We live in a world where marketers aim to connect physical products with digital experiences, and they often have to battle ever-evolving digital technologies and changing consumer behaviors. We’re also faced with new paths to purchase, from voice to e-commerce and artificial intelligence to passive selection, so brands may need to optimize communications while ensuring that price/value equation and product functionality are relevant and compelling.
The practical and logical work of branding isn’t going away. However, the future likely won’t be based purely on rational decisions, because as humans, we actually don’t use the logical part of our brand to make all of our decisions. This is good news for branded packaging since its goal is to create an emotional connection with people.
Design extends far beyond the scope found in today’s traditional design educations. For me, as Herbert Simon wrote in The Sciences of the Artificial, design is about “changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Using design as a way to drive strategic brand growth, you can move beyond the typical design-as-a-visual-asset-repository mindset to one that creates value and preference for any activity involving the specific form and arrangement of elements.
Design can be a conversion tool — turning strategy into results. Here are a few proven techniques with the power to create positive, visceral reactions in people.
Design For The Right Cognitive System
If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, you may be familiar with the two cognitive systems used in decision making. System one produces the fast, intuitive reactions and makes the immediate decisions that rule our lives. System two is where conscious thought, cognitive reasoning and learning new things occur. Why is this important? System one is instinctual and makes most of the decisions when it comes to branded packaged goods. Before system two can process a product’s functionality, system one has already made the split-second decision about whether you like it or not.
Packaging is a valuable owned media channel that offers the opportunity to convert browsing into buying. By acknowledging the basic desires that influence human decision making, you can design packaging with them in mind and use visual and tactile elements to hack into the brain. Desires and motivations can be fickle — what motivates you to buy hand soap (e.g., savings) most likely won’t be the same desires that motivate you when you purchase milk (e.g., family and eating).
Here’s another example of how design can tap into our desires: Powerful, pleasurable hits of dopamine coursed through my brain the first time I laid eyes on Christian Louboutin’s Rouge Louboutin nail polish. The bottle, which is part high heel and part calligraphy pen, tapped into my system one brain via my desire for status and power.
For more information on how to identify people’s desires, check out The Reiss Motivation Profile.
Establish A Brand Rhythm
As David Hyerle writes in Visual Tools for Transforming Information Into Knowledge, the brain makes and stores images of incoming information in networks and maps; this reinforces the importance of vision when it comes to design.
As a way for brands to create repetition and recognition, a long-standing rule of thumb is to invest in three visual assets, such as color, shape and pattern, that when used correctly — over time and with the right amount of repetition — can develop a brand rhythm. This rhythm sets a mood that reinforces the look and feel of the product or message. Every visual choice should ideally be driven by the brand’s promise, equity, heritage and consumer-facing choices so when people begin relating to or attaching meaning to the brand, it’s authentically transferring meaning from the brand’s functional attributes to its emotional benefits and hopefully its emotional value/purpose.
Let’s break down Louboutin’s three consistently used visual assets: There’s the red-soled pump (icon), the red (color) and the heel height (shape) of his women’s high-fashion footwear — all being used with precision and flawless execution.
Connect At The Highest Levels
Brands can differentiate themselves through design by understanding who they’re targeting for an emotional and human connection. A product that provides a great experience will likely be remembered and repurchased. If you create a product that offers a bad experience, people will likely remember it, but they’ll also probably avoid it.
Steven Bradley introduced a design hierarchy of needs that translates Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into user needs when engaging with a product or brand. Low to high on the hierarchy, these needs are functionality, reliability, usability, proficiency and creativity. You can apply Bradley’s hierarchy so your brand or product can better connect and engage with people in meaningful ways. I’ve found that many brands are focused on the lower-level user needs instead of focusing on the critical areas related to human connection (proficiency and creativity). From a brand foundation standpoint, think of the first three needs on Bradley’s hierarchy as the brand’s points of parity — they’re attributes that meet the category expectations. The top two needs can address your brand’s points of difference — the attributes that make it truly unique and deliver a reason for why consumers should buy your product.
Rouge Louboutin nail polish retails for $50. Is it worth it? Well, that depends on whom you’re talking to. For me, it’s as if Louboutin himself profiled me and delivered something I never knew I wanted. The bottle is beautiful, and it’s an artifact that brings me joy each time I look at it. The design empowers me to do more with the product (proficiency) and delivers aesthetic value (creativity) that I find extremely meaningful.
By creating unique and defined plans to influence the perception of your brand, you can use the power of design to create meaningful connections with consumers and drive strategic brand growth. By thinking of design as a competency, you can embrace working at various levels of abstraction, visualize solutions before all of the information is available, problem-solve by creating and evaluating multiple alternatives and use form to embody ideas and communicate their value.
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