Package Design Can Make or Break a Line Extension

David Bellm

January 29, 2014

3 Min Read
Package Design Can Make or Break a Line Extension

Line extensions have increasingly become a staple of the consumer products marketplace, with every brand seemingly spawning a dozen or so other additional sub brands over time.

While some marketing experts denounce such techniques, the process does have merit — retailers are often more willing to take on a related product instead of a new one, a line extension has a ready-made audience in existing brand customers, and if nothing else, it can be a good way to keep the brand adaptable, fresh, and relevant.

The problem is that a lot of marketers don’t really know how far their brand can stretch. They don’t have a deep, intuitive feel for the underlying strengths and values of their brand, so they don’t have a very good sense of what it can and can’t do.

To some degree, it’s an art. And plenty of practitioners aren’t very good at it.

Witness the typical retail store’s shelves full of misguided line extensions. Many of them serve only to confuse customers and dilute the original brand in an overly optimistic pursuit of where the company would like to go, instead of where the brand’s potential audience will welcome it.

And ultimately, that can be a recipe for failure. Like so many other things, it all comes down to communication. The more things a brand tries to embody, the more difficult it will be to successfully represent any of those things.

Fortunately, as in any brand communication, good design can often save the day if it’s well thought out. The right visual solution can work wonders when conceived by a team that really understands the core issues and is willing to ask the tough questions along the way.

And when the process is done, the bottom line is how customers will tell this new version from the other ones and yet still keep the positive association with the original brand. In many cases, packaging designers hue too closely to the original design, letting many consumers mistakenly grab the wrong version in the two seconds or so they allow to locating a product on the shelf.

But if you think about it, it’s not really surprising that such confusion happens with line extension packaging designs. After staring at new designs in studios during endless rounds of approval in the design process, many brand managers drastically overestimate how different a series of packages look from one another. Once the marketing team has mulled over a particular design element for months, it’s almost inevitable that the New Mountain Fresh version looks instantly different from slightly different HomeStyle version to the brand manager – he’s deep in the minutae of the process.

But is the shopper who’s racing through the store to grab a few things on the way home from work going to notice the Mountain Fresh version’s blue starburst instead of the usual purple one?

Doubtful. And so another unhappy brand experience is birthed.

Marketers should never forget that while there are some real advantages to considering a line extension, it comes with risks. Getting the package design right is a big part of avoiding those potential negatives.

Above all, tread carefully — your attempt to scale greater heights in the market with line extensions is done so by climbing up the back of your original brand. So, don’t leave heel marks along the way.


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