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Design Effectiveness: tips on successful packaging design

Frank Nas, Managing Director at our Amsterdam office, was one of the speakers during the Marketing and Design Congress in Amsterdam last year. In run-up to the event, which focuses on design accountability, Frank wrote a column about design effectiveness which was published on Dutch marketing website Marketing Here’s a translation of the full article:

Design Effectiveness is the bridge between the creative vision and the bean counting. It’s what separates great design from good packaging design.

It’s what we want all our work to be, and why it’s built into our approach from start to finish (and beyond project delivery). We’re one of most effective agencies in the world because we take effectiveness very seriously.

Design is not just about creativity, it’s a careful balance of creativity and effectiveness. If it doesn’t sell, then it’s not effective.

And that’s why it’s so important to our clients, the marketers. Raymond Turner describes it as “the biggest single expenditure that the board knows nothing about”. Which is why we see it as our responsibility not just to help clients understand where their money is going, but to demonstrate why it is so important an expenditure and to do better work as a result.

We believe that great design has a big idea at its heart, and delivers a distinct personality consistently over time (and through every touch-point). This is the platform for effective design; design that delivers impact and communicates relevance – and advantage – with conviction.

The 4 principles of an effective packaging design:

  1. It can be seen on shelf (impact)
  2. It engages shoppers (relevance)
  3. It communicates key messages and/or a point-of-difference (advantage)
  4. It sells (conviction)

But in many ways, truly great design starts long before the designer starts sketching. It starts with the very first conversation with the client, where the brief is fleshed out (or challenged) and we don’t just agree that we “need a new design” but we agree what the design needs to do, and what the right answer will look like.

And it’s that kind of integrated approach that can really help to convince a management that wants proof of design effectiveness before they invest. By demonstrating that we understand their business and market, we can demonstrate our ability to translate their business and marketing objectives into consumer drivers and clear design objectives, the foundation for measurement.



Of course, it’s always impossible to promise guaranteed results with any creative solution, impossible to prove it before you’ve done it, but by demonstrating your solid understanding of the principles, through your approach, you go a long way to convincing them.  And a few case studies don’t hurt; being able to demonstrate how you’ve done it before for another client makes life a lot easier. For example, we helped Hoogesteger reposition themselves from own-label supplier to consumer facing brand by finding and expressing their compelling brand truth and story. Sales increase of +42%, a 10% increase in market share and distribution in +300 new outlets less than 8 months after launch demonstrate that we know how to be effective.

But if you don’t have the awards or results, then you can at least demonstrate a solid understanding of the successes and failures (e.g. Tropicana’s renowned u-turn) of other branding stories – the DBA website has loads of great case studies of awards winners to reference.

It’s important to reassure and continue to convince during investment too; to continually review and assess your objectives, but also to see the design through shoppers eyes, by looking at it in sales context and by speaking to consumers – rigorous qual and quant research provides a wealth of guidance that can help to reduce risk and increase effectiveness.

So how does the investment pay back? Fundamentally, we will see a positive uplift from getting each of the 4 principles right (e.g. increased brand impact means more people see and are more likely to consider the brand) and in some cases we see an immediate uplift in sales and market share.

In an ideal world we’d see this instant improvement, and sometimes we do, but it generally takes 2-3 months after launch to see a positive effect, allowing for full distribution to be reached. Sometimes it is a slow burner related to improving perceptions and getting into people’s consideration set; when we re-designed KFC’s UK menu boards with consumer navigation in mind, we increased sales of high margin key products by 40%. But not straight away – we had to wait to see the improvements over time. Sometimes the impact might not be on the bottom line, but on the softer side of the business; e.g. internal engagement and staff retention.



And these improvements need to be traceable to design. Turnover is a great measure, but we need to strip out comms and promotional spend, so focus on the time before this kicks in (there’s usually a bit of a lag). We can also look at last year’s spend which is sometimes the same or more, which gives us a good idea of how hard the design is working.

Top tips for effective packaging design

  1. Begin with the first client conversation to determine clear objectives before you start, and follow up beyond design delivery to track performance and results
  2. Establish which measures work with your objectives: sales, listings, units, revenue, margin, engagement
  3. Be creative about determining the impact of design. Look for reduced PR or online / marketing activity and pre-campaign shelf sales

It’s important that design yields measurable results because design is an asset. It’s an investment that’s worth a lot of money to the business. In the language of our clients, we need to ensure that we are getting the most out of our assets and equities and maximising ROI.

In the language of the design world, we’ve only done our job when we can demonstrate that the design has been effective.


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