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R. L. Polk & Co.’s Ask the Industry Looks at the Keys to Great Packaging Design

Strong design, for both packaging and marketing materials, is key to promoting brand recognition. Whether it is created with an in-house design team or with the help of an agency, there are a multitude of elements that go into developing a packaging design that “stands out yet fits in” as marketing communications expert Joel Spencer puts it.

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For this week’s edition of Ask the Industry we talk about the key principles of aftermarket packaging design with several aftermarket executives heavily involved in the design process.

Strong design, for both packaging and marketing materials, is key to promoting brand recognition. Whether it is created with an in-house design team or with the help of an agency, there are a multitude of elements that go into developing a packaging design that “stands out yet fits in,” as marketing communications expert Joel Spencer puts it.

THE BASICS

It all starts with the basics, says Spencer, partner in Barolin & Spencer Marketing Communications. Spencer and his firm have spent the past two decades working closely with clients to help them develop strong marketing tools, including product packaging. The basics, he says, start out with readability and legibility. “You don’t see too many bad examples [of readability] because they generally don’t survive on the shelf that long,” said Spencer.

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Outside of good, readable designs, proper contrast and font size, Spencer believes color choice is an important consideration.

“When you are choosing colors in your design, be aware that almost 10 percent of men are color blind,” Spencer suggests. “So something that looks legible and readable to you might not be readable at all to a color blind person.”

Color is also an important design element for Beck/Arnley. According to Marketing Manager Sandy Norris, Beck/Arnley has a specific color that has become somewhat of a signature for the brand.

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“Having a simple yet powerful graphic design is crucial to building brand awareness,” said Norris. “When customers can glance at your packaging and know, without reading the box, what brand they are looking at, that’s successful design. The key elements are color, use of company logo and consistency in graphics. For example, we have a specific color of blue that we affectionately call our ‘Beck/Arnley blue.’ Our customers associate that blue with us, so it is always a strong presence in our design. Even if our packaging has various looks, keeping the key elements common gives a sense of uniformity that the customer recognizes.”

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THE PROCESS

The process for developing a design can vary as much as the images themselves. Lauren Mencarini, art director for Permatex, says that the design process at Permatex is helped along by working closely with other departments, particularly marketing.

“[The process time] varies. Sometimes we can hit it on the first shot and I think that is because we are in an in-house group. We work so closely with the marketing department that we are already in tune with what is going on. I think it’s a tremendous advantage,” said Mencarini. She added that it typically it takes the Permatex art department about a week to complete a solid design idea.

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When asked what basic principles she abides by in the design process, Mencarini kept it simple: “Know your audience,” she said. “We always look at what the competition is doing. We want to see what we are going to be up against and try to design something that will stand out among those.”

Tom Marx, president and CEO of The Marx Group, a business strategy and marketing communications firm, agrees that it’s important to take a look at the market and what the competition is doing.

“It all starts with strategy — strategic positioning of the brand, the category and the product itself,” said Marx. “We spend the time required in order to know the competition, have conversations with the brand’s customers and when needed, take the research to the end-user level, which often includes the technician. We also look at what packaging works and what does not.”

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Looking at other industries also holds value. Global automotive parts supplier Federal-Mogul frequently looks outside its product categories, and even outside the aftermarket industry, for design ideas and inspiration.

“We tend to benchmark the consumer products category when looking at new packaging designs. Much can be learned by paying a visit to the grocery or consumer electronics store; this is where many progressive packaging concepts can be found,” said Brian Tarnacki, director, global brand strategy, Aftermarket Products and Services, Federal-Mogul. “Good packaging is not only unique and attractive, it is also functional. What is often overlooked is that packaging can provide benefits to the end user beyond what the product itself does.

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COMMUNICATING YOUR BRAND

At its most basic, a good design is a medium to communicate a message. A lot has to be said in oftentimes a very small amount of space.

Mencarini said the number one priority when working on a package design is to represent your brand with attractive graphics that demonstrate what the product does and what the benefits of the product are, while also having “shelf appeal.”

It has to capture the spirit and personality of your brand, says Gerry Beronja, director, Global Marketing, Snap-on Diagnostics.

“Packaging and creative marketing design should be measured against how well it reflects brand identity standards and meets usability and functionality requirements,” said Beronja . “ For Snap-on Diagnostics, it’s important that our packaging and marketing materials express our products and capture the brand personalities in a compelling way. It’s also important that our packaging facilitates our product identification and the differentiating benefits against other competing products. What you see on the box reinforces the key functional and design characteristics of our products.”

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HOW TO STAND OUT

“There’s the principle of ‘stand out but fit in,’ which applies to a lot of aftermarket products,” said Spencer. “You are usually on a shelf of competitors and you want your customer to be drawn to you (stand out) but you also want them to understand that you are part of a particular product category or type (fit in). You don’t want to make something that makes the consumer ask: ‘Is this a piece of consumer electronics I’m looking at when I thought I was in the additives aisle?’ Being too creative, too sophisticated or too far a-field can result in a design that may be very impressive but might not communicate what it is to who needs to know.”

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One new line of car care appearance products on the shelves this year knows how to stand out among a crowd. Playing into the recent youth culture trend of misspelling words to create a new vernacular and in turn, create a new brand, Voodoo Ride stands out among a sea of other car care products. It’s clear with a quick glance that this product’s design was developed to appeal to a very specific demographic. With colors and graphics that could almost be mistaken for an energy drink and product names like “Mojo” and “Shoq,” Voodoo Ride’s products not only stand out, they also clearly evoke a certain personality.

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“As a new company, it was important for Voodoo Ride to have a distinctive look to its packaging that would make it stand out on the shelves,” said Chris Ferraro, president, CEO and co-founder of Voodoo Ride. “ Our packaging reflects our brand personality: relevant, cutting-edge and completely unlike what you’d expect to see. We didn’t want to look like all the other appearance products; we wanted to look different because we are different. We consider Voodoo Ride a lifestyle brand, so we needed to touch our consumers emotionally through our creative approach and package design.”

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TRENDS

When asked what kinds of trends they are seeing take hold, all of the execs we spoke with mentioned the increasing need to create multilingual packaging. As the marketplace becomes more and more global in nature, product packaging must reflect this trend as well. Many American products today feature English and Spanish on packaging; English and French in Canada.

“These days it is important to be NAFTA-compliant. As a result, English, French and Spanish languages should be included on packaging,” said Federal-Mogul’s Tarnacki. “If you look at it the right way, being inclusive with your packaging is not so much a limitation but an opportunity to reach out to your customers. This becomes even more important as we manage our businesses globally. A way to ensure that the packaging does not become too cluttered is to replace as much text as possible with graphics. A good designer can convey what is sometimes a complex thought with simple pictures.”

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Another growing trend in the automotive industry today is the ‘green’ movement.

“At the same time that the trend is going toward over-packing for warehouse club situations, there is talk in the industry of trying to minimize packaging to lessen the ecological impact that packaging has,” said Spencer. “That’s a trend that is starting to hit strongly in Europe , in discussion and proposed legislation. It has not yet come here to the United States, but I think it will in the next one to six years. Manufacturers are still fighting for market share, shelf space and visibility. The public isn’t demanding it yet, legislation hasn’t come around to prod people into doing it, but it’s a trend that is over the horizon and on the way.”

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Package design offers the opportunity to not only minimize waste but also promote a company’s support of environmental efforts.

“At Penray, we have such a multitude of products that it is important that we differentiate the packaging in some ways but still let people know by the label that it is a Penray product,” said Chris McKenzie, director of Marketing, Penray. “We have recently re-designed our winter products labels to reflect the improvements we have made as well as how environmentally sound our product line is while at the same time incorporating the safety information that is required by law. We feel our new labels are very effective and help us sell our products.”

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McKenzie added that later this year, Penray will be introducing bilingual labels to its products as well. “That [will] offer up a whole new series of challenges but will really help us grow in the Hispanic marketplace,” he said.

Yet with all the language considerations, legal requirements and space constraints, it’s critical, as Brian Tarnacki points out, that companies maintain focus and not try to do too much with a design.

“In the aftermarket, we are often guilty of trying to serve too many masters when it comes to packaging design,” Tarnacki said. “As a result, there is often too much extraneous information included on packaging. It is best to be single-minded and make sure that everything included on the packaging is working toward communicating that one message and in a manner that is consistent with the brand’s image.”

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The Marx Group recently completed research that confirms the theory that "less is more” when it comes to packaging design.

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