Working at method has taught me that package design is the single most important part of your marketing plan. Founder Eric Ryan likes to say that he views cutting steel as a marketing expense. Once a consumer told me that he buys method because the package design makes him want to lick the bottles.
Remarkable design, whether in the store or in the consumer’s hand, makes every other aspect of marketing possible. Zero advertising on a remarkable product trumps heavy advertising on a mediocre product.
Remarkable design implies that it’s fundamentally different from what is already on the shelf. That’s what makes it worthy of remark. It is that fundamental difference that allows a brand to break through the clutter.
Yet there is reluctance to be different. In every design project I’ve witnessed, there has been a headwind that pressures the project to what has been done before. When that headwind blows from client to agency, it’s particularly hard to resist. Sometimes this headwind is created by the conventional rules of the category. Sometimes it’s a fear of alienating consumers. But the headwind, if not countered, restrains design to the path of least resistance.
The result is that the vast majority of products launched every year are not that different from what’s been launched before.
Seth Godin recently critiqued the package design of an African chocolate brand called Madecasse. Madecasse has a remarkable story (it’s the only imported chocolate brand made in Africa with local beans), but the package design looks no different than the myriad of high-end chocolate brands already on the market. The brand’s non-remarkable packaging actually camouflages the brand’s remarkable story.
The best cure I’ve found is to be stimulated by package design that tries something different. Dennis Thompson at Thompson Design Group sends out emails to all current and former clients several times a week with examples of provocative design he stumbles across.
If you don’t know Dennis, read The Dieline. Have everyone on your team (no matter what role they play) discuss those examples regularly. Instead of benchmarking off of what’s been done before, try to be inspired by package design that dares to be different.