Delivering the Package Is Just the Beginning
If you’re into package design (and we certainly are), presentation is everything. Creating that perfect dog food bag or beverage label is the height of the game for some brands and their creative agencies, and rightfully so. But if you’re a full-service, client-first marketing company, presentation isn’t everything. It’s only the beginning.
While it’s gratifying to see the creative concepts that you’ve often spent what can seem like years finalizing finally hit retail shelves, it’s satisfying to be there for the follow-through. And there can be a lot of follow-through. Ongoing packaging management can be an all-encompassing job, and not every brand has the bandwidth to handle it in-house. Not every agency is equipped to manage client packaging. Here are some things that we value in that arena.
Deep Brand Understanding
Packaging management means a lot of things, but in a lot of ways, it means everything. Whether a business is B2B or consumer-facing, if they produce a physical thing, it likely has a package, and that package is often the primary way that the audience interacts with the brand. So it has to be right. It must be right at launch, and it must be right 5 years after launch. Brand standards must be up to date. Look and feel must always be right. Ingredient lists need to be exact. It sounds like obvious stuff, but you’d be surprised at how easily “info creep” can infect every piece of collateral. Thorough packaging management means knowing how information unspools throughout the brand, not simply keeping track of stock-keeping units (SKUs).
Non-thorough packaging management can mean, at best, dissatisfied customers or, at worst, legal action against a brand.
An agency with deep knowledge of all current industry regulations is a huge crutch. This is especially true when dealing with any sort of chemical, healthcare or food-related product, but it applies to even the most benign industries. As an agency, you trust that any changes dictated by the client have been fully vetted, but you also have to know that your client relies upon you to be the safety net. If a client desires to deliver, say, lawn fertilizer in bigger amounts, it’s on the agency to make sure that the larger package sizes are legal, not to mention logical. Yeah, federal regulations allow for that weight, but is our target audience going to be able to lift the bag?
It’s also on the agency to take any potential industry hiccups they find straight to the client. If you know that the legal definition of “organic” is changing, and that’s a word the client uses anywhere, it’s on the agency to be aware of not only how this affects every SKU the brand produces, but how it affects non-SKU-related collateral. Client is king, but we’re the knights who help manage the kingdom.
Comprehensive Channel Comprehension
In today’s world of constant content and consumer interaction, there’s no such thing as a “simple change” to a package. A single word swap on a package can have a ripple effect that touches every part of a brand’s communications. For instance, if your client mandates that a specific formula’s label will no longer “reduce” frequency of a condition but will now “decrease” it, this becomes much more than a packaging label issue. Where else do we say “reduce?” Has there ever been a blog post about the issue? Do we ever talk about it on social media? Are there FAQ sheets that need to be updated? Does customer service know about the change?
Packaging management is more like information management. An agency needs to be fully aware of every word, number, weight, measurement, font and photo used in its packaging, because it’s always about more than packaging. The reverse is true as well; if there’s an update to an FAQ, someone needs to track where else the change might be made, especially if it extends out to packaging. You can build entire databases around packaging changes. A brand with only a handful of distinct products can easily offer hundreds of SKUs when you consider different sizes, global shipping, etc.
Strong Client Relationships
To effectively and accurately manage packaging information, the agency/client relationship needs to be as airtight as a bag of vacuum-packed, freeze-dried coffee beans. The agency needs to be comfortable challenging a client’s decision, for whatever reason. If there’s trust between the two partners, the client knows that any challenges come from a good place, and the agency won’t hesitate to bring questions or concerns to the client without worrying about hurt feelings. “Are you aware that FDA is changing blankety-blank regulation in 2021? If we say X, we will have to update 72 SKUs in two years.” No one in this partnership should be shy about sharing information.
To successfully manage packaging for a client, an agency must be able to organization reams of information. Whether this is through a spreadsheet, database or good old-fashioned manpower, the most important aspect of the job is to know the products so well that handling the ripple effect of “simple” changes becomes second nature. And even then, it can be a fulltime job.