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Thinking Differently About Disruptive Design — Samuel Charlier

If you want to create cut-through and conversation in crowded markets, then take a disruptive approach to design, argues Samuel Charlier, LPK’s Geneva-based vice president and managing director.

Forget what they tell you at school. Being disruptive is one of the best things you can do with your brand if you want to stand out from the crowd.

You could argue that design has always been a disruptive medium. What’s interesting is the way that disruptive design is evolving. Brands today need to take a more irreverent, entertaining approach to how they express themselves. No longer can brands pontificate from on-high, telling consumers what they want and force feeding them on the benefits of their features. Instead, brands are taking a more humble approach, generating pull based on their perceived relevance rather than focusing on the push of traditional marketing.

As brands strive to set new ways of interacting with consumers, marketers have come to understand the need for brands to be less formal and more accessible—adopting a more conversational tone that is down to earth and most importantly likable. Just like the classmate that others want to be around, successful FMCG brands today don’t take themselves too seriously, rather they create social currency in consumer-created channels such as online social networks.

Disruption today is more about the courage to be human. It’s less about marketing speak and more about personal relevance. As FMCG products become increasingly commoditised, brands are having to find ever more ingenious ways to convey more distinctive personalities in order to break through the wallpaper and monotony of traditional points-of-purchase venues. And design is at the epicentre of this evolution. Those that take a more disruptive approach to design—breaking conventions and category rules through unusual approaches to graphics, contrast, form or messaging—are the ones that are really connecting with today’s consumers.

One of the most visible platforms through which this new approach to disruptive design can be seen is pack design. Packaging used to simply be a vehicle that was used to talk to consumers. Now it’s increasingly about how you use packaging to talk with consumers. Brand personality has moved beyond simply the tone of voice employed on pack designs, to the way in which you use clever packaging ideas to tell whole new stories and deliver a sense of brand personality and culture—creating brand cultures that consumers want to actively engage with, creating conversations with consumers across multiple media platforms.

Breaking the mould

Brands such as Marmite, Mars, Innocent, Evian, Coke, Heinz and Pringles have all been great category disrupters in recent years. Whether designing collectible limited editions or creating structural innovations, they have found ways to break shoppers’ autopilot by using bespoke design concepts to engage with consumers at a whole new level—triggering a chain reaction of positive discussion and viral value on social networks.

Pringles, for example, originally broke the mould of crisp packaging by introducing a unique packaging form to signal that the brand was indeed different. Leveraging an iconic tube form instead of the category norm of bags, the design strategy not only delivered functional benefit but reinforced the quirky personality of the brand.

Last year, in partnership with the integrated team, LPK took the brand’s disruptive thinking to new heights. Capitalising on Pringles’ iconic cans’ similarity to tennis ball tubes, and the timeliness of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, LPK created an award-winning “These are NOT tennis balls” pack design and guerrilla marketing campaign. By leveraging an entertaining and timely packaging concept using sampling, PR and celebrity lookalikes, Pringles circumnavigated the formality of “official sponsorship” and became the most-talked-about brand during Wimbledon. Extensive on- and offline media coverage resulted in a record-breaking uplift in summer sales for Pringles, showing just how far an unconventional idea could extend the brand’s impact beyond shelf.

When and where to use disruptive design

Although I believe disruptive thinking is valuable to any design brief, it tends to work best for more recognisable brands and saturated categories, where there are norms to be challenged. The mature kids’ cereals market in the UK, for example, is crying out for disruptive design and is ripe for innovative thinking.

Some brands in low-margin categories such as dairy may view a disruptive idea which involves changing their packaging structure as too cost-prohibitive compared to premium spirits, for example. Disruptive design does not necessarily cost more to implement—in fact in the case of Pringles, it may cost less. What is critical is for disruptive ideas to be generated by integrated teams focused on delivering the balance of consumer mindset with desired brand equity, so that the disruption can be maximized and maintained over time to build brand value.

Is it risky for an existing brand to be disruptive? That all depends on whether or not the disruptive thinking is set within the framework of the brand’s strategic priorities. When brands do something different, but which is still relevant, timely and true to the brand’s core personality, then disruption can create real cut-through and conversation in a crowded market. Even new or “last to market” brands can generate a real stir by thinking differently. Just look at the launch of Another Bloody Water in Australia last year—a new brand which was bold enough to challenge category norms and stand out by making fun of its product homogeneity.

Ultimately, the real measure of success in disruptive design is whether or not brands succeed in stimulating conversation within consumers’ own intimate social circles. Those that achieve this social currency through an irreverent, quirky and witty approach to disruption are the memorable ones driving business growth.

Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aturkus/1555651794/sizes/o/in/photostream/

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