The intangibility of design, and the difficulty in measuring its effectiveness and return on investment, has traditionally placed it low down in the marketing mix for fmcg clients.
But the loosening grip of broadcast advertising – historically the leader in strategic conversations with fmcgs – is prompting clients to look for a new bedrock for their brands, which, according to design groups, is them.
Consultancies serving the consumer goods sector have been shifting this way for some time now, but appointments across brand packaging groups in the past fortnight suggest that a wave of new recruits, with more rounded strategic and advertising experience, is helping to recalibrate the sector, allowing consultancies to up their game and become ‘scale’ players.
‘Scale consultancies – design consultancies that have got capacity – have real benefit for clients. They are increasingly judging us on investment return and whether we can deliver better than their other marketing services [providers],’ says Jones Knowles Ritchie founder Andy Knowles, who has recently recruited advertising group Ogilvy’s managing director Guy Lambert to replace former JKR managing director Mark Gandy.
‘It’s no surprise more design consultancies are moving into a more strategic arena,’ says Brandhouse managing director Crispin Reed, whose remit has been to develop Brandhouse’s strategic offer focusing on consumer insight, since joining 18 months ago.
‘Clients are looking for sharper, fresher insights, and for design groups, routing into consumer insight is a way to justify their actions,’ he adds. Installing rounded, strategic thinkers into independent consultancies is also part of the shift by fmcg design specialists to service large multinational clients, which tend to have complex hierarchal structures and communications channels, multiple brand portfolios and a presence in different markets around the globe, according to Knowles. ‘It’s not a simple design job these days,’ he says.
‘When we deal with people who come from the advertising space, they have worked within cross-functional teams – with planners, semioticians, research and development people from the client side, as well as commercial teams. They’ve got a breadth and depth of experience, and tend to be having a more strategic conversation.’
Sal Mongia, former Publicis business development director and newly appointed marketing director at Parker Williams, says the realisation of design’s proximity to the product is enabling consultancies to leverage strategic influence with clients.
Mongia says, ‘When I worked in advertising, you thought you held the Holy Grail, but it’s the packaging consultancies that were a lot closer to the product. They were the ones that brought the product to life. When you’re working with the product, you’re closer to the functional side of making it work.’
Mark Artus, chief executive of 1HQ, is the former Fitch chief development officer recently hired to succeed John Sandom, now 1HQ chairman. He agrees that packaging has the power to unlock brand engagement. ‘Rather than pushing down strategy and brand loyalty from an above-the-line standpoint, emerging business models are looking to drive the consumer relationship from below-the-line,’ says Artus.
Sandom advocates upping the pace in the evolution of a product’s packaging as part of maintaining its image in-store. He says, ‘If, in-store, the point-of-purchase is the moment of truth, then it’s a potent place to get across a message that makes you change your mind.
‘The cost of changing packaging is low compared with the cost of changing a broadcast media campaign. We want marketers to stop thinking of packaging as the cost of goods, and instead to think of it as brand investment and apportion the right amount of budget to it.’
But if packaging is changing more frequently than ever, what about the cost to the environment?
Sandom defends the industry on this point, saying, ‘If we can use the packaging, for example, to include different recipes on the back of each box, instead of just one, then we can add secondary value to the pack to justify keeping it. Our job is to help brands to become the product of choice, while ensuring that packaging has less wastage, less negative material and less weight.’
So, is packaging design entering a new world of research, semiotics, consumer insight and emotional connections? Artus explains, ‘It’s all about being where people really engage with the brand – at the store, in hand, and in their daily lives, and maximising the emotional and cultural touchpoints through techniques like sensorial design and semiotics. It’s about the fusion of strategy and creative execution – it’s not about proximity of disciplines, but about thinking together in new ways.’
Knowles is also calling for an interdisciplinary approach to projects, where design forms the central idea, and from which touchpoints radiate out.
‘You have to be able to frame the right question to get the right solution,’ he says. ‘It’s about finding the angles in a crowded space and the opportunities to do something better, using intellect and insight into brands that create an emotional connection.’
Strategies used by packaging design consultancies
• Consumer insight
• Sensorial design
• Brand emotion
• Design analytics