Design Q&A: Jonathan Asher

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Branding consultancy Sterling Brands, with offices in New York, San Francisco, and London, has appointed Jonathan Asher to the new position of executive vice president, where he will be responsible for overseeing client services for both new-business development and account management. A veteran of more than 20 years in consumer goods marketing, Asher was most recently president at the New York office of international branding consultancy Dragon Rouge; prior to that he led the Coleman Group, which later became the consumer branding and packaging group of FutureBrand. Below, Asher fields some design questions.
Jonathan Asher
Jonathan Asher

What trends are making an impact on your business?

Asher: The ever-increasing proliferation of media outlets has, of course, resulted in splintered and diffuse communication opportunities for marketers. This makes the package more essential than ever as the communication vehicle that consumers come in contact with on an ongoing basis. Marketers have always recognized the importance of packaging and how it can differentiate a brand from its competitors, establish the brand's image and create a connection with consumers at the point of sale; however, it hasn't always been given the same attention as advertising, possibly because of the relative differences in cost, glamour or notoriety. In the days of only three national networks, before the internet, TiVo, iPods or cellphones, marketers could count on consumers noticing and even paying attention to their advertising. In today's world, that is much less likely, but the package can still be counted on to communicate with consumers at the point of purchase at a minimum, as well as during usage, of course, and it can be a part of most other communication activities.

There are plenty of packaged goods that succeed with bad packaging, though, right?

It is, of course, possible to overcome mediocre or even sub-par packaging and still sell a great deal of product. Tylenol's current line of cold and allergy medications is an example of a brand line that sells well despite extremely cluttered, confusing and unattractive packaging. The thing to consider is that even with little or no advertising, a brand can sell well with effective packaging.

Name some brands that you believe are using design effectively to build their cachet.

Tropicana has a simplified graphic approach, which allows the brand essence — "Closest to the fruit" — to be clearly conveyed. Method is creating new paradigms in the cleaning category, communicating key concepts like "distinctive," "ergonomic," "fresh," "simple" and "clean" in a way that traditional brands just don't. Apple, of course, is aesthetically pleasing, ergonomic and functional. A killer combination.

Any predictions on the future of the brand/design business?

Clients will seek value-added offerings from their brand design partners. As a result, small firms will struggle to survive — without a sufficient critical mass, they won't be able to differentiate themselves simply based on quality of creative or client service. And low price alone will be considered less important than the cost-value relationship.

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