How to Successfully Launch a Limited Edition

Jonathan Kenyon, Co-founder
Launching Limited Editions

Jonathan Kenyon, Co-founder


So, you’ve got a well-established, successful brand. Perhaps it’s even the market leader. But there’s still so much untapped market share that can further grow your brand. For established brands with a mature customer base, brand variants are the best way to unlock substantial growth.

Successful expansion can completely revitalize your brand’s growth and momentum. It can also change customer experiences and define a deeper brand relationship. Here, I’ll explore the relatively quick-win opportunities to be found in launching limited-edition packaging (LEPs).

So, how do you launch a successful LEP?

Protect your core at all costs

Before lifting a finger to expand your brand offering, you must define what role any variant will play relative to its parent.

Consider the parent brand’s health and ensure that any sub-brand innovations do no harm. You don’t want to stretch your brand so far it breaks, or risk cannibalizing sales.

Stray too far from the parent and you’ll have an uphill struggle gaining traction with customers, and you’ll lose the opportunity to piggyback on brand equities.

Yet if you stay too close in design and concept to the parent, you risk creating confusion and losing impact on the pack, shelf, and consumers’ minds.

An LEP should also respond to an unmet need, not just offer something new for its own sake. The trick is to find the sweet spot between all of the above.

For instance, for Christmas 2019, our limited-edition gift packaging for Bell’s put a playful twist on the challenges of buying for men, positioning the whisky as a desirable alternative to dull fall-back options such as socks and woolly jumpers.

Without alienating the brand’s long-standing core base of drinkers, it appealed with a knowing wink to family and friends struggling to find the perfect gift.

Create strong but flexible brand guardrails

LEPs need a look and feel that’s distinctive enough to make an impact on shelf while they’re available, but they must also sit comfortably as part of your overall brand portfolio.

That means establishing rock-solid guardrails around your key brand assets (KBAs), including what’s untouchable at all costs and what has room to flex. As well as protecting what belongs to the parent brand, you can define the blank canvas available for variants.

Your logo will likely be one of your untouchable KBAs, although there may still be opportunities to experiment with color, size, or placement.

But you might also choose to elevate other assets to KBA status: your mascot, jingle, founder’s signature, unique pack structure or any number of things that contribute to your brand’s immediate recall in consumers’ minds.

It’s hard to imagine Bacardi launching an LEP without featuring its iconic bat in some capacity, and it’s a rare Guinness LEP that doesn’t include its harp, for instance. For Toblerone, its distinctive triangular pack structure is a simple but powerful KBA that sparks global brand recognition.

One interesting example is Hennessy’s, which has very little consistency in how it treats KBAs, hierarchy and bottle structure across its portfolio. This kind of approach can be a strategic decision to target different tiers of the market, but it also makes portfolio-wide brand recognition much more challenging.

At the other end of the scale, it’s possible to overcorrect and make your KBAs too rigid. For instance, Coca-Cola’s choice to elevate the prominence of the parent brand’s red disc as part of the ‘One Brand’ redesign in 2016 unified the portfolio, but in the process, I believe the brand diminished the shelf presence of well-established variants such as Diet Coke.

With our Pitera collection for SK-II, research clearly indicated that – in addition to the brand logo – retaining the familiar packaging structure would help position the LEP as part of the brand’s premium skincare portfolio. This gave us a bold canvas to deliver an individual and unique collection and campaign for SK-II, rooted in independent street culture values.

As a marketer, you must find the right balance between protecting those all-important KBAs, while also providing enough blank canvas on pack and in marketing collateral to excite consumers with a new and discrete offering.

Challenge your assumptions about your brand

You may be surprised by how much flex your brand can have. Simple repetition of a KBA over years – or even decades – does not necessarily mean your customers consider it an integral, or particularly memorable, part of your brand.

Your customers will often find a way to surprise you, and it goes beyond KBAs: the way you articulate your brand values and positioning internally may not translate externally in the way you expect either.

The solution? Research. You need to establish what your primary and secondary brand assets look like in consumers’ minds, not in your latest strategy deck.

Primary assets are essential to secure brand recall, and any disruption to those inevitably comes with a risk. Secondary assets provide more subliminal cues, and there’s more room to have some fun with them.

The KBAs you choose to retain when expanding your brand have a direct impact on the overall success of your portfolio structure. So do your research, challenge your assumptions, and get the data you need directly from your customers.

Define your brand strategy at a portfolio level

Any LEP launch must form part of a portfolio-level strategy that defines how the product will build back into the master brand equity, and fuel long-term growth.

When we worked with PepsiCo Design & Innovation to refresh the global packaging system for Lay’s – the world’s number-one snack brand, and the growth engine of the PepsiCo portfolio – it was crucial to preserve existing revenue streams and customer loyalty.

We refreshed the product photography across the portfolio to bring a natural feel to the ingredients, grounding all design elements with realism to drive authenticity. Radiating rings are another recurring brand element, celebrating the magnetic pull Lay’s has globally.

A strong parent brand creates a clear framework for success, not just for the variant under consideration but also for every future extension.

With a clearly defined brand strategy for its product portfolio, Lay’s has a solid platform for its array of wildly successful sub-brands, variants, and limited editions around the world.

Manage the rollout carefully in different regions

When managing a global brand, identity conflicts can become a particularly acute – and political – pain point. You might have a strong global brand with iron-clad KBAs, but it is relatively unknown in a local market.

Your regional team might be desperate for a new LEP or variant that can compete with local offerings but are marketing to consumers who have no strong affinity to the global KBAs.

One potential solution that our clients have used is to require markets to roll out their LEPs in the same sequence, even though launches may begin in a different quarter or year. That way, there is the opportunity to build consumer familiarity and engagement as intended.

This allows LEPs to work harder as a brand-building tool, rather than just a short-term driver of new news on shelf.

Just beware that the whole team often has to be politicians as much as designers or marketers in this scenario.

Embrace the opportunity for growth

Expanding your brand successfully can be a delicate balance to strike. You need a higher tolerance for risk, and a more agile approach to market opportunities.

Get it right, and you have a powerful launching platform for LEPs that express their own distinctive identity as part of the wider family.

Get it wrong, and you might be condemning your brand to years of pain as you lose ground on the competition, culminating in an expensive and time-consuming public rebrand.

But if you drag your feet too long, momentum (and competitors) can quickly pass you by.

That’s why it’s essential to have a solid framework in place from the outset that can support innovation and adaptation, while protecting the integrity of your parent brand.

Once you’ve put the groundwork in, enjoy this exciting chapter in your brand’s growth.

If you’re not quite ready to expand your brand portfolio, it could be time to consider other overlooked growth drivers, such as taking a fresh approach to pack violators.

Jonathan Kenyon, Co-founder