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Brand storytelling through packaging

Mike Banister

We live in the age of the brand story and it might well be the final frontier of modern marketing strategy. The brilliance of story-telling is its capacity to bond all the channels we use to connect with our audiences. It’s the glue that holds the brand idea together and enables us to venture into any channel with a well-crafted and consistent narrative.  

Big brands have a lot easier task. If you’ve got the dollars, you can build up your brand story from all corners of the marketing mix. From big cinema campaigns, to social film, live events and so on. Each channel builds a unique chapter in the brand narrative.

So when your eye catches that bottle of Jack Daniels or that four pack of Estrella on the shelf, your brain fires-up a whole database of moments, narratives and ideas seeded long before you arrive on the shop floor. The packaging is simply the spark to unlock all that clever (and costly) story-telling.  

However, not all luxury spirit brands have that… luxury. For many world class brands (without world class media spends) your primary canvas is likely be the secondary packaging competing for that shelf space. And that requires a great deal of skill to build that story on a space performing a dozen other tasks too!

We’ve observed some of the key traits in using secondary packaging that build a beautiful book cover to your brand story. Here are five good ingredients to use in planning both the design and production of your brand canvas to set the scene for new and existing customers.

ONE: Know who you’re talking to

The more premium the brand, the more diverse your audience. In many cases, you’re going to be setting the story out for gift buyers as much as end-consumers. Which is a good thing. The deeper the brand story, the more the buyer has to present as the gift. Buying a good single malt for loved ones isn’t a superficial moment. It’s not just the product, but the thought and craft around it which makes the gift more meaningful.

Be it text, visuals, design or finishing, you’re preaching to varying levels of literacy. Tasting notes will work for some, the romance of provenance will work for others.

TWO: The product is the hero of this story

Great filmmakers, such as Soderberg and Nolan, use the visual narrative to play a part in the script. Take Sodergh’s Traffic (2000), where three stories were defined by the grain and colour filters to enrich the plotlines.

We have a comparative task. Without the luxury of space, we need to use the narrative of the brand to talk to the product’s character too. We can achieve much of this through design and texture. Imagery and colourways can define the malt’s character, whilst production finishes can continue that expression. We can build on this by what we say, the imagery we include and the tones we apply.  

THREE: Set the scene with the right materials

Whilst we’re limited to what’s practical and sustainable, the materials we use set the canvas. Wood brings the consumer in touch with distilling process, the notion of cask and the product story.

Tin evokes durability and boldness. The right paper finishes can tell a much more modern story. Contrasting textures (matts vs gloss) add additional character.

FOUR: Authoring (Make it Human)

All McLarens arrive with an engineer’s report on your new car. They are dated and signed by one of the senior engineers. It’s one of the small, but important features which substantiate the individuality of one of the world’s super luxury brands.

There’s an old sales adage in ‘People buy from People’. If you drill any brand down to its constituent parts, people play the biggest role. If it’s simply something we print, something we show, some tasting notes from the head distiller, a connection with real authors of the product character…. It leaves a human print on the brand and builds a unique character.

FIVE: Craft

If you’ve applied creativity, diligence and care to the secondary packaging, you’re assuring customers that your ‘craft’ courses through the DNA of the product itself. Apple, perhaps one of the leading packaged brands on the planet, applies their craft from very outer edge of their packaging right through to the user manual. It’s seamless, exacting and unswerving.

Investing in quality secondary packaging is not just a vanity exercise. It’s there to echo the product character and story we’re telling to consumers. The nuances (we craft) in sensory branding give more clarity to the brand story and more reasons to buy.

When packaging is your book cover

In truth, a major function of packaging has always been to tell the story. As media channels become more proliferated, the need for secondary packaging to shoulder the brand story increases. And that’s where this challenge goes beyond the core design.

Hunter work with many luxury brands to bring these stories to life. In the luxury single malt sector, aligning brand strategy, packaging design and packaging production gives you ‘editorial control’ over your story. Where space is limited, 3D production, materials and finishing can add more words to the story, creating even more occasion to that gifting occasion.

27 July 2018