When’s the last time you worked with a digital agency that spent the time understanding your consumer, discovering what makes them unique, and then applying that knowledge to your online presence to create something fresh and differentiated?
Not often enough, I imagine.
In the race to become digitally integrated, brands are putting vast amounts of trust in digital agencies to ensure they are in a position to compete online. But what does it mean to compete? Few people remember the athlete who enters the race but doesn’t place on the podium. Well, just like these athletes who ‘also ran,’ the vast majority of brands are showing up online in a way that is forgettable and indistinguishable from each other.
In contrast with digital agencies, packaging-oriented agencies are experts in translating consumer insights into a tangible brand difference and can ensure success for your brand both digitally and IRL.
Why does everything look the same?
The simple answer is that user experience (UX) is being prioritized ahead of your brand. UX designers with no branding experience are being allowed a perilously broad remit to apply ‘best practice’ principles to your brand’s online presence.
Usability considerations take precedence over brand presence. Familiarity is preferred to standout. Because hey, if it works for Apple with all of their infinite resources, then we might as well just follow their lead? No – even Apple would tell you to ‘think different’.
Branding is – by definition – the pursuit of differentiation. Brands that imitate the likes of Google, Apple, Airbnb, and Casper, are falling into a trap where they lose their own identity. Replicating the online presence of ubiquitous tech giants might ensure you fit in, but successful branding is about standing out.
Despite this, it’s easy to understand why it is compelling to fit in rather than innovate, given the high price of failure. Yet by allowing their digital agency such a broad remit, brands are inadvertently placing their unique identity in front of someone driving a steamroller. Too often, a UX designer’s primary objective is to create flat, level ground where everything is uniform, expected, and easy to navigate.
Think of the internet as an infinite shelf
The brand strategist, Paul Worthington, recently distilled a complex concept into something wonderfully simple by describing the internet as an infinite shelf.
Imagine your brand on a supermarket shelf that is as long as the eye can see. Would you still make the same online branding decisions? When viewed through this lens, the objective of most brand managers and their agency partners can be simplified to this: how do I create shelf standout?
Step up to the stage, packaging agencies. I’m not talking about traditional pack agencies whose remit starts and stops with the physical container — but the new breed of agencies like Vault49 that blend the physical and digital, telling brand stories in motion across platforms while targeting brand differentiation as the holy grail.
Yes, your most effective digital partner may well be a packaging agency because they understand how to make a product stand out on-shelf. Using packaging design strategies to solve this challenge will deliver branding that cuts through the noise and connects with consumers, just like successful packaging has always done in retail.
4 Value-Adds of Partnering with a Packaging Agency
The principles of developing an impactful and distinctive online brand presence are embedded in the world of packaging design.
1) Creative use of your KBAs
A good packaging agency partner will always have a keen grasp of your Key Brand Assets (KBAs). They will determine what assets should be ever-present, which should take prominence, which can flex or be in use elsewhere.
Instead of having a clear focus on KBAs online, brands are too often represented only by their logo and the use of a core brand color. The rest is all UX decision-making.
2) A long-term view that goes beyond trends
Just like packaging, your online presence is likely to be available on shelf for a long time, often several years. For this reason, it’s essential to avoid falling victim to the latest design trend when it comes to font choice and graphic language.
Did your agency recommend a trendy ‘soft serif’ typeface for your brand and the latest fashionable color scheme (which right now seems to consist of only pastels)? A good packaging agency will understand when it makes sense to follow category conventions and when you should zag when others zig.
3) Creative solutions that work within limitations
Pack agencies specialize in communicating brand differentiation within tight constraints. Imagine the restrictive limitations of what can fit on a pack. How would you clarify your online content to only what is essential?
One way is to play with format and structure. That doesn’t mean that you have to reinvent the internet and break what is working just for the sake of being different… but look at this chili sauce packaging.
It’s still sauce in a plastic tube, but with a touch of creative brilliance. What’s the online equivalent of taking much of what is already there while adding your brand personality?
4) A unique expression of your brand
While technology firms have largely dictated online brand expression over the last decade, the future is in the hands of hybrid agencies who understand how to design engaging online experiences while still retaining all that is unique about your brand.
Ensure that every expression of your brand – especially online among the seemingly limitless competition – ensures standout and speaks directly to your consumers.
Brands must be deliberate in presenting themselves online and prioritizing what is unique rather than ubiquitous. If your brand is to be a category leader, there must be a robust and unifying narrative that can hold attention instead of being lost on the infinite shelf of the internet.
We can help
Find an agency partner like Vault49 with a successful track record in ensuring standout on shelf, then work with them to figure out what makes your brand unique and OWN it online.
Unless you’re happy to be an ‘also ran,’ being memorable is always more important than blending in.