Not so long ago, packaging design agencies asked their clients what differentiates them from their competitors. Today they also ask them about their purpose. But have they also asked themselves why they have their place in the competitive environment? Creative-aesthetic solutions alone are no longer enough to achieve the best results in cooperation with clients. Besides a different mental approach, it also requires the will to apply the right brand strategies to one’s own business. Otherwise, the commodity trap threatens with dissatisfaction on all sides.
The valley of tears is long and shadowy, and many agencies have not just recently been going through it: Many clients don’t want to pay adequate fees. Instead, they pay rates on an hourly basis, which have not been raised for many years. Although agencies had resolved not to participate in unpaid or poorly paid pitches, they find themselves forced to do so now and then as they hope to win a project, after all. There are no systematic sales and marketing activities, the hamster wheel of project business simply leaves no time for that or for an orderly structure. There is always either “land under water” or a lull, a permanent state of stress. The constant stress very often doesn’t allow to take care of the agency’s own profile. In the struggle for survival, every turnover and every order seem justified. But this often leads to a further dilution of the profile. Those who do “everything” will have difficulties competing for anything. However, this inevitably increases the danger of falling into the commodity trap, i.e. of being interchangeable. Those who are interchangeable can only differentiate themselves through the cheap price. If, on top of that, internal processes and project management are suboptimal, the agency’s future viability is often called into question. This downward spiral is not good for any of the parties involved: for the client uncertainty grows as to whether the results really work in the market. The agency cannot develop further and, in the worst case, the clients of the clients are also dissatisfied.
However, there are ways to turn things around.
The most important question
The first and probably most important question that every packaging design agency must answer for itself is the question of why. Why does our agency exist? Is it enough to develop creative, aesthetically beautiful, and intelligent packaging designs? There are good reasons to have doubts. Probably the most important trigger from the client’s point of view is market success. However, work results that have a purely aesthetic-creative focus do not provide enough clues for clients in terms of market success. In addition to excellent aesthetic-creative results, agency results must be able to justify why they can deliver market success. This is a significantly different scope: one in which the agency is the competent enabler of desirable brands. Those who can credibly deliver this approach are most likely to be taken seriously by their clients and to emerge from the pure implementer’s corner, with all the problems as described above.
A different approach
To achieve this, however, a different mental approach is needed. This includes seeing oneself less as a service provider for one’s clients and more as a partner at eye level. A partner, with whom the client is happy to sit at the round table thanks to a cooperative relationship based on partnership. This changed basic understanding can also lead to a different range of services offered by the packaging design agency. It facilitates a more advisory role when collaboration starts and can often lead to long-term support. In this way, trust can be built up between all parties involved. It can then also lead to a more structured service portfolio of the agency, which can bear a specific signature. Instead of hourly sales, agencies and clients can come together through independent products. Product packages have the advantage that they can bundle and communicate the agency’s know-how in a very specific way and thus contribute to the agency’s profile. For the clients, in turn, the advantage lies in the reduction of complexity – “all-round carefree”.
What needs to be expanded
Then the know-how must also be expanded. An agency should take the idea of customer-centricity seriously and be able to prove what the packaging design really brings for the brand and the end-customer. For the client this work starts at the very beginning, namely with the positioning and the communication goals. Clever tools more certainty for the client and ultimately also for the agency partner. I am firmly convinced: Packaging design is not an art. It is more of an artful craft that must take many know-how facets into account if it wants to be successful for the client.
The weekend trick
I observe time and again that agency owners see the importance of systematic marketing and sales activities, but in the meantime, but very often risk running out of steam again. A typical hamster wheel effect. Sometimes the weekend trick can help. Go into seclusion for a weekend and soberly analyse these vital questions. It very quickly leads to those questions that the agency would also ask its clients: What are our strengths? What is our positioning? Who are our clients and what are their motives? What are the trends and where will they take us in 5 years? The effort involved in this discussion is great, especially when there are perhaps several owners on board. But it is worth it, because it makes it possible to finally develop a professional marketing and sales plan in the next step, which can then be filled with life. It should be treated like any other project, with resources projected, targets set and project management in place.
These efforts will not produce immediate results and are not a cure-all remedy on their own. However, they develop their power through their continuity and through their profiling effect. A well-positioned packaging design agency should have no problem in creating interesting and eye-catching content in various formats such as podcasts, events and trend-setting content beyond awards. Especially if there are people in the agency who have the capacity to develop into personalities with good training. I see great potential here for more visibility for those who are looking for intelligent solutions in this area.
What keeps agencies and clients in the flow
When clients are considered to be partners at eye level, it is good to be in exchange with them beyond project business. It helps clients better understand what drives the packaging design agency and how it is developing. It helps the agency to better understand what challenges clients have to overcome. It is a good approach to be useful to each other, even in areas of expertise that may not be visible at first glance due to the pointed positioning. Formats such as an annual orientation meeting in which the agency shows how the world is turning or a kind of “client advisory board” are suitable to be in a useful flow with each other beyond the daily business.
by Christian Prill, epda Germany Representative
The full article was recently published in the German magazine creativ verpacken.
Learn more about Christian here.