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09 October 2019

How the Equator Design model is reaching further into national brand territory

Ed Holden reflects on the qualities of our unique business model and how its attributes are proving to be a great match for brands...

Our most recognizable national brands, from Coca-Cola to McDonald’s, aren’t just brands – they are part of our collective cultural consciousness.

As I’m finding, since my move to the US, we love success stories but perhaps even more than we appreciate the tale of the top dog, we love stories that see the small fry or the small business come into its own, by that we mean the underdog that makes history.

Many iconic brands are built on humble origin stories. Take, for example, McDonald’s. Decades before McDonald’s served its umpteen billionth burger, brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald opened their first restaurant in San Bernardino, California. Back in 1948, their hamburgers cost just 15 cents. But it would be entrepreneur (and Midwesterner) Ray Kroc who would franchise the successful restaurant concept and brand, expanding the chain’s presence across the US.

While each generation of entrepreneurs is inspired by success stories like these – which almost always begin with an original, disruptive model and a visionary personality determined to take the business to new heights, not every brand becomes a household name.

So how can brands rise in our cultural consciousness – and stay there?

I caught up with Bill Harper, our new creative director in Equator’s Chicago studio. Bill has worked on national brands for two decades, developing household names the likes of Coca-Cola, MillerCoors, Wrigleys, Walgreens, Conagra, Thermos and more.

“The greatest national brands all have one thing in common: strong brand messaging,” says Bill. “Whether that message is family, fun, freedom or forward-thinking, it’s important that brands don’t just have a compelling story – an origin or innovation story – but also characteristics and company values that are relevant to the ways in which people live today and which are observable in each iteration and/or customer interaction.”

Establishing a brand is a collaborative process in which the products’ purpose, design criteria, provenance, social value and durability stand to inform the final outcome. Arriving at an original brand architecture is a painstaking process which requires extensive research into the current market trends and a branding and design team with experience and know-how, not to mention sheer dedication and determination.

Extending the brand architecture across new product ranges is also an exciting challenge. Our work designing an all-new range from the household name Kraft Heinz and their Jell-O Play was one of our most rewarding projects to date, not just because the product’s intended use had to be communicated by the packaging itself, but also because we had the added responsibility of stewarding a brand everyone had known since childhood. This meant that our creative output was constrained by the robust core messaging already integral to the brand. However, as most creatives are well aware, creativity is often most generative when operating within a set of constraints. Perhaps that’s because creativity is at its heart a problem-solving enterprise.

Here at Equator, we’ve been pushing the envelope on private brand packaging design for years. We’ve been witness to the growth of the own-brand marketplace and played a part in its elevation in public perception to achieve the market share it enjoys today. We understand that packaging is powerful because it is a brand’s most essential form of communication. While private brand and national brand strategies differ, this is one aspect the two have in common.

While your brand needs to provide a sense of identity to the people who interact with it, from consumers to your team members, it also needs to carry your brand into the future. Back in 1998, HBR published a seminal article written by Joseph B. Pine II and James H. Gilmore: Welcome to the Experience Economy. In it, they defined experience as the fourth economic offering and a natural evolution from a service-driven economy. Fast forward more than 20 years and we’ve arrived at experience as a critical consideration when developing a brand.

Not only do brands have to inspire interest and a feeling of reward, but they also have to offer engagement. Breakfast cereal pop-ups and personalisation are manifestations of the trend, but packaging plays its part as well. Packaging is expected to do more with less – drive greater engagement while utilising less material; achieve greater on-shelf standout while paring back design in line with current trends.

Our global design studios operate according to the streamline, under-one-roof approach pioneered by our original Manchester studio, as we work with private and national brands to achieve greater brand awareness and help them reach their objectives and sales targets. We understand that no matter how grand or humble the brand’s origin is, each one has the potential to grow beyond expectations and to carve out its own place within the retail landscape – and maybe even in history.

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