Designing great wine packaging requires a highly specialized skill set, developed over years of creating brands and studying the category. While other food and beverage packaging has always been a part of our design practice at Sterling Creativeworks, lately we’ve received many inquiries from luxury food and beverage producers with a specific request: they want us to apply our wine design sensibilities to their non-wine brands. These marketers recognize that wine package design strategies can be borrowed to super-charge other premium food and beverage brands.
Why Look at Wine Design?
Wine is a highly segmented, super-competitive category that forces marketers and designers to make every element of the package count. With little-to-no budget for advertising, brand awareness and sales must be built through powerful – and sophisticated – label design. Most wine bottles allow only a small area for graphics, requiring that every square millimeter of space be maximized for brand communication. To add to the challenge, alcohol beverage labeling laws dictate the size and location of product information and require that space be made for quite a bit of legal language.
Working with limited space in a noisy category helps wine branding specialists hone our communication skills and become stronger, more strategic designers. As all luxury food and beverage categories become increasingly crowded, lessons learned from wine can be leveraged to build a competitive edge.
Lessons We Can Apply
Here’s how to optimize your package real estate to create meaning and impact in a small area:
- Make every element count. Logo treatment, image content, white space, color choices, label shape and type styling – every design choice on a wine label is made with brand communication goals top of mind.
- Implicit communication is as important as explicit communication. As always, how you say something is as important as what you say. Strategic font and illustration style choices convey your tone of voice.
- Your brand is more than a name. Make your logo work for you – it must be easy to read, and infused with personality.
- Use imagery to communicate brand story. Illustration is often a prominent feature of alcohol beverage branding. Compelling images create emotional connections and meaning for the consumer. The art on the package plays several key roles: it differentiates your brand from competitors, conveys emotional appeal, and creates a memory trigger to drive repeat purchases.
- Art that tells the brand story draws them closer. Use your imagery to tell your brand story – it’s more emotionally compelling than product or ingredient imagery. Where showing the product is essential, choose the style of your illustration to convey brand personality.
- Iconic imagery differentiates your brand within its competitive set. What visual sound bite quickly sums up your brand’s unique selling point? Use iconic artwork as shorthand to express the brand’s essence.
- Be bold, but nuanced. Wine, just like other premium products, must balance shelf impact with nuanced luxury cues. It’s true – design that blends in on the shelf fails. While grabbing the eye is essential, however, it’s only step one in the process of engaging the consumer. Once they pick up the bottle, we must deliver layers of appeal and meaning that reveal themselves upon closer inspection. The saying “God is in the details,” rings true for premium and luxury food and beverage brands.
- Visually arresting, but nuanced imagery delivers from a distance and in the hand. Strive for impactful simplicity from 5 feet away. At that distance, the image content is recognizable, but its details promise there’s more to discover. When the viewer takes a closer look, deliver a secondary payoff in the hand.
- Use the power of composition. The placement of elements matters. Aesthetic balance conveys sophistication and instills confidence.
- There is power in white space. Create a brand experience rather than cluster of features and benefits. Food and beverage marketers are tempted to fill every bit of space available on their main display panel. With features and benefits, product images, and interrupters proclaiming the latest health craze, this is understandable. When space is limited, less truly is more. Empty space, thoughtfully used, is an invitation to linger.
- Minimize copy. Increase the impact of core messaging by keeping the front panel clean. Consumers know a product doesn’t need to shout about every benefit if it is indeed great.
- Crowded packages are confusing. When consumers are asked to parse through too much visual noise they don’t know where to look first, and become confused. Confused consumers don’t buy.
- Be disciplined with information hierarchy. With limited space, we must be highly strategic about where we draw the eye first, second and third.
- Identify the first thing your audience wants to know. Consumers scan the aisle first for general information (chocolate), then for specific information (extra dark). The general product category is often implied by the package shape or the shelf context. The second thing consumers read after your brand name should help them understand if your product meets their requirements within the category. Direct their eye there.
- Lead the eye with intention. Lead the viewer’s eye through the main panel messaging one element at a time by using scale, color and placement deliberately. With masterful visual choices, you dictate how your brand story unfolds.
- Quality packaging execution implies a quality product. Attention to detail in the execution of your packaging indicates attention to detail in the making of your product. Consumers think, “If the producer puts this much attention into the package details, they’re bound to do the same when making the product itself.”
- Maximize your print budget. Elevated packaging materials communicate quality. Make sure you optimize your design to take advantage of the latest printing treatments. Meet with your design and print team to explore options for upgrading with textured paper stock, raised varnishes, embossing, and metallics within your budget.
- Layer elements to add depth. Overlap elements, and make some lighter in color to add richness without making your package busy. Use the required copy in interesting ways; color and typographic interest express personality.
- Successful wine labels instill trust. Wine is a category that makes many consumers feel insecure. A successful wine package masterfully instills confidence and trust through proven design strategies.
- Seals, stamps and maker signatures: these added elements are not just decorative. They come from a legacy of official documents and naturally convey authority and quality.
- Avoid gimmicks. Wit and uniqueness strengthen your brand. Overly tricky design, however, feels inauthentic and limits your appeal.
Creating an Elevated Experience
Like premium and luxury foods, high-end wine is purchased for emotional reasons. Consumers pay more for “better” products because they want elevated experiences. Wine labels hook consumers with their romantic emotional appeal. And they prove that even with limited space, it’s possible to balance shelf impact with elegance and product information with brand personality.
Savvy marketers realize that food brands can increase their perceived value by incorporating strategies from wine package design. They are looking to wine to learn how to deliver powerful implicit communication through elegant composition and thoughtful decisions about both the content – and styling – of essential branding, text and imagery.