Brand Design vs. Brand Implementation

Accelerating time-to-market for packaging is business-critical for consumer packaged goods companies. However, balancing the need for go-to-market agility with control over the visual brand and costs is next to impossible in the absence of discipline and a centralized strategy for brand implementation.

So what exactly is brand implementation? How does it differ from brand design? And why should brand managers put it on their immediate strategic focus agenda?

As I see it, there are three key differences. And they stem from the focus and end objectives both look to meet:

1.    Brand Identity Creation vs. Brand Equity Management

While brand design aims to create and develop a distinctive, consumer-friendly visual brand identity, implementation enables brands to build and maintain visual brand equity:

Across the brand portfolios (brand extensions/ line extensions), and
Through the product lifecycles (launch packs, SKU/ pack format variants, promotional packaging etc.).
In the context of packaging, managing and maintaining visual brand consistency over the range of packaging materials – from paper, board, laminates, metal, plastic etc., and across printing techniques such as offset, gravure, flexo and digital, and over time – becomes a huge challenge. For brand owners with a multi-market footprint, an additional layer of complexity is control over local execution in each market…

2.    Product Differentiation vs. Process Efficiency

Design focuses on enhancing the “product” – building market differentiation and consumer preference. Implementation on the other hand, lays emphasis on the efficiency of “process” – taking the visual brand idea from design concept through to printed media with a focus on “on-time, on-brand, on-cost” execution.

Implementation brings much needed brand management focus on the critical and oft-ignored aspects of packaging roll-outs:

Design-for-manufacturability (DFM) – bringing multi-disciplinary expertise upstream in the concept/ design process to enforce “design lock”, eliminate costly rework and delays in product launch.
Workflow/ critical path management – centrally optimizing and managing the design-to-print workflows & speeding up approvals through all internal and external stakeholders so as to shorten launch timelines and manage clean, print-ready inputs into the print supply chain.
Brand standards control – controlling consistent execution of brand identity standards, pack copy, legal mandates & brand colours across the design-to-print value chain.
Brand assets management – building lifecycle cost management and rapid change-and-release capability through centralized archival and control of brand assets.
3.    Launch Management vs. Lifecycle Management

In a design-led approach, packaging launches are seen as “creative projects” – discrete events to be managed. So, design agency engagement and overindulgence with creative design overrides focus and appreciation for all downstream “technical”processes and constraints that impact quality, costs & launch schedules. Consequently, there is a disproportionate allocation of brand management’s time, effort and budgets in favour of the more glamorous creative and design process at the expense of implementation & production.

An implementation-led approach on the other hand, looks at packaging roll-outs as a critical “business process capability” –as a continuum that binds methodology & brand objectives across all packaging launches whether triggered by new design, promotional changes, new SKUs, line extensions/ variant release or simple regulatory changes to packaging. Here, the focus is on enabling marketing agility and brand standardization across product lifecycles and brand portfolios.

Strategies for Best-in-Class Packaging Brand Management

To say that effective packaging brand management is incomplete and impossible without a clear strategy to manage brand implementation is not far from the truth. Current approaches and practices at most Indian companies are not fully aligned to the ultimate business and brand management goals – brand equity management, lifecycle cost management & organizational ability to respond quickly to changing market situations.

So what does it take to implement brand implementation?

Visionary leadership apart, in my view, three key strategic decisions that do away with current disorganized, inefficient & decentralized approaches:

a) Decoupling artwork production from creative at brand design agencies & prepress from printers respectively. In other words, redefine the scope of responsibilities of design agencies and printers viz. packaging & associated PoSM. This may mean reworking design/ creative agency contracts where packaging artworks may be bundled-in gratis or subsidized heavily against design fees or larger advertising/ AOR contracts.

b) Centralizing all brand implementation responsibilities for packaging & PoSM with a specialist brand management/ implementation agency. So irrespective of where creative design is done, all roll-outs are centrally managed through one agency and one process.

c) Re-engineeringworkflows, intra-department operating procedures and supply chain relationships viz. the shift in approach from design-led to implementation-led. And once processes are set and agreed, the discipline and rigour to not deviate from them.

In the current and future competitive scenario, traditional approaches to packaging brand management guided by “only design matters” are no longer relevant. Effective & efficient packaging brand management can only be possible by combining sophisticated brand design efforts with a determined and disciplined brand implementation focus.

Brands that continue to ignore the need for centralizing implementation despite recurring experiences with delayed launches, cost overruns and brand consistency issues do so at their own peril.

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