Package design is often the only way to differentiate your product from competitors, and frequently the primary reason it’s noticed and purchased. For packaged good marketers, package design has become the most critical element of a comprehensive marketing plan. The packaging design brief gets the design team aligned with the objectives and the why of the project and grounds the team with your brand equities, brand promise and marketing strategy to ensure a successful strategically aligned package design.

The road to better package design starts here!

The design brief should cover:

  • background information about the company and the brand
  • the scope of the project
  • market research: consumer insights and competitive landscape
  • timetable
  • production issues, constraints, regulatory issues
  • budget and cost issues

Briefing the backstory.

Think of your brand as a person’s gut feeling about your product. How do the product’s physical attributes, emotional connotations, company history, all intersect to help fulfill consumer aspirations?

What are the origins of your brand, the meaning of its name? What supports its claims of authenticity or superiority?

Clearly understanding these underpinnings of the product history leads directly to building a solid brand positioning.

Positioning and repositioning.

What are we doing and why are we doing it? What are the goals of the project? The objectives are framed by the Brand story, positioning, consumer needs, and competitive landscape to discover a unique and distinctive space for the brand to own. The objectives articulate and define the assignment and create a solid foundation for visual expression of the brand. The objective could be to develop a new product or products, extend an existing brand, create a flanker into new product lines or reposition brands, products or services.

Standout brands express a unique personality. What elements can you own?

For new product introductions, package design is a great opportunity to stand out as unique among your competitors. This is the point at which brands have the opportunity to disrupt their categories and break out of the pack by taking the risk of expressing a unique personality. It’s especially important for new brands to invest time and resources at this stage for an extensive design exploration to reach the right balance of uniqueness and acceptability for their package design.

In the case of a brand repositioning, make a clear-eyed assessment of the current package to determine current strengths and areas for improvement. For a successful brand refresh, be careful to preserve positive brand equities while improving differentiation from competitors and enhancing ownable features. The desired outcome for package redesign in brand repositioning is a gain in both market share and brand equity.

Who is your target audience and what do they need?

This is often a neglected corner of the design brief, a simple statement of “women, 25-54”, or “working class men.” For a more effective brief, go beyond age and income, to describe consumer interests and aspirations that help to flesh out a full relationship to the brand. Some brands carry the exercise into personifying their key consumer, giving her a name, and building a story that exemplifies the link between brand and consumer.

You know what you have. What does your consumer want?

Build a list of functional and emotional consumer needs that your product or brand satisfies. Now reverse the view, and list the attributes of your brand that fill these needs.

Brand Attributes and Brand Personality.

Where is your business going to come from? List your major competitors and assess their strengths and weak- nesses. Who do you expect to take share from? Is your brand a new and unique breakthrough for the category or an acceptable competitive alternative, and how should this affect the package design?

Strategy and tactics, in brief

Multiple factors affect the process of packaging design; the paragraphs above have dealt with the strategic underpinnings of a brand, its story, aspirations, objectives, what it can offer its consumer emotionally and functionally and the brand’s interaction with competitive brands. These elements ground both client and packaging agency in a mutual understanding of the brand and helps to more clearly define the task at hand.

Following on the heels of the strategy, there should be a second part of a well thought out packaging design brief which captures important tactical details. Elements such as executional considerations, design mandates, number of sku’s, printing method, copy and budget etc. should be covered in this brief.

For help in creating a comprehensive design brief for your project, please go to to download CMA’s strategic and tactical design brief templates.