Package design, at its root, is an art of persuasion: Persuading a shopper to pick your good up and purchase it; persuading a retail buyer that their customers want your product and your brand aligns well with the retailer; and persuading brand managers that your design or branding strategy can transform or keep retail buyers and shoppers as brand fans.
That’s why Taja Dockendorf, owner and creative director at Pulp+Wire, advocates engaging the client early in the creative process. “By letting clients play a central role in the process, they’ve already been involved in some of the early stages of creative, including discoveries and research, by the time we get to the big presentation,” she contends. Then the presentation can be about the aha moment, when they get to touch and feel the concept.
“It’s not about five different directions,” Dockendorf remarks. “That’s just a waste of time and, honestly, a waste of budget.”
Instead, she suggests, give the client the satisfaction and the excitement of seeing your collaborative work in a nearly final stage, while still affording them an opportunity to tweak the design if it doesn’t match what they perceived to be the collective vision.
In addition to developing working prototypes, Dockendorf suggests showing the brand owner how those designs will look on shelf to ensure the packaging will perform at retail.
Describing a recent redesign of the packaging for Yo-Goat, a drinkable yogurt made from grade A pasteurized goat’s milk, live active cultures and natural flavors and without added preservatives, Dockendorf says, “We took a photo of the shelf space in Whole Foods and then replaced out their old packaging with the new packaging so that the client could see how it really worked amongst their competition. That was great, because one of the directions that they liked previously, really lost its impact on the shelf and started to look like everyone else, so it was great for them to see that.”
Noting that even though agencies like hers may look at shelf sets earlier in the design process, design firms should still include shelf sets in their presentations. This lets all the project stakeholders, Dockendorf says, see how the design competes on shelf “before printing 400,000 or more shrink sleeves.”
That’s precisely why Tom Newmaster, partner at WFM, likes to give the shelf set prominence in his presentations. “If I can hold back seeing the individual package on its own, I will do that every time,” he remarks. “Think about it, none of the other stuff matters if the design doesn’t work on the shelf.”
Showing the shelf set too late, he contends, can also encourage the project stakeholders to focus on minutia instead of the design’s bigger, broader, strategic goals.
“When you show the individual concepts first, human nature takes over,” he says. “Instead of looking at how the design jumps off the shelf and is an improvement over the competition or a weakness in the previous design. It’s a natural tendency for people to want to get in the weeds and spend their time fine-tuning details of the individual design because everybody wants to add something to the project.”
From choosing the presentation progression that optimizes everyone’s use of time to deciding how formal and long a presentation needs to be, design firms should make these considerations on a project-to-project basis. “You don’t have an excessive amount of time to spend on the presentation,” he remarks, “and the client doesn’t have that kind of time either. Get to the point and move on.”
This approach also leaves more time to finesse the design after the presentation. Laura Wilkinson Sinton is the CEO of startup FreshTape, which aims to offer consumers a better and cleaner alternative to potato chip bag clips via its resealable tape product. She walks into every presentation to a retail buyer with the attitude that the design is not final.
Describing her initial in-person presentation with Cooks Warehouse Stores’ buyer Kate Pedrick, Wilkinson Sinton recalls, “I walked in, set down the point-of-purchase and packaging that Haney PRC had designed for us and asked for her input. The packaging surprised her, pleasantly, but she had great ideas on how to improve a few things. We took it to heart, and they are now a favorite retailer for us. They move a lot of FreshTape.”
Wilkinson Sinton advises other brand owners and managers to remember that presenting to the retail buyer is a consultative sell. Approach the process with this question in mind, “How can our product help you sell?”
3 tips for presenting to retail buyers
Laura Wilkinson Sinton of startup FreshTape is successfully wooing buyers. At time of publication, FreshTape is in 150 stores, and Wilkinson Sinton is in ongoing discussions with other retailers interested in her product. She shares her top tips for presenting to buyers.
1. Involve your top buyers in the process. Actively seek their input as early as you can.
2. Bring beautifully executed A/B/C prototypes. But avoid presenting more than three design options or decision fatigue will hurt you.
3. Bring visuals of what the product may look like in their specific store. Rather than rely on generic shelf set pictures, use Photoshop to help the buyer visualize your product in their store and against their specific competitive products. Wilkinson Sinton says this subtle difference can make a sale.