Being Perceived as Premium

August 1, 2006
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Being Perceived as Premium
By Bob Bischoff
How to design and invest for the price point

There are many unique challenges when designing packaging for premium brands. The first challenge is how to create distinction. Since premium products share the shelf with the retailer’s national brand equivalent, value brands and a host of other brands in the portfolio, significant visual distinction is critical. Unfortunately, more often than not, the premium product is a “me-too” or a slightly improved visual version of the national brand equivalent. The second challenge is creating the look of “premium-ness.” The essence of premium must exude from the packaging by way of the printed graphics. The premium brand must stop the consumer and draw him or her into the drama with its unique, distinctive product image. Mediocre design misses the entire opportunity to stop the consumer midstream in the aisle. The third challenge is simply a lack of investment, which typically is required to overcome the first two challenges.
The best way to design for the price point is to begin by clarifying the retailer’s premium product strategy. The following is a breakdown of specific elements of the design strategy that should be touched upon in order to convey your message of premium through packaging.
Identify and Craft the Brand’s Positioning
Use a positioning statement formula
A positioning statement is the single most important step in any sales or marketing effort. Every effective brand has key points of differentiation, and a positioning statement strengthens the overall brand by articulating its reason for being. This is the formula used by most national brands, including Quaker Oats, Kraft and the like:
To: “Who” (target market/consumer)
Brand X is the: “What” (frame of reference)
That: “How” (point of difference)
Because (optional): “Why” (what need or desire is met)

Plot your brands on a positioning chart
A positioning chart establishes a visual point of reference for each of the retailer’s brands. The brands are typically visually plotted against two qualitative variables: quality perception and brand personality. Retailers must be sure to plot each of their brands as objectively as possible on the chart along with their competitors. Upon completion, the chart identifies perceptual overlaps and more importantly, key opportunities along the quality continuum for placing a future premium brand.
Communicate More about the Brand’s Attitude than its Attributes
For premium private label products, focus on graphic communication that helps position the brand as a stand-alone product. As a distinct brand, the premium graphics should not make comparative statements to any other brand or look similar to another brand on the shelf. Instead, premium graphics should communicate an attitude about the brand rather than product attributes. The graphics need to trigger the consumer’s emotional center. Insight-created graphics reflect attitudes such as desire, indulgence, rebellion or joy. Often times, graphics can spark a fond memory of a loved one or a time when life was simpler. Other triggers can inspire thoughts of distant lands or exciting vacations.
Surefire Ways to Create Premium-ness:
Incorporate mouth-watering photography and illustration
Nothing sells food packaging faster than an image of the product in use with dramatic, romantic lighting. The image of a hot plate with steamy, delicious food makes us want it so much more. Quality photography requires a talented food stylist and photographer working together to create the desired mood. This type of talent can achieve mouth-watering results. By the way, a manufacturer’s stock image library for premium products does not even come close to doing the trick!
Consider custom typography every item
Using custom-drawn letterforms can add a level of distinction that will set the premium brand packaging far above the competition. Typography is an art in its own right. When used effectively, it can inspire attitudes that a common font cannot replicate.
Do not over-decorate, simplicity is key
Do not be tempted to over-design premium brand packaging. Special, elegant, high-quality graphic images tend to be subtle in their execution. Less in packaging is definitely more. A delicate, yet deliberate, approach to graphic communication is key to eliciting the brand’s attitude or emotional inspiration.
Be prepared to make an investment
Everyone has heard the expression “You get what you pay for.” This could not be more true when designing premium brand packaging. Better visual quality requires custom photography, amazing illustration and the use of a design source with highly skilled talent. The very best photographers and illustrators are specialists in their craft. They know all the tricks for creating the best imagery money can buy. And, the result of their work is “premium-ness.”
Hire skilled design talent and not a production shop
Only highly skilled design service providers should be hired to work on premium brands. Production houses may have a certain level of skill for designing a value brand or NBE layout, but more often than not, they are incapable of creating shelf-stop. Work with agencies or firms that attract the finest talent. Great designers are true artists and take pride in their creations.
With a rock-solid strategy, clear market positioning, original graphics, letterforms and photography, designing for the price point is now simple. When retailers invest in their premium products, and allow them to be designed and crafted with skill, talent and a unique identity, the payoff is always well worth it.

Bob Bischoff is president of Core BrandingWorks, a highly acclaimed branding consultancy and design firm specializing in integrated packaging design and collateral services for national brand and private label clients.In 1995 Mr. Bischoff founded Federated Design and has developed packaging and branding systems for Cub Foods, IGA, ALDI, Nash Finch, Roundy’s and all SuperValu brands. For more information, contact Bischoff at

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