Lessons from the Shark Tank: Branding with Packaging

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For the second installment of my lessons that can be learned from the tank and how I incorporate these into my own business, I wanted to address what I feel is a defining issue why some great products fail to capture an audience: lack of strong branding and inadequate packaging. Let’s be honest, how many times do you find yourself in a store looking at two similar items at nearly the same price. Even if one is a few cents more, I venture to guess that you gravitate toward the item with the nicer packaging because you perceive it to have higher quality. Barbara Corcoran is notably the best shark at vocalizing packaging concerns and visualizing branding potential. With a definite background in marketing, she’s the first to jump all over an entrepreneur when key elements have been left out and is quick to give advice as to what has yet to be done with packaging to gain consumer confidence. Packaging should always clearly communicate what the product is, what it is used for and encourages the consumer to purchase it now.

While there have been countless entrepreneurs who have heard these concerns, I felt it better to discuss several of the “winners” in terms of packaging and my tips you may want to consider as you launch your brand to follow suit. Is it strange that I get a little too excited when I see packaging done right? Three Shark Tank-pitched brands that jump to mind and “do it for me” in terms of packaging are Rock Bands, Liquid Money and Talbott Teas.

Branding Winners

If you remember, Rock Bands, those ultra-hip leather and stone wrist bands, came packaged in a box that was designed as a mini-backstage equipment case…one you would see at a real rock concert. The unique silver case embodies the brand name, and no matter where it is merchandised at retail, will surely stand out in the eyes of the consumer. I venture to guess that the consumer will purchase Rock Bands as much for the packaging, especially if intended as a gift, as the product itself. Liquid Money, the fragrance of success, had not only sharp packaging but Patrick McCarthy took the extra step to purchase real shredded US currency to fill the inside of his boxes. While he did not get a deal, I understand that “His Money” and “Her Money” has been successful post-tank and I believe that a great deal of credit goes toward his creative use of the shredded scratch. Finally, Talbott Teas and their extensive line of products revealed a look and feel that matched their customer demographic. I have been especially impressed with the iconic emblem that is incorporated with their sophisticated logo and the ease of distinguishing flavors with a consistent look.

Personal branding blunders

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My brand, Slawsa, was not without its packaging struggles when I came aboard in April, 2011, and it was so very important for me to re-design the label based on a number of factors. I think the first thing any entrepreneur can do before design-work begins is to physically go to the retailer who would potentially sell your product and stand back to see what the competition brings to the shelf. In our case, Slawsa is merchandised in the relish category, which is predominantly a sea of green. The color of a label speaks to the consumer in so many ways. A black or grey label signifies that the product is “elite” or “expensive.” Blue is generally an “appetite suppressant,” green is “environmentally friendly” and white designates “cleanliness.” The number one color for gaining attraction of the eye of the consumer is yellow (specifically ‘Cheerios’ yellow) followed closely by red. Knowing a yellow label wouldn’t look good with Slawsa’s yellow color, I gravitated to red because it not only looked great with Slawsa but it definitely stood out within the category as a whole. After all, a pickle relish won’t dare use a red label because a red-green combo doesn’t work…not even in December.

Give added value, even if you don’t have to

While there are general packaging requirements that must be followed in terms of food packaging, all of which can be conveniently accessed through the USDA website or through your State’s Department of Agriculture, communication on your packaging beyond the logo and legal requirements might include: health or environmental benefits, web site URL, QR code, sizing, uses and the like. Pick up and look at the packaging of established brands and ask yourself what you are missing that might be beneficial for the customer to know. If you have a USA-made qualified product, definitely consider putting a “Made in USA” designation on it. As we venture into exporting Slawsa beyond US borders in 2013, the value of a product made in the USA is very strong amongst worldwide consumers because they know social and safety regulations are in place.

The best branding is simple

Some of the best packaging is simple and clean in design. I always like to stand back and squint my eyes a bit to see if I can indeed read everything from afar. One issue that I had with Slawsa’s previous label design is that many of the words were not legible from 5 foot back, even if not squinting, because the background was full of so many different colors and design. In my eyes, it appeared cluttered and messy. Another consideration you should have is how you set apart your variation of your product line. I cannot tell you how frustrated I get when I return home from the store only to find that I accidentally picked up the wrong item because it looked too similar to the one I intended to get. Instead of keeping the packaging exactly the same with the exception of the designation of the difference (I.e. mild, medium and hot), consider slightly different color variations of the packaging yet keeping the same general pattern, much like Talbott Teas does.

Know your consumer

Who is your consumer? Male or female? How old? Does the design fit within the style of the consumer purchasing items at your price point? I know of a great barbecue sauce that had an image of two pigs on their label, one of which had a cigarette in its mouth. While its edgy nature would probably appeal to the blue-collar male, because their product was priced at the more expensive end of the category, I didn’t see their consumer gravitating toward it. Is the woman in pearls likely to try an item with a smoking pig? I doubt it. The grocery industry is unique in that generally, women are still doing the bulk of the grocery shopping and male-targeted products should not skew too far to the male side of design so that it turns off the woman purchaser. On the flip side, brands who want to appeal more toward women can take a more feminine direction in terms of design. It never hurts to take several designs or variations of a design and test it amongst potential customers…and keep tweaking as you go before you settle. I recommend using people you don’t know versus those who are likely going to tell you what you want to hear. After all, changing your design after you’ve hit the marketplace can not only be costly but can cause confusion amongst consumers.

Create branding “guidelines”

After having had the opportunity to work with a major food manufacturer for nearly a decade, I was blessed to work with dozens of already established brands that have documented outlines their branding teams work off of, one that is living in nature. Consider creating a “branding guidelines” document that you and your creative vendors can follow to keep your brand’s communication consistent throughout. Key message points, PMS colors, fonts, taglines and design rules are all items that help your creative designers stay on point and most importantly, not waste valuable time because now the brand’s messaging is clear. As time goes on, allow this document to keep up with the evolution of your brand.

Become an icon

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, but your logo is everything. How “iconic” is your logo? Can you write any word in your font, throw it on your packaging and still have consumers know it is your product? Look at the fonts of Coca-Cola, Nike, ESPN and Disney. I gravitated toward a font that resembles a baseball-style script because not only does the font appeal to both men and women alike, but Slawsa is fantastic on hotdogs and brats. To me, there’s nothing more American than being at a baseball game munching on a hot dog…or, in our case, a Slawsa Dog.

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About Author

Julie Busha is an avid Shark Tank fan as well as an entrepreneur, marketer and branding expert despite a background outside of communications. She is a partner at Nicole Foods, the maker of Slawsa and the Founder and CEO of benchmarketing, LLC.

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