Harnessing the value of a design brief

The package is becoming essential in marketing, and a good brief invites critical thinking earlier from those with packaging savvy.

Pw 8652 Brian Wagner

The packaging brief—some call it a design brief—is a proven tool that can benefit brand management and product development by integrating packaging into the thought process earlier. A well-designed brief delivers more effective and efficient winning product launches.

Brand managers know that in the consumer’s mind, their brand is equal to the Product + Package + Equity + Services. At the point of purchase, all the shopper typically sees is the package. The package can also influence the repurchase decision. Yet, in the concept and product development process, the package is too often not considered or is thought about far too late in the game. A packaging brief is a simple tool that all marketing departments should use to assure that packaging is considered up front and as an integral component throughout their development process.

While packaging always has been a critical component of branded products, during the last two years branding experts are recognizing that it has not always been appreciated, as marketing has transitioned from trying to reach the masses through television advertising to a more consumer-focused, point-of-purchase, and word-of-mouth method.

Proctor & Gamble has formed a First Moment of Truth Department aimed at truly understanding that critical moment when a consumer chooses a single product from a cluttered store shelf. The role of the package is critical in these first five seconds. Other companies are now following P&G’s lead.

It is interesting to note, and a surprise to many, that marketing MBA texts do not cover packaging. I found no more than three pages on the subject. Given the importance of packaging in brand management, which includes the packaging brief, this seems an obvious and root cause for the high rate of new-product failures. So, if marketers aren’t schooled in packaging, whose job is it? I suggest it’s the role of the packaging professionals (packaging “engineers”), who are schooled in the consumer and business aspects of packaging, but are often relegated to “technology” and “engineering” roles in their companies. Packaging professionals should be responsible for all aspects of packaging from early consumer insights through manufacturing and retail channel sales. Further, these packaging professionals do not do a good job of telling marketers what they need to know in order to do their jobs.

The packaging brief can help put things on the right course. It is a document within a product/marketing brief that contains critical consumer, channel, product, and brand information. It can be incorporated into a marketing brief, and it has some important criteria:

1. High-level sponsorship. Support comes from the vice president of marketing, chief marketing officer, and others.

2. Complete packaging information. All brand managers must complete the packaging section of their brief, and it’s OK to say that they will not invest in the package for a particular program or product. However, they must document and be ready to defend their decision.

3. Financial/budget/profit-and-loss information. For new products, dollars must be allocated for packaging, and the brand manager must justify the amount. For product and line extensions and promotions, a brand manager can request no additional packaging cost or enhancements that might add value.

4. Consumer-relevant criteria. What should the package communicate? Convenience, fun, great taste, performance, or health? Which channels are initial targets for the package? What are future potential channels? Early decisions can save cost, provide new material and options, and improve speed-to-market.

5. A means for easily identifying the packaging section of the brief, or creating an add-on “packaging brief” for the packaging department’s use.

6. Cross-functional input. The packaging brief should be developed cooperatively with input from packaging, product development, and marketing. Ideally, it should also include packaging suppliers.

Packaging suppliers (converter, raw materials) play an important role in creating a packaging brief. Packaging professionals may leverage suppliers, and to do this effectively, sharing the packaging brief early allows them to evaluate and deliver more options directly aimed at marketing’s target. The alternative is that marketing or packaging professionals (usually a single person) develop options from their limited experience/portfolio. Allowing suppliers early involvement will expand the range of options open to consideration. (Read the 2005 special report that appeared in Shelf Impact! on the Integrated Value Chain Model.)

One packaging supplier shares its product-briefing document with consumer packaged goods companies during the creative process. The document forms a matrix that assigns present and future values to areas such as the product, the end user, influencers, marketing, channel distribution, competitors, sustainability, and manufacturing processes.
What does a packaging brief look like? Similar to marketing briefs or concept briefs, the packaging brief is company-specific. It needs to be simple and should not create a lot of additional work for the person completing it. The packaging brief should be consistent with current marketing documentation and the development process the company uses.

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