Power Branding - the Power of the package.

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'Power Branding' is the design technique which Geoff Stuart successfully pioneered in the 1990's on a large number of mega brands.

What 'Power Branding' involves is an understanding of consumer psychology and purchase behaviour, and a recognition of the changed dynamics of retail selling - that supermarkets had grown enormously in size and range of products on display, and the number of products on offer had made it far more difficult for a brand to stand out - even when it had a large range of products in its own right.

Giant shopping centers- numbers of supermarkets, pharmacies, department and speciality stores, has forced a rethink in the way packaging should be designed

Most people understand that Packaging presentation has a lot to do with how and why people purchase products.

"There is a well known saying in the catering trade, 'that people first eat with their eyes, and then with their mouth'. The same is true for packaging."

There is a well known saying in the catering trade, "that people first eat with their eyes, and then with their mouth". The same is true for packaging. Consumers have no idea whether the coffee inside the pack is good or bad. They purely react to the cues provided by the package design. The same is true for all fast moving consumer packaged goods.

Packaging is like the clothes that people wear- sensual, enticing, provocative, informative, stylish, up market or down - it is what we see. It isn't the product we react to, it is the packaging design which we respond to when we decide whether to buy, ignore or reject the product as a product we want to buy. The same principles apply to services - we buy the service based on our perception of its worth to us, and the visual clues become the guideposts.

We buy clothes on appearance, cars by their shape and badge, houses and apartments by what we see and feel, and packaged goods in exactly the same way. We react to what we see, and we validate our purchase decision by looking at the price.

Price is certainly always a key determinant, but it is the value relativity in relation to competitive offerings which becomes the value equation.

The traditional way of designing a pack and judging its worth is to look at its impact - how well it stands out, and comparing it to the old pack and to the competitors.

Many marketers stand a proposed new pack up beside their old ones on a desk and then make decisions based on a value judgement, judging it by its impact, how clear the branding is and whether it conveys the "right message' or messages.

They will also research the packaging to determine how well the messages are conveyed, and pick up on group research attitudes towards the pack.

In most companies packs are designed on a sequential basis, one pack or group of products at a time. In most large companies there is a cycling of packs being re designed, and the timing of this will depend on budgets, competitive activity and other marketing perceptions or insights.

In the early 1990's it was apparent that many brands were no longer 'single products' - eg a dishwashing liquid in one or two pack sizes, they were often 'ranges' - with a variety of colours, flavours or variants eg lemon, green, 1 litre and 2 litre, refill etc.

Designing a 'range' invariably meant colour coding, and as companies diversified they ended up with multiple ranges of products in various categories.

Each range would be designed in much the same way as a single product, with colour coding becoming the means to distinguish one product from the others. Again the judgement became a mix of 'how well it stood out on shelf', 'how easy it was to distinguish each variant' and if it passed these criteria, then it was accepted as the right way to go. From yoghurts to fruit juice, shampoos to breads, 'colour coding' and ' how well the brand stood out' became the criteria for judging the design merits of a pack design.

It was in the early 1990's that Geoff Stuart and a designer, David Kerslake made the first moves to develop 'Power Branding', and its development evolved from a study of the way people bought products in the supermarket.

Supermarkets didn't just have one brand, they offer thousands

Supermarkets had grown enormously in size and range and personal service was largely a thing of the past. The knowledge of what was or wasn't a worthwhile brand or purchase was largely based on what people saw on shelf.

People shopped by pushing a trolley up and down the aisles. They looked right or left in their immediate line of vision - knee to shoulder, and occasionally down or up, if they had to search for a product.

In some categories it was an automatic grab when they saw brands that they recognized, almost as though they were shopping by remote control. In unknown territory, they searched for a period of time (very short) but if they couldn't find the brand or item they wanted, they simply moved on.

Only a very limited time was spent browsing! If they couldn't find the product they wanted, or their brand was not visible, they moved on. They rarely studied a pack to work out the story - although this behaviour did not apply so much to cosmetics, where a studied purchase was often the norm.

From our studies it was apparent that many big brands had multiple products in various aisles, but where there was very loyal purchase in one category, it did not necessarily transfer to other categories. The 'Brand' meaning 'logo' was not enough to get a sale.

This led us to create a more holistic approach to design, and develop the thought that it wasn't branding that created the identity, but brand imaging. In other words to get recognition, there were several factors involved.

"This was a breakthrough and revolutionary at the time, yet most designers and marketing people have still not identified the power or even the distinction between simply 'branding' and 'brand imaging'."

This was a breakthrough and revolutionary at the time, yet most designers and marketing people have still not identified the power or even the distinction between simply 'branding' and 'brand imaging'.

Brand imaging or 'Power Branding' as we called it became a method of creating a brand identity from 100% of the brand's presentation - from the cap to the label, shape of the bottle and colour of the liquid inside, as well as from the labelling.

This compared to the badge logo approach where the logo identity occupied maybe 2% of the overall graphic space.

What we managed to do was put our theories to work with the design a total biscuit range on the basis of what we called 'Power Branding'.

Where the brand had previously been designed on the basis of creating identities for each variant or sub-brand, we set out to create one identity for the whole brand, and then create a secondary level of communication to distinguish each variant.

Our hypothesis was that people did not see half of the products that the brand had to offer, simply because they did not see them on shelf! They were blind to their existence, as the colour coding had been so strong that it had made them appear as virtual competitors, rather than part of the brand.

They only saw the variant they were looking for. The others on offer simply blended in to the overall shelves and competitor's products.

By creating an identity for the whole brand, people saw the whole brand, and would then look within the brand's offerings to find the variant they wanted.


Traditional purchaser

  1. Looks for variant
  2. sees variant
  3. buys and moves on
  4. sees only the product they bought

Power Branding purchaser

  1. Sees the whole brand
  2. looks within brand range to find variant
  3. possibly buys additional products as they see the whole brand range.

The other advantage of the 'Power Branding' approach was that it created a shelf dominance over other brands, such that the other brands became invisible.

The shopper was also happier, as we had cut down the frustration of searching for the product they wanted.

The Biscuit brand we designed jumped almost overnight in sales, with one of the leading variants jumping by a massive 186% in sales, even before advertising took effect.

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Article written September 2003
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© Copyright 2003 Sydney, Australia