Sparking Social Through Design: Four Emerging Strategies for Success

Today, brands are co-owned by the consumer more than ever before. Leading brands are aggressively considering social media implications and strategies early in the brand development and package design process. They are purposefully provoking consumers to take marketing into their own hands.

With this in mind, we’re encouraging marketers and designers to take a step back. Try asking yourself these questions to see if it’s time to revisit your design strategy:

  • Is a competitor’s brand or package being chosen over mine more often than in the past?
  • Do consumers even think about my brand outside the context of the purchase decision?
  • Do I believe my brand has the right to be more meaningful to consumers?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s worth considering ways to step up your brand’s game. As usual, we’ve been eyeing the market. We’re seeing four key trends emerge as dynamic and successful consumer engagement options through brand and package design.

1. Make Your Brand A Social Savant

What’s important to your brand’s consumers should be on your radar. This is why leading brands are focused on anticipating the “moments of truth” in their consumers’ lives. These brands are taking the opportunity to surprise and delight consumers to let them know that they are in tune, in touch and—most importantly—in their corner.

One of the best examples from 2015 is the select group of brands that were prepared for the Supreme Court’s June ruling about marriage equality.  Many brands responded in colorful ways—think Citi Bike, Visa and Ben & Jerry’s —but the Dorito’s “Rainbows” Chips example rises to the top.

Dorito’s, through a simple, thoughtful post, wisely connected their product to a moment in time. A proven pioneer in consumer engagement (e.g., consumer-generated Super Bowl ads), Doritos was able to generate a groundswell of additional interest and social support. Their understanding of their consumers’ moment of truth led to a first-ever rainbow (and online-only) product line based upon social demand.

TAKEAWAY: Look ahead.  The most cutting edge brands are taking both serious and playful stands on social causes in real time and empowering consumers to carry their message of support.

2. Give Your Consumer a Voice

In 2011, Bud Light launched a bottle that beer drinkers could actually write on with any pointy object. And just like that, the consumer had an attention-getter, a badge-worthy object that displayed his or her personality, sense of humor or quirks.

A lot has changed in the few short years since 2011. Social media has become an even bigger obsession for consumers, and the technology to create high-quality, no-budget content has opened the floodgates for user-generated content. The Coca-Cola “Share a Coke” campaign is a great example of how a simple, universal concept can spark consumers to engage with a brand. Personalized Coke cans went viral, spurring passionate consumers to use them to create unique videos and even a birth announcement.

TAKEAWAY: A brand in your consumers’ hands is part of what’s next. You can empower them to express their emotions and individuality. Give your consumers a voice.

3. Be Truly Social, Think Online and Off

Packaged goods brands have long been employing online strategies, but last year some of the leading online-only brands made it a point to “pop-up” in the real world. Consumers are seeking interaction and authenticity, and it takes both online AND offline strategies to truly build loyalty with consumers.

Two of the biggest online-only brands have shown up in the real world.  Amazon announced a brick and mortar store and took to the streets in its Treasure Truck, while eBay toured the country in an Airstream showcasing products.

TAKEAWAY: Some of the best brands today are living brands, coming to life and interacting across all channels. Brand and design strategies should be able to stretch across channels, while still supporting key brand values.

4. Mash It Up

There are amazing opportunities out there for product brands to deliver the unexpected, especially through limited-edition combinations. The ice cream category is a nice example. Ben & Jerry’s has always been a leader in this category. Breyer’s continues to generate growth and expanded its product line, design and sales by mixing with Oreo’s, Snicker’s and even the beloved Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts of America.

Mash-ups can help brands appeal across both old-school and new-school audiences. Lego does this a lot with themed products, enticing the inner child of many adult consumers to geek out. Traditional brands or household staples have the potential to be share-worthy, too. The right partnership will always excite some consumer frenzy with even the simplest execution.

TAKEAWAY: Think outside your world. Consider unexpected brands or products to “mix” with for a reason or a season in 2016.

That’s our take on what’s working to spark social engagement with consumers. What successful trends are you seeing emerge in your market?

Matthew Youngblood Co-Founder and Executive Director of Trinity Brand Group, a leading international brand consulting and design boutique with headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area.