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Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Sixteen


We are all too aware that many of the suggestions contained in this list of nine design strategies are easier said than done. After all, talking about innovation is always a heck of a lot easier than actually doing it. But does that mean we shouldn’t keep trying? Of course not. If the Eskimos have 40 words for snow, shouldn’t we have just as many words for the subtle ways in which designs influence the way we experience the world? Being human is a symphonic experience in which our brain constantly composes beauty from the ceaseless orchestra of our 5 senses. Even in sleep our brain is making sense through dreams that pave the way for our groggy morning coffee, and another sense-bombarding day. Sense making is what we humans do.

The real question is this: What are we focusing on? How do we choose to invest the precious gift of our 5 senses so that we can improve the quality of life for others and ourselves? Together we can use our wits and ingenuity to fashion an economy driven by service over gamesmanship, and sustainability over greed. Perhaps at the end of our efforts we’ll see that innovation and inspiration are the prized commodities, that all the gold in Fort Knox and all the tea in China were originally intended to bring. Why not cut to the chase and build sustainability into the very products and services that fulfill our daily needs?

March 22, 2019

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Fifteen


As you can probably tell by now, effective product marketing and packaging design requires an ability to dive deep and come back with new levels of insight into the psyche of your target markets. It requires listening, feeling, exploring, flexibility, talent and at least a small dose of wit. The instantaneous assessment of your product upon the shelf of a given web or retail outlet is the product of highly complex perceptual processes that trace back to the very roots of human consciousness itself. But as complicated as all this may sound, it’s actually extremely achievable as long as you begin with the end in mind, choose quality design talent to work with, and start planning for your product branding and packaging design quite early in the creative process. Too often executives wait until the last minute to fully consider their packaging design. In so doing, they lose out on tremendous opportunities for creative branding and marketing innovation that can make or break sales.

But sustainability is only as good as a business’ bottom line. What good is a sustainable product or a sustainable package if no one takes the time to purchase it? How sustainable are products that no one buys simply because they don’t connect emotionally with the branding and marketing of the product? Authentic, inspired design makes it easier to know which products are worth our time, and likewise, which products and services are worth our money. Give your sustainable products a chance to win the epic battle for the impulse purse strings by strategically branding them with the raw elements of human inspiration. Don’t underestimate the power of human psychology– use it to your advantage. And, most importantly of all, don’t wait. A well conceived branding and packaging platform starts early in the creative process, and can make the difference between a great product idea that flops, and a head-turning product that wins your company a sustainable word-of-mouth advantage.

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Fourteen


Just because the icecaps are slowly melting doesn’t mean you can’t still strap on the ice-skates and have some fun (metaphorically speaking). For years the airwaves have been filled with serious, messages that tend to stress people out and cause them to mentally resist taking action. As you seek to brand and market your sustainable products, why not take a different tact and make people laugh at themselves instead? Your customers will be grateful that you helped them take themselves a little less seriously, and– in the process of lightening up– they may even develop an unexpected fondness for your products and brand. Joy can do wonders for the environment, and for your bottom line.

At AW this is a lesson we learned the tough way. For years as we promoted our environmentally friendly world-view to clients, we found ourselves bumping up against a subtle mental resistance that slowly grew disconcerting. “Oh no, another person trying to make me feel guilty for the environment.” their eyes so often seemed to say from beneath an otherwise polite and welcoming face. In fact, our intention was never to spread guilt; it was to simply bring awareness and to make a difference. But still there it was– that all-too-familiar feeling of hopelessness and self-reproach. What were we to do? We didn’t want to give up talking about sustainability (the rock). We didn’t want to make people feel guilty either (the hard place). And then it hit us– a fun idea.

We rallied our team together and asked them to create an “Environmental Guilt Waiver,” a faux legal contract bestowing the recipient with a 24-hour exemption from all existential torment in connection with the environmental crisis for making simple positive environmental choices around the office. We designed them, and started dispensing them at business meetings. The result? People laughed. They loved it. After receiving the waiver, clients who might normally be resistant to discussing the environment open up more easily and take a more active interest in the topic. The whole idea of guilt disappeared in a puff of smoke.

How might some strategic levity help with your next branding project?

March 8, 2019

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Thirteen


Traditional brand and marketing strategies have tended over the years to view customers through the lens of traditional demographic variables such as age, gender, ethnicity and income. Unfortunately, traditional branding and marketing strategies do not consistently work. Why not? Because demographic variables are limited and are only helpful insofar as they help us attain practical insight into the hidden hopes and fears of our audiences. At best, demographics are but a proxy for that which no demographics can directly measure– our audiences core world-shaping values.

Grasp your customers’ core values and you will have a blueprint for designing messages that inspire them. Furthermore, understand the different value-types that populate our world today, and you will have a foundation for designing packaging and marketing collateral that reaches audiences that may have before seemed completely inaccessible. Why is this? Because at the core of every human being is one simple, universal desire to enjoy life and to be of service. A person’s core values provide the framework that we must engage and transcend if we hope to design messages that cut through to that one, universal core.

Nowhere has the pragmatic value of shifting from demographics to psychographics been more resoundingly demonstrated than with President Barack Obama’s monumental presidential run. Instead of relying on traditional political wisdom about historical demographic alliances, President Obama defied to create a seamlessly branded campaign based primarily upon the core values of community, compassion, and service. From logo, to speech content, to web messaging and campaign design, every element of this remarkable marketing effort was consistently in line with these simple core values. As a result, he was able to build value-based alliances among demographic groups that had largely been considered irreconcilable based purely upon historical data. Whatever your political affiliation may be, it is hard to argue with results. Shift your thinking from demographics to psychographics, and apply this same wisdom to your company’s advantage. Don’t be surprised if you attract customers that market researchers might have before thought unreachable.

March 1, 2019

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Twelve


After Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” hit the mainstream, being “green” became the coolest thing since sliced (whole-grain) bread. Soon magazines everywhere began playing up the importance of greening everything from toothbrushes to toasters, with the most shameless profusion of green puns ever observed. Meanwhile, on the design front, being truly eco-chic seemed to require product developers to strip down all color from their packaging, displaying only colorless hemp-like papers and fabrics, invariably accented by at least one good splash of vibrant green (usually in the shape of an abstracted plant, tree, or leaf).

At AW we don’t have a particular problem with this earthy design style. In fact, we’ll openly confess to having a bit of that design streak buried deep down in our company’s collective unconscious. But, having had the opportunity to help brand more than a few sustainable products and services over the years, we feel it important to announce that the days of mainstream granola branding are now officially over. This isn’t to say that certain naturally branded products will not still do well with the LOHAS crowd (such as, for example, the excellent packaging by Pangea Organics), but rather to urge you to consider taking a different approach, especially if your products are targeted towards the mainstream.

The problem with granola branding is that for every customer who loves this particular look and feel, there are probably several who dislike it. Environmental mindedness– once the province of a hearty, passionate group of activists– has now become a national, even global imperative. The good news here is that a new generation of eco-friendly customers is just waiting for the right products or services to call them into a more sustainable product-purchasing repertoire. Perhaps then, design brands of today will enroll everyone into a non-partisan, eco-friendly future.

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Eleven


For example, when Chrysler launched the PT Cruiser in 2000, they created a huge splash in the car industry and ended up with an order waiting list over a mile long. However the prevailing industry wisdom of the time (based upon “in-depth” market research) was that consumers had grown tired of sedans, and were primarily interested in cars with such practical attributes as gas efficiency, safety, and mechanical reliability. Most manufacturers were designing and marketing cars based upon those sensible features. The reason Chrysler was able to generate such extraordinary success was that they out-listened the competition. Through innovative research they discovered that customers subconsciously craved something much different than conventional wisdom suggested. Beyond safety and efficiency, customers truly longed for a car that could stoke a sense of freedom, sensuality and excitement. Chrysler took this to heart and designed the PT Cruiser to specifically embody these traits. The rest– as they say– is history.

These same principles that Chrysler used to design and promote their breakthrough sedan can also be applied to help you design and market sustainable products that sell. Get to know your customers. Run a focus group. Perform a social media analysis. Dig beneath the surface and listen between the words. Find out what their souls long for and design this into evocative brands and marketing collateral that enchants them in surprising (and unprecedented) ways. Consciously or not, this is what pioneering companies such as Method, Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, New Belgium Brewery, and Pangea Organics have already been doing to create breakthrough business results. The time has come for more of us to become better listeners so that we can do the same.

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Ten


Marketing researchers are continually frustrated at the huge gap between what their customers say they want from a product and what they will actually purchase. For example, the vast majority of Americans now claim to be very concerned about global warming and the environment, yet only a small minority of these individuals will go out their way to find and purchase a majority of products that truly conform to high environmental standards. Why is this?

The truth is that– like it or not– people’s actions are usually driven more by raw impulse and emotion than by conscious reason, or explicitly stated ideals. We find that the trick for designing sustainable products and packages that sell is better listening. Listening for what? Listening for the subconscious needs that your customer feels beneath the more rational rhetoric he or she so quickly espouses. In other words, pay less attention to just what your customers say, and more attention to what they truly mean. This simple distinction can make the difference between utter financial failure and outlandish business success.

February 15, 2019

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Nine

Want to know why children love Mickey Mouse around the world so much? Look to the archetypes. Want to understand why the movie “The Titanic” was so popular? Look to the archetypes. Want to understand why Abraham Lincoln is still considered by many to be the best president in U.S. history? Look to archetypes… Get the picture? Nearly every personal and public event or icon that has resonated in your mind in the course of your life has been so moving and resonant precisely because it has hit upon an archetype within your unconscious that you instinctively hold dear. Why not consciously use this same archetypal power to brand your sustainable products and packaging?

This isn’t just academic theory. We speak from experience. What truly excites us at AW is that we have positioned ourselves to do this for every company we work with. The idea that keeps us feeling inspired each day at work is that something as traditional as consumer product packaging could truly become the vehicle for transformational images that move customers to feel, think and experience life and consumer product goods more fully.

February 8, 2019

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Eight


A new dedication to change is leading today’s executives to search for new, applicable business models that promote “triple bottom line” thinking. At the same time, many corporate sustainability targets are still focused on cost and waste reduction, creating unprecedented opportunity through innovative design and sophisticated communication.

Scientists estimate that the average person has up to 70,000 thoughts each day, in response to at least as many environmental stimuli. Clear your mind. Think of yesterday… Now, what percentage of your 70,000 thoughts can you now easily recall? How many from the day before? And the day before that? You get the picture: not that many! As humans, we are each endlessly drifting in a sea thoughts and sensory data, some of it chaotic, most of it quickly forgotten. Given all this complexity, it’s amazing that anyone can ever remember anything at all. But we do. Each of us carries a treasure trove of sacred memories and images within our brains, potent visual and emotional cues that stick with us and unconsciously work to fashion our very sense of self. The take-home question is “Why?” Why do some thoughts and images stick with us and become sacred, while others just waft through our mind like so many wind-blown grains of sand?

The answer lies in the hidden power of archetypes. Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung made his name outlining the core mental structures that animate the human psyche, which he affectionately termed “archetypes.” Jung conceived of archetypes as a core set of universal images and ideas that have shaped mankind’s psychology from the very origins of the human experience. We will not attempt to cover all of these primal images here, but rather will offer one bit of powerful marketing advice: distill the core archetypes that underlie your brand and design them into all of your marketing/packaging materials. By doing so you will energize your brand to leave indelible imprints on the minds of those who encounter your products, and successfully engage them to remember your brand from among the 70,000 other factors competing for their attention on any given day. This claim may seem outrageous, but the evidence is all around us.

Nine Design Strategies to Inspire Sustainable Profits | Part Seven

For example, Method cleaning products has cornered the sustainable cleaning products market with one of the most simple provocative packaging design motifs ever conceived. As one walks down the aisle, Method’s colorful, shapely bottles call out to one’s senses with color, clarity, and confidence. Is it any wonder that Method has quickly become one of the most widely respected sustainable product offerings? Their brand is inextricably linked to their innovative packaging, building a viral word of mouth buzz that continues to push up product sales without the need for a huge investment in traditional marketing outlets. Imagine accomplishing all of this without ever even openly trumpeting one’s own environmental agenda. How’s that for branding elegance?

In a concerted effort to shifting it’s entire company towards sustainability and an authentic commitment to environmental stewardship, the Clorox Corporation has recently thrown its hat into the green cleaning ring with the launch of Green Works, a line of “natural” green cleaners designed to compete with Method and Seventh Generation. After only one year in the marketplace, thanks to their eye-catching bold and colorful branding, Green Works has already garnered 42% market share, and is a stand out line among the emerging organic cleaning products available.

But please know that not all attention-grabbing sustainable packaging need be designed for explicitly sustainable products. These simple principles of color and shape can be used to create packages that bolster sales of products from every sector while considering the raw materials being used and reducing the amount of packaging materials required. For example, we were recently hired by hip California toy manufacturer Razor to redesign a series of display boxes for their award-winning “Ripstick” Caster Board. Balancing their needs for brand visibility and cost-control, we designed for them a colorful, shapely, eye-catching-yet-sturdy box that uses 40% less material and takes up 50% less space than their traditional box (increasing shipping capacity by nearly 200%!). Although our primary goal was to create a branded package design that would drive up sales, through innovative design we were able to do this while also creating the potential for dramatic savings on both materials and shipping costs. Greater shelf impact, improved sales, decreased costs, less material waste– who says you can’t have it all?