A few weeks ago, I wrote about how it’s crucial during this time of crisis for brands to step up and launch programs to help their communities that are also aligned with their company’s mission. As we all begin to try and move ahead in the “new normal,” and small brands try to not only survive but thrive, I thought it was time to widen the lens and discuss how this theory of aligning mission to action impacts what IMHO is the most important link in the branding chain – your packaging.

Years ago, I would talk to small food manufacturers about their packaging design and they would tell me “The (bag, box, bottle…insert your structure of choice here) doesn’t matter. The customer just throws it away. It’s the quality of my product that matters. Why should I waste money on high-quality strategic design?” So, you might (rightly) be thinking “okay, Boomer,” but I find many niche and challenger brands are still making this same mistake today.

And it’s a BIG mistake, especially right now. The most recent economic forecasts are far from optimistic. In a recent FoodNavigator Soup-To-Nuts Podcast, Jeff Grogg, the managing director at the food & beverage innovation and commercialization group JPG Resources, discussed the challenges that may lie ahead. He said investment dollars are drying up as investors hit pause on new deals, so getting additional money to pay for new shelf space, the required promotions that go along with it, and expanded manufacturing capability will be more challenging than ever. For smaller brands in categories that have not been in high-demand during the pandemic, it may be difficult to survive. If you can’t break through the big brands for shelf space, one strategy he suggested to consider is to go direct-to-consumer and sell primarily online. If you can’t beat ‘em, try creating your own space.

Now I’m not one to wallow in despair, so here’s the good news. There are proactive things you can do right now to put your brand in the best position to either win in store or online by building brand loyalty. How do you do that? Stand for something and make sure every consumer touch point communicates it. Sol Marketing CEO and branding expert Deb Gabor calls it “irrational loyalty” and to get it, brands must stand for causes or values that intrinsically resonate with their core consumers. By buying from you, and only you, they not only get a very good product, but they feel very good by helping a cause that is of the utmost importance to them. (If you’re not sure what your mission is, check out our post on getting in touch with your core values, here.)

So how does all this fit in with the materials, colors, and graphics that are wrapped around that very good product? When there are so many brands in any given category battling each other for customer loyalty, your packaging MUST resonate with your core consumer by clearly showing what you stand for. Here are some examples of challenger brands that are doing a good job standing out and standing up:

Lily’s Sweets: We’ve been keeping our eye on this brand for some time. A no-sugar chocolate brand born in a local natural food store, Lily’s not only cares about eliminating refined and processed sugar from people’s diets without them missing it, but they loudly and clearly support causes for better childhood wellness. Their logo, tagline, gorgeous use of color and illustration convey premium deliciousness and the sheer joy their consumers can experience while living a healthier life.

Pulp Chips: Pulp Pantry tortilla chips are made with the leftover pulp from juiceries. Not only are you getting a delicious and nutritious snack, you are also supporting less food waste just by buying a bag of chips. A retro modern brand design, reminiscent of chip tins from the 1920’s, speaks to the clean nature of the product, simplicity and sustainability.

Bobo’s: A snack bar brand started by a mother and young daughter team in their Boulder, CO home kitchen with simple ingredients, the brand name is the daughter’s nickname and a prominent heart illustration shows their love of baking, family and helping people eat better. It’s all about the love. And all that love is shared with many causes helping local families and their communities live better lives.

Now that you’ve seen some examples, it’s time to circle back to the original question – does YOUR packaging communicate your story in a unique, memorable, and identifiable way? If you’re not sure, the first thing to do is conduct a visual audit of your packaging. Take a step back and examine your front panels. Consider each and every part – brand mark, colors, photography or illustration, typography. These elements are your brand’s visual communication toolbox and when it’s working correctly, each and every piece is consistently telling your story. When a consumer sees your packaging online or in store, they should immediately understand what your product is, who it’s for, who it’s NOT for, and why they should care. Now that e-commerce will be king, a picture truly does need to paint a thousand words. If it is told well, your visual story will act like a beacon to your target customer, cutting through all the noise, and helping build that “irrational loyalty.”

Is your packaging saying what you thought it was saying? If you need help sorting through it all, or decide that the packaging you thought was roaring like a tiger is actually purring like kitten, schedule a free, 30-minute session to find out how to get on the right track.