Help comes from teams defining themselves as 360o agencies, as some used to, pre-digital, define themselves as packaging or advertising agencies. The implication is that they concentrate their efforts on the consumer engagement end, and, by implication, not on the core brand purpose and identity – they work with what already exists. But is it always fit for purpose?
At Echo, we do a lot of packaging design simply because we work for consumer goods companies, and they need to put their product in a lot of boxes and sell them in shops. But never call a brand agency a packaging agency. A branding agency’s purpose is, through consultancy, to build recognition, understanding, relevance and engagement through every interaction. We might utilise packaging, or not, depending on the need or opportunity.
Ever-evolving digital technologies and emerging sustainable delivery channels are blurring the line between communication and product experience. The old ways of a pack shouting loudly on a supermarket shelf to make a connection with an often-repeated TV ad have been supplemented by a multitude of social media activations and subverted by home delivery and increasingly by sustainable refills, concentrates and materials.
In the heyday of advertising the purpose could be as nebulous as Coca-Cola’s ‘happiness’ with the bright red identity suited to TV ads and posters. In today’s quest for virtuous meaning, ‘do-gooding’ statements and activities work well on social media but very often don’t relate to the actual product experience itself. In this communication melee, we forget that consumers buy products for a reason, often emotional, but always with a functional need we need to relate to through the branding.
When touchpoints multiply it results in noise and chaos and each interface can compete with the next for attention. We need to find a balance.
For example, much of a direct-to-consumer brand’s interaction would be through an app or a website and the box that comes through the letter box may be rather plain. A missed opportunity say the 360o, packaging and communication agencies, but hang on, it could actually be a wonderful consumer experience – the materials can be clearly sustainable and all the more so, due to the lack of printing. The opening process is a simple delight (think Apple) and the end product will sit sympathetically and discretely in the consumer’s home. All of which will give the consumer a warm fuzzy feeling without a single piece of traditional communication in sight.
By contrast, I was speaking to a telecoms agency recently about their identity. They target young consumers so are very active on social media and have a strong set of relatable values which they express well through these channels. This is clearly where they focus all their attention because when you visit their website, where you go to buy their ‘bundles’, you are faced with a very boring, functional shopping list. A critical step in the consumer journey has been missed out as they have nothing to say to bring the customer over the line.
By busying ourselves with generating engaging, yet transient, and often random interactions, we end up defining ourselves by our outputs, when our focus should be on controlling the purpose and identity of the brand.
The job to be done is often a reset of the brand purpose so it works as an identity across all touch points in a meaningful way. Each step in the consumer journey needs to be engaging so both the brand purpose and identity need to work optimally in these spaces. If the purpose and identity are well defined, each touch point will work with the next, so the journey will be seamless, and additive rather than repetitive.
We are fortunate to work for Nestlé confectionery brands in travel retail. The ringfenced airport environment has given us a unique opportunity to explore what purpose and identity need to achieve if the total experience is to hang together coherently. With the Smarties toy and chocolate brand we were able to develop their visual assets into a coherent identity that connects to families through ‘colourful worlds’ that work equally well across the physical form, static communications and motion graphics. It also provides a strong context to sustainability communications and toy experiences alike. Perhaps more importantly the idea of ‘Play is a child’s work’ allowed us to engage with both parents and children on every level in a fun, yet developmental way. We are never short of good ideas with this strong foundation.
In the contained space of travel retail, we can comprehensively understand the consumer’s motivations as they are defined by the environment and are consistent across purchase motivations. The wider world is more complex. It is therefore critical that we observe a representative group of consumers across every anticipated interaction so we can study their needs within the context of every interaction. Only then will we be able to map and define the role of the brand at each point. This in turn may require realignment of the brand purpose to make it work harder in a unified way across the mix. The same goes for the identity. Its form and expression will need to be tuned to work at every point in a way that is appropriate for each, but also consistent and memorable.
In short, delivering experiences across multiple touchpoints is not the hard part. The hard part is defining an authentic brand purpose and identity that is independent of, but responsive to, any fixed consumer interface so it can remain adaptable and relevant as mediums evolve, change and grow.