy it will seen to be interchangeable with a similar product, leaving itself open to being evaluated on price alone.
And given the rise of Aldi, the impending arrival of Amazon and the supermarkets current obsession with price dropping this is a dangerous place for any brand to be right now.
 

Visual Consistency
If brand consistency is rooted in the brand's promise, visual consistency is how you build recognition and presence with consumers. This isn’t just about logo repetition (although this is key too), but about using each of your visual brand assets in a way that is relevant and appropriate, building the story, disrupting the landscape and consistently delivering your brand message in a distinctive way.
So unless your assets are distinctive being consistent might just be a waste of marketing spend. There is a lot of aesthetically pleasing packaging out there and with some of them clearly not communicating the ‘why’ of the brand, they're not really doing anything other than being a container for the product.
 

The take out
Healthy brands have distinctive brand assets that not only communicate their purpose, but also build trust with consumers and provide the springboard for innovation and activation. If a brand’s visual assets aren’t distinctive, it doesn’t matter how consistently they are used across touch points, they are more likely delivering a category building message rather than a branded one. And that’s just another win for the supermarkets.


Claire Riley
Founder & Strategy Directory, The Mill Brand Design Agency, Melbourne

Contact Claire if you would like to take advantage of her 20 plus years in the branding and packaging industry. With experience in the UK and Australia working on consumer goods brands, from cheese to gin and everything in between, Claire is passionate about creating unique brand assets that tell stories and increase the bottom line.

 

Rob Riley
What makes a brand distinctive in today’s competitive environment?

A brand’s logo used to be the most important part of any visual communication, sitting loud and proud, glossy and badge-like, reassuring consumers at every turn. However I’m not so sure that this holds true today. It seems a brand’s ability to stand out from the crowd now is all about being multi-faceted, a story that builds through layers with an ownable tone of voice and unique brand assets.

So what’s changed?

Big brands could once rely on a large swathe of middle-class consumers looking for perceived quality over value. Today this mass of consumers doesn’t exist with consumer segments more fragmented more than ever before. Budget savvy is no longer for those on low incomes, it’s for the smarter shopper with their eye firmly on the value for money equation. With Lidl and Aldi now an established and growing part of our supermarket landscape, consumers are shopping around for their own quality benchmark, but at a lower cost. And those with more disposable income combine budget basics with specialist shopping, where they are not only looking for higher quality but also product knowledge and an engaging experience.

So it seems not only the landscape has changed but also how consumers are shopping has changed. With consumers focussed on budget, mindful since the GFC, we are seeing the two ends of the scale performing well, discount brands and top-end brands, leaving those brands in the middle squeezed, both across retail and in supermarkets.

Agile, compelling brands
So previously where big brands have dominated, now is the time of the small brand. Australia has a strong culture of supporting small businesses and with it’s proximity to Asia, brands can enjoy success at home and internationally. With some of these smaller brand owner-operators outsourcing production, keeping overheads low and not investing in R&D their success lies in being agile, innovative and building compelling brand assets.

The take away
So to stand out in the crowd today, brands can no longer just rely on a big shiny logo. They need to focus on what makes them unique and tell their story through their brand assets. And whilst this all sounds pretty straightforward, nailing the execution and giving consumers an emotional take out is only part of creating a distinctive brand.

 

Claire Riley
Founder & Strategy Directory, The Mill Brand Design Agency, Melbourne

Contact Claire if you would like to take advantage of her 20 plus years in the branding and packaging industry. With experience in the UK and Australia working on consumer goods brands, from cheese to gin and everything in between, Claire is passionate about creating unique brand assets that tell stories and increase the bottom line.

 

Rob Riley
Brand stretch to success

Brand collaborations are a hot topic right now. From fashion to hotels, food to beauty, you can’t open a blog, read a magazine or see an ad without coming across a new collaboration. The most recent and highly publicised of these is Victoria Beckham and Estée Lauder. This is a brand match made in heaven. She’s a designer that has been taken seriously by the fashion world and Estée Lauder is an iconic brand, pioneered by a strong woman. The collection is classic rather than of the moment, again lending itself well to the brand values of Estée Lauder whilst making VB more accessible to a wider audience.

This collaboration however is just another example of well-orchestrated brand innovation for both parties. And it almost doesn’t matter which industry you are in, innovation is king. If done correctly it is the key to profitability, growth and constant interest in your product or service, and lets face it that’s good news all round.

With Neilson’s Global New Product Innovation survey from 2015, stating that 59% of (global) consumers prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them, innovation makes good business sense.

In short, how do we evaluate good innovation from bad, especially as over half of all new grocery innovations fail in the first year.

BE RELEVANT: In marketing we talk a lot about relevance, however in this case it’s not only relevance to your audience, but relevance to your brand values. Whether you have a brand wheel, an eye, a pyramid, it’s important that all innovation stems from the heart of your brand and is tested against your values, proposition and brand essence. Don’t do innovation for the sake of it, the opportunity needs to add value, not only to the bottom line but for the brand in the eye of the consumer.

CREATE DESIRE: The beauty of limited editions are two fold. Firstly they allow your brand to express a more heightened part of their personality, creating new energy and excitement with the added element of scarcity. Secondly if done right, not only do you get the short term spark around your brand but you also build the brand for the long term. Great limited edition innovation demonstrates a brands ability to connect with new consumers, tapping into a need, an occasion or a cultural trend.

COLLABORATE TO CULTIVATE: From fashion brands to celebrities to hotels to household products, brand collaborations are everywhere. In a practical way it allows brands to grow into new markets or demographics, leveraging each brand’s strengths to develop a unique expression for consumers. Brilliant brand collaborations make perfect sense, are never questioned and provide the perfect halo effect in consumers hearts and minds.

The Mill has worked with many clients looking to craft their brand strategy, an integral place to start before contemplating innovation. If you’d like to discuss brand strategy, brand innovation or just your brand, please get in touch.

Rob Riley