The Ivory Tower of Branding

Translate branding theory into meaningful business reality.

Robert Sprung,

TippingSprung LLC

“Everyone talks about branding, but no one does anything about it,” to paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous comment about the weather. Of course, people do something about branding, but too often, the effort comes from a disembodied “they” in the ivory tower of the marketing department.

To take root and flourish, a brand needs to be built at the grassroots level. It needs feedback from the field and from all stakeholders. Packaging professionals are in an ideal position to play a meaningful role as partners in brand building. In doing so, they can heighten their own visibility and perceived value in the organization.

Here are a few ways that packaging professionals can make a practical difference in building a brand:

Accentuate the practical. Packaging professionals can play a key role in grounding the branding theorists. The beautiful designs they devise must ultimately end up being printed or otherwise produced on real-world materials. Who better than packaging professionals to give structured feedback on the cost of materials, environmental considerations, and new technologies? Rather than being an afterthought once “the branding people” have done their work, such input has critical repercussions and should be built into the early stages of the process. It can help weed out impractical options and get marketing people thinking realistically.

Represent the voice of the customer. A surprising number of brands are developed in a corporate vacuum, without feedback from the customer early in the process. Packaging professionals, again, are in an optimal position to bridge the gap between the marketers and the field. Feedback from consumers is critical, particularly in the pharmaceutical packaging realm. The package might be seen as aesthetically attractive, but is it considered so to an international audience? A color scheme that seems to play so well in Peoria might have unpleasant associations in Paris. And although the aesthetics might work, the packaging might engender confusion among users—when arrayed on a supply-room shelf, do the products communicate key information clearly?

Build a brand architecture. Product developers will naturally focus on “their baby”—the product on which they’re working at the moment. Packaging professionals are in an ideal position to focus on the product in the context of the larger product line and in the context of the various product lines the company offers. Many organizations lack a branding gatekeeper who can help ensure that a product speaks with a distinctive voice while fitting the look and feel of the company and all its products. It is all too easy to produce individual products that win design awards, but that fail to fit the product portfolio. How can attributes of individual products that are critical to differentiate (e.g., size and color) be called out in a way that is clear to the customer and still visually attractive? Many of these implementation questions do not receive the attention they deserve in the heat of a branding initiative. Packaging professionals can be a major force for bringing about brand consistency—an unsung, but critically important aspect of branding.

Train your brand. An organization may design the perfect package or come up with the perfect name, but it will have limited effectiveness unless all key stakeholders are trained in the brand, what it stands for, and what role they each must play to preserve and protect it. Here, too, packaging professionals are well positioned to help train and gather feedback from the field on how the brand is handled and perceived. Remember that simply saying “our brand stands for dependability” does nothing. This promise is achieved through the ongoing delivery of that value and the consistent—and often subtle—ways in which the message is communicated over time.

We’ll go into more detail on a number of these initiatives in future articles. Until then, let us know how your organization is innovating in these areas, and we’ll be happy to inform fellow readers.


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