The selling Power of Design 

By Rowland Heming – (RH.PKG.Wordpress.com) © October 2015


The distinction between product and brand is often confusing – especially for consumers. So what is the difference between a product and a brand?

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A product is something you buy, use or consume –a brand on the other hand is much more than just a product: For example if we look at the Brooke Bond / PG Tips tea brand we can see it is much more than just a product:

– It has a strong simple brand name,

– It has a history: Born in 1869 it transcends generations of consumers and has become a part of their lives. It has gained trust and recognition.

– It is a brand with a ritual, which adds value – consumers drink it in their own unique style.

– It has the virtue of consistency, evolving carefully to give confidence and express familiarity.

In the end it has become much more than a product, it has become an integral part of its consumers lifestyle and has built up an emotional relationship, a bond that goes way beyond a simple product: It has become A BRAND! Once created in the consumer’s mind, a brand need not necessarily be tied to just one single product. Take for, example, the Virgin brand, created as a record label in the late 60’s, famous as the label of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”, today, the Virgin brand spans many product categories from airlines, trains to mobile phones. Making the product just a part of what a brand is.


Walter Landor, one of the founders of the design profession told us that “Products are made in factories – Brands are created in the mind”

Huse big

THE HOUSE OF BRAND: Creating a brand can be like building a house. A house has foundations, supporting walls and a roof. In the case of a brand the foundations are the heart and soul of a brand, the core values and benefits, which together create a ‘brand platform’ on which we can begin to build our brand. The core vales and benefits of any brand, represent the DNA or THE BRAND’S ESSENCE, it is also the BRAND PROMISE – the compelling benefit and shared value consumers receive. Once established it becomes the foundations on which all future communications will be built – this is why it is so important to get it right

The ‘walls’ we might say, represent what our brand looks like from the outside, they are the visual expression of the ‘brand promise’, and will determine how others interpret what they see and what they ‘perceive’ our brand to represent. Clearly, the ‘walls’ can only do this job correctly if the ‘foundations are created with care, because, the final part of our ‘House of Brand’ is the roof which is made solely from consumer perceptions that exist entirely in the mind of the consumer!

This is called BRAND POSITIONING: It is the art of making a brand stand out from its competitors by delivering benefit and adding value to consumers. From a design point of view, it is also the art of communicating these benefits and values through packaging.

CREATING THE FOUNDATIONS: To begin building your foundations or core values and benefits, you will need to ask some basic questions:

1 Who am I?

This is to determine the brand essence: What is it that drives and motivates the brand? The single most compelling thing you can say about your brand. You are looking for a something different, something that will affect consumer perceptions and give you the edge over your competitors. In their book The Blue Ocean Strategy (W Chan Kim / Renée Mauborgne – Harvard Business School Press), the authors describe the market as having two distinct parts: A ‘red ocean’ where brands compete in existing markets and therefore need to fight for market segment and price and a ‘Blue Ocean’ where a brand might exist in a new uncontested market, with no competitors and no fight for price.

Brands can achieve the ‘Blue Ocean’ status, by offering something new and/or by visually positioning themselves in a new way. For example Apple i-phones lead the pack in terms of technological advancement, but they also lead by visually positioning their product and packaging design differently to their competitors. Pringles potato chips, also offer a new product but support this ‘newness’ by using a tube packaging, rather than the standard flow-pack crisp bag to create differentiation.

2 What benefit do I offer?

The benefit or brand promise is the unique and compelling benefit that users will receive by using your product. The added value your product offers within the competitive frame of reference? For example a supermarket like Tesco, will say ‘Every Little Helps’, and therefore are saying, ‘if you shop with us, we will try to help you with your weekly budget’.

This added value may also be a product characteristic, which you need to get across ‘visually’ to consumers on packaging. The visual becomes, in this case, the product benefit itself and needs to be amplified, to make the product differentiation clear and readable, so that consumers perceive that you have something unique to offer. In this way you move your brand towards the ‘Blue Ocean’.

3 What personality do I have?

Brands, like people mostly have personalities, characteristics that consumers identify or empathise with and connect emotionally. Jennifer Aaker – Professor of Marketing at Stanford University, describes in her theory of Brand Dimensions that there exist five core dimensions to describe the profile of a brand each using the analogy of a human emotional state. These dimensions are: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication and Ruggedness, with every brand possessing a degree of each trait in different measure.

In visual terms, this means that once you have decided which personality (or mix of personalities) your brand needs to express, the designer can interpret this communication in packaging using colour, type, shape and design style adding in, of course, the extra dimensions of gender and age.

Mr ProperEqually, brand icons can be developed to express brand personality and become the visual personification or ‘face’ of a brand. The advantage being that a brand icon can be internationally recognised and express the brand personality (and values), without the use of words. Similarly, if a brand has different logos and names across markets (like Mr Clean from Procter & Gamble), a brand icon can unite the brand and make it instantly recognisable globally.

Brand Platform: Once these three questions have been answered, a brand platform, or outward looking DNA of the brand beliefs containing all the values and benefits attributed to your brand, can be established. This platform (or what you want the world to know about your brand), then becomes the base upon which all future communication can be built.


We have to recognise that many products either look the same, even though they may have completely different product characteristics, like taste, cleaning ability, texture etc. So it’s going to be essential to develop a visual point of difference that will help your product stand out.

There are many ways to do this, one is to create a product concept that differentiates from competition and competes in a non-comparable world (like the i-phone watch). Design can be another way to achieve this differentiation, by accentuating and describing your product characteristics through visual attributes.


In the example above, I show three well-known products, which in pure product form offer little communication. However, as brands, Guinness, Ariel and Gillette, each express their own carefully crafted positioning and personality through design.

Guinness for example is a beer: beer traditionally comes in barrels, so Guinness has opted to use a letter style that reflects the stencil style lettering found on barrels – this then reminds us of the products natural origins. Guinness is famous for being a dark beer with a white foam head, here again it is reflected by the choice of white for the logo and black for the background – finally Guinness originates from Ireland, so a harp (a traditional Irish musical instrument), is placed over the top of the logo to remind us of this fact. In this way, through the use of carefully chosen design elements, Guinness has communicated ‘in seconds’, all we need to know about the product, it’s origins and it’s characteristics – then, finally Guinness re-assures us of it’s authenticity by incorporating the actual signature of Arthur Guinness himself.

Ariel on the other hand is a technologically based washing product that wants to express its effectiveness and modernity. So Ariel has created a strong modern logo in red, a colour that helps a brand bring attention to its-self, a colour that shows confidence, youth and energy. Further, Ariel has adopted the symbol of the atom, stylised to become active with a glowing white center to emphasise cleaning power. Once again we see the effective use of colour and design to precisely communicate the brand and product characteristics.

The final example shown here is Gillette, an essentially masculine brand, with a heritage of shaving and razor blades, Gillette uses a cool blue logo, with square cut sharp edges, reflecting the brand heritage and expressing masculinity at the same time. From all three examples we see how, even when the product its-self is generic looking, design can be used to communicate and to give a product individuality and character.


Another element that becomes important in communicating brand characteristics is the choice of packaging form. Consumers have expectations, for example they expect to find beer in bottles and cans, they expect feminine products to be in rounded shapes with pastel colours etc. So the choice of container will also be an important factor in building your brand communication. The wrong choice of an un-familiar container, and you may well confuse your message and your consumer.

MarlboroThere are times of course where there is no alternative and you have to use an existing shape, for example a
cigarette box, but even here you can use design to help create differentiation and instant recognition on shelf by developing a design structure. In this example I show how the design of Marlboro cigarettes can be stripped down and yet still remain recognisable by its design structure. Proving that shape and design structure are also ways to make a brand instantly recognisable internationally, as they do not rely on words.

A few other important rules of communicating through design are:

Keep it simple   – Keep to the core message and don’t overload packaging with unnecessary communication

Make it bigger   – If you have something to say, say it big and make sure the consumer sees it

Be consistent    – The things that consumers recognise about your brand (visual equities or assets), should remain consistent and not be subject to continuous change.

Don’t disappoint – Consistent graphics become familiar, they re-assure and therefore become the property of the consumer.

Talk Directly – Remember the consumer has a one-to-one relationship with your packaging; therefore you need to communicate intimately.

Why is all this important? When it comes down to it, a glass of cola, is a glass of cola, or a glass of water, is a glass of water! It’s only when you add design and branding elements, that express your brand values and benefits that it becomes valued by consumers and influences choice. It’s where all that careful crafting of brand communication, of positioning and of character building comes into play and turns a product into a brand! All of this visual positioning goes towards developing ‘Visual Equities’, which are a major part of your ‘Brand Equity’.


Re-designing any brand is a tricky task that should only be undertaken by experts, as you can easily alienate consumers if you do not respect the visual cues that they have come to know and love, which will inevitably result in lost sales. Equally any design change needs to communicate the change effectively or it won’t be noticed and will be a waste of time and money. In fact Scott Young from Perception Research Services tells us that from his experience, “Only 50% of packaging re-designs offer any improvement in performance!”. So what should you consider if you decide to re-design your packaging? Here are my ten golden rules:

 1 Look after your brand equities

2 Keep variety information consistent

3 Exaggerate to communicate

4 Simplify but respect your brands heritage

5 Respect your consumer’s relationship with your brand

6 Make sure any change is noticeable

7 Show the consumer a clear reason for the change

8 Amplify the “new” message

9 Look for communication opportunities everywhere

10 Inform, but also entertain

 “Products are made in factories – Brands are created in the mind” – Walter Landor


Rowland Heming© October 2015




If you would like to know more about the power of design & creativity or are interested in any presentation, creative session or workshop for your company, university or organisation, please visit my blog to see my workshop presentations and many design articles – or contact me on rh.pkga@gmail.com / +32 (0)68 44 79 20



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