Brands looking to establish a crossover product face a minefield of considerations…

Launching a landmark product, which stands apart from any current category, is a career-highlight feat that FMCG pros will remember and remark on for years to come. If the product takes off, an immense sense of reward follows, and this ricochets across the value chain.

Branding teams in major design houses will launch thousands of new SKUs each year, but being entrusted with a groundbreaking product is truly something special. Giving the product a proper launch could be compared to the release of a blockbuster film: You can’t fluff the debut and hope for a “slow burn”. From the very first screening, you have to start getting results – so the pressure in getting the product to shelf exactly right is, quite frankly, tremendous.

For a designer, essential questions abound:

  • What’s the differentiation from the product’s nearest equivalents?
  • Where will the product sit on the shelf?
  • Are you setting up an alternative to a brand’s “hero” product?
  • How will consumers recognize what the product is and what it delivers?

There’s never a more crucial time to walk in the consumer’s shoes than when you’re launching a crossover product. Here’s why: If you can’t trigger dual emotions – both that glimmer of recognition and a good dose of curiosity – consumers won’t reach for your product, no matter how innovative your product development team believes it to be.

Branding can be a tricky business since your novel brand messaging must align with current consumers’ needs and value perceptions, while the packaging design must elicit peak consumer experience and engagement.

Making an unfamiliar product seem like an “old friend”

As you launch a new type of product, the aim is to make the unexpected, novel, and unfamiliar seem like that essential item that has eluded the consumer…until today. To do this, it’s necessary to offset the uncertainty around the unknown, i.e. the taste or usefulness of the product, by building on the knowledge base already firmly in place: The quality proposition and the consumer’s own needs.

Signaling where the new product stands in terms of quality is a good place to start. Private brands, in particular, rely on tiering as a tried and true method of establishing authenticity, quality, and price expectations. In private brand settings, positioning your landmark product within a tier framework means it gains a familiar reference point, while subconscious split-second associations link this product to experiences the consumer has had with the retailer’s wider offering.

It’s worth noting that, in light of recent economic fluctuations as a response to the pandemic, we may very well see a reshuffling in tiering criteria. While most consumers will always indulge in a few in-shop splurges, a “top-heavy” tier strategy may be tested in this climate if consumers hit hard by unemployment, reduced working hours, and the after-effects of shutdown look to make savings in staples. In this case, some products could perform better in a middle or lower tier in certain categories.

In terms of strategy, relying on the tier framework isn’t enough, however. Enabling the consumer to visualize the use and the integration of the product into the lives they lead is another essential component. Multi-functional packaging with both practical and experiential elements is the key to effective design, made to create certainty in the mind of the consumer that a valuable and unique experience is imminent.

One area which is seeing a product development boom is the health crossover and ingredient category. There is a growing awareness of – and interest in – products that claim wellness benefits, and this has propelled innovation in this space. Although the rapid expansion in itself tends to generate inquisitiveness on the part of the consumer, novel offerings with enhanced ingredients and benefits have a lot of work to do, particularly in communicating efficacy and value proposition, as well as bridging consumer skepticism.

Whether or not a product is successful in an emerging arena such as health crossover depends on how well it leverages informative design to underline the meaningfully different and practical aspects of the new landmark product: Its provenance, its ingredients, the collaborative processes that have gone into its development, and the recipes and/or methods in which to use it. This can be accomplished via varying elements including photography, typography, illustration, or callouts. In the end, a good outcome is really down to the skill of the designer and a strong project delivery cycle that centers on client engagement from the get-go.

Often, a landmark product has been developed to complement an existing range. In these cases, it’s well worth devising branding around the product’s own key traits and personality. Strong messaging will allow it to stand on its own feet and deliver cogent and well-formed expressions such as innocence, youthfulness, fun, humor, or conversely maturity, gravitas, expertise, and authority.

Although it may seem like a daunting prospect, experienced designers and strategists can provide guidance by applying macro data, as well as their own creative abilities to develop the project.

Ultimately, landmark product packaging should make the most of the entire experience – from the moment of discovery to stimulating curiosity, the exploration of its use to the integration of the product into their own lifestyle. And, of course, it should be backed up by an authentic product which rewards the consumer for daring to try something new.

There may be a lot of boxes, but if the team you’ve gathered manages to tick them all, you may very well find you have a blockbuster hit on your hands.

Cover image source: Equator Design