10 Minutes with Charlie

Spend time around Charles Biondo and you are going to hear a design story or two. For the most part they are centered on the topic of Packaging Design. Admitting freely that “my life is my business” one can appreciate how much time and effort he has dedicated to the specialty of Packaging Design.

In a freewheeling talk this past week, Charlie shared some thoughts regarding the firm’s work, specifically in regards to “testing”. Out of the conversation, I snagged a few insightful tidbits to share.

As background, over the past year we’ve been involved in projects, large and small, where consumer testing was an important piece of a client program. In a few of these instances, research was conducted, objectives were formulated, design work was developed and tested – only to find out that something was amiss.

We’d followed the insights that research offered, we made the modifications and revisions that were needed to bring our work into alignment with the research POV – but the consumer didn’t react as intended. The programs didn’t take off.

Biondo was not alone. Peers who serve the same client had similar things happen. It was frustrating for all involved. It’s not the first time that research, the consumer and design all haven’t been in perfect alignment in context of a packaging design project, but it was the latest example and it sparked conversations aplenty.

The action got Charlie talking – and from that short talk, I caught three observations that we’d all do well to heed.

“Designing for a brand and designing for testing are often two different things”

While this is not a new observation or consideration for packaging designers or clients, it is important to keep it in mind. Designing for the consumer is what is important and although testing is often valuable for gathering directional information and big picture considerations – it is still a human, with a need who stops at POS and selects a product to purchase and bring home – that’s who we should be working to serve.

“ Everyone gets hung up on something…”

Each of us has our own aesthetic sense. Packaging Design is an easy area for nearly any person to get involved; it is largely subjective, wholly visual and in most instances, not grounded in quantitative science. Opinions are often what make or break programs – and this is why it is important to have someone experienced and senior on a development team, who is able to pull a group back so they can see the bigger picture.

“Too many people get involved, ideas get fuzzy and there is no singular focus. Someone needs to drive”

We all want to make our mark, to leave our impression on the world. For Product Marketing management, changing the product’s package appearance is a great way to do that. The challenge therein lies that to accomplish that work in most organizations require a number of approvals and decision makers. The more people that get involved, the more complex a task becomes, the less distinct the vision becomes and so we are left with a solution that is created by consensus. Rarely are those types of solutions inspired.

Re-tooling the design firm and client relationship

Unlike advertising agencies, design firms’ work on a per-project basis with clients. Projects are the bread and butter of design companies. Early on in the heyday of packaging design, it was common that a single design firm worked on a single brand over-time, and so that specific firm was responsible for that brands appearance. If a design firm worked on a brand, it could count on working on it for more than a single project if everything went well, and the brand flourished. Read More

Design is an investment, not an expense.

In a perfect world Design would be viewed as an investment and not an expense.

Design, at its core is about change. Change is a little messy,  time consuming, pricey and often the cause of discomfort – for consumer, brand and bottom line.  So what compels brands to review their product packaging and consider changing a product’s appearance?

Looking at packaging design through the lens of return on investment, we get an interesting view of what drives packaging design programs  – and those reasons tend to be informed, strategic and contextual.

Change for changes sake is rarely a good idea and in the world of packaged goods marketing, it might spell disaster – as in Tropicana’s case.

It was once that packaging design consultants could look forward to a flurry of new design work when brand or product management changed at a client company. More times than not, packaging, merchandising, point-of-sale displays and advertising were prone to change.

A change to marketing, presentation, product and package were the hallmarks of a product management change, but were these changes necessary, or wise investments?

We’ve seen clients become more practical, strategic and investment minded when it comes to initiating any sort of an appearance change: including packaging. Amortizing investments in marketing has become an even greater consideration for our clients. Rationale for change has to be clear.

What this means to the Biondo Group is that when we are asked to help a client with a challenge, the design and communication objectives are focused and concise.  Additionally, the measurement metrics by which the marketing investment is being gauged are also clear.

RFP’s & Spec: Hiring a Packaging Design Firm

The Biondo Group has a lot of design experience under its belt. We’ve got a good reputation, earned over time. We are regularly invited to take part in processes and “contests” to get new client work.

Clients have choices of design and marketing resources. As with a 50 page menu in a restaurant there is a downside to having too many choices.

If you’ve ever placed a help wanted ad in craigslist, you’ll know what we mean by “too much”.

With all these choices, we don’t envy the client’s job of looking for a design firm to partner with. It’s mind numbing to filter through website after website and locate the diamond. At the end of this activity the client team selects a number of firms based on specific criteria and issues an RFI.

If the selected firms cross the first hurdle, an RFP is issued next. RFP’s for the most part are fill in the blank .xls sheets that have the personality of a brick. We’d not want to have to rely on these documents to help select the creative firm driving design work.

During 2016 the Biondo Group participated in a RFP contest that had speculative work baked into its process. The prospective client was enterprise size, domestic and the project smack dab in the center of the Biondo Groups sweet spot: food packaging.

The project was a perfect fit and the timing couldn’t have been better.

The nature of this opportunity required we conduct an extensive speculative concept exploration, what we call a Phase 1 Design Exploration. Surprisingly the terms dictated that even if we were not selected, the Client would own all the work we’d have produced for free. In the event the client found favor with one of the concept’s we’d developed, they’d be able to finish our work independently.

In the event we were assigned this project, we’d be starting development at what we call Phase 2 – Design Refinements. We would not have the opportunity to re-do or get paid for a Phase 1 Concept Exploration. Finally, there was no guarantee that the firm awarded the project would get “all” the work. There would be no “design firm of record” opportunity.

What to do? Do we agree to the terms and produce the work for free in the hopes we’ll get the larger body of (paying work). Amortizing the upfront investment in spec work is the pivot for the green/red light call. We know based on experience that it rarely works out that we’re made whole for the investment in up front spec work. We can’t afford to fool ourselves, nor can we work for free, so we took a pass.

Bowing out is a heart breaker, it makes us unhappy. We are about doing work, not turning it away.

But we understand what is driving the Clients request for spec work. How does a Client know if a firm can meet the challenge if they don’t see the work? They don’t want to gamble that a firm can deliver the goods, so they ask for spec work. But since so many firms refuse to enter spec work arrangements, at the outset, the Client is not getting a full cross section of firms to compare.

Most busy, successful firms have clear no spec work policies; rarely do they have the time or team to dedicate to speculative work.

But there is a better way for a Client to select a packaging design firm partner. Do the online research necessary to identify the firms that fit the challenge. These criteria should include: category familiarity, design aesthetic, workstyle and culture. Geography might play a part of the decision; so only include firms that are in the geo area you are considering.

Select 6 qualified firms, schedule (15-30min tops) Skype calls/WebEx virtual meetings. Get face time with the teams you’d be working with. Have an agenda for these calls, make them count.

After reviewing portfolios and meeting the various design firm teams you will have a sense of who you’d like to work with.

At this point the field of contenders should come down to no more than two qualified firms. If there are more firms in your set, find criteria that allows you to trim. Focusing your efforts is important. We’d suggest a second in-person (or Skype/WebEx) meeting. This 2nd call is for discussing the project with the two contender firms. After this call, make your selection and deliver the news to both firms within a week.

There are alternatives to this process that pull design work into the process. Maybe ask the two contender firms to conduct a “paid for” design exploration. After a review meeting, one firm would carry on with the work they’d started. There are other creative ways of managing the selection process, that we’d be happy to share.

If you respect a design firms time, talent, experience, commitment and process; you will be well on your way to enjoying an important, productive, win-win working relationship.

To continue the conversation and learn more about the criteria that you might want to consider in selecting a design firm, please contact us at:  info@biondogroup.com

To view an amusing video on the subject of Speculative Work click below:

Gadgetry & Games

Brands leverage strategies to drive growth. To bring strategy to life brands look for tactics that will support them. It’s a rinse and repeat cycle. Strategy morphs, new things come in, older things go away.

Our consumer universe is fickle, flighty and bombarded with messages. The “shiny new thing” rarely has measurable staying power. With that, implementing a new package design for a manufacturer is a pricey exercise, and it’s important to get it right.

There is no grace period for a tactic or strategy to prove itself in the packaging design world.  Design solutions work or they don’t – and that determination happens NOW.

Research is a go-to tool used to vet packaging design. Consumer research is an old tool in the marketing arsenal, but still useful in getting the information needed to influence packaging design work.

Packaging Design is the Biondo Group’s specialty. Packaging Design is one of the marketing arts driven by change, but also constrained by brand and graphic equities.

Therein lies the tension of packaging design, and why it is an art. The look of the package must be current, and “fit” the category appearance wise; and it must also stand out amongst its peers.

So our work should fit in, while standing out!

There isn’t a lot of gimmickry, gadgetry or games involved in designing packaging. Much of the toolset has existed for decades, albeit updated to incorporate digital technologies.

Biondo Group clients rely on us for one reason, to solve packaging design and on-shelf branding challenges. We leave the quick turn gimmicks, gadgets and games to others, our work must have legs and last.

Biondo clients can’t afford for us to adopt a “campaign” mindset.  The work we produce has to have staying power. Given the challenges and costs associated with printing and filling the pipeline with new packaging, it’s important we get it right.