Brand leader empowers nestle to tell authentic stories

Ximena O’Reilly

I remember Navy Pier as a place where my dad would buy gas on family boat trips. Back then, the Chicago landmark primarily was a freight- and passenger-ship docking facility. A far cry from the attraction it is today, Navy Pier now is home to more than 50 acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, family attractions, exhibit facilities and the Shakespeare Theater.

It is a testament to the power of revitalization and reimagining to fit modern consumers’ needs.

For this instance of Package Design Matters, we met up with Ximena O’Reilly, global head of visual identity and design at Nestlé S.A. at Shakespeare Theater on Chicago’s Navy Pier. This, at a time, when Nestlé’s iconic Nescafé brand is undergoing a revitalization and re-imagining.

“I will admit something on camera right now,” O’Reilly shares with me. “I am a Nespresso drinker. I love Nespresso, but I also now love Nescafé. I couldn’t say that two years ago.” Nespresso is a wildly popular coffee option at fine dining restaurants in Europe, which I always considered a highlight of international travel. Like O’Reilly, I considered Nestlé’s other instant coffee options, such as Nescafé and its counterpart in the U.S., Taster’s Choice, to be the choice of my parent’s generation not mine. But Nestlé aims to change the opinions of consumers in O’Reilly’s and my generation and younger.

“But I have been pleasantly surprised because there have been a lot of new innovations, not just in some of our traditional Nescafé products,” she adds, “but more specifically in some of the new ways that people are coming into the coffee franchise.”

Pivoting to modern tastes and communication choices

Nescafé recently launched Shakissimo in Europe. The chilled, milk-rich, ready-to-drink coffees are packaged in cup that, when shaken, creates a creamy froth. Other successful introductions include Japan’s Barista system and Nescafé Milano Lounge machines, designed for hotels, restaurants and offices. In Thailand, Nescafé launched the Nescafé Red Cup machine.

In the U.S., we’re seeing that recommitment to the Nescafé brand with the repositioning of Taster’s Choice as Nescafé Taster’s Choice. The new brand leverages the history of Nescafé and recognizes how much more connected consumers of all countries are today. This is part of a move toward a unified, global look and feel across all products in the 180 countries where the coffee is sold. For the first time in the brand’s 75-year history, each and every Nescafé product will share the same visual identity and use the same new slogan: “It all starts with a Nescafé.”

The unified approach to packaging design, communication and digital strategy for Nescafé, drunk at a rate of 5,500 cups each second, features several key design elements developed with new, younger consumers in mind. These include the Nescafé red accent, taken from the modernized Nescafé brand mark, the iconic red Nescafé mug and a stylized graphic device, the “hub,” which is an aerial view of a mug of coffee.

To reflect coffee’s status as a social product, the REDvolution also includes digital and social innovations and services, such as the first social alarm clock providing a personalized wake-up call. Nescafé also grew its online Facebook presence to more than 25 million fans in little over a year.

Know your brand truths today

The Nescafé rebrand exemplifies the practice of refining brand identities to fit consumer relationships with products today. “It’s all about being really humble and practicing and honing the art of listening and observing, especially in the case of Nestlé where we have more than 2,000 brands,” O’Reilly remarks. “Every designer, every insights person, every marketer and even R&D designer or product developer needs to truly understand the brand’s intrinsics [intrinsic truths], and also understand the relationship that it has with people.”

Here, O’Reilly has an advantage. “I had adventurous parents,” she says. “They were from England and Ireland, but I was born in South America. And then my father joined many international companies, so I grew up in many places. I also spent quite a bit of time here in the U.S.”

That time in the U.S. includes work on the branding- and design-agency side. “I’m not sure if this is even a term anymore, but I started in ‘corporate identity,’ working in San Francisco at Interbrand,” she explains. Much of mid-‘90s thinking about branding and brand identity was very formative for O’Reilly. “We should be approaching all of our product brands in the same way,” she says. “We are just bypassers in the lives of these products and these brands. So we need to make sure that we’re cultivating a culture of understanding that’s if we touch any part of these iconic elements, there needs to be a very good and solid reason for it.”

O’Reilly cites After Eight as an example of package design that’s relevant because of its heritage. “I have visceral memories of this brand from my childhood in the ‘70s when my parents would entertain,” she recalls. “They would always close the evening with an After Eight pack. In the morning, my brother and I would run down and we would rummage inside of the box. We hoped that within one of these sleeves, there would still be an After Eight.” For O’Reilly and her brother, the discovery was as much part of the experience as eating a chocolate mint. “There are all these individual pockets and you can’t really tell if they’re really empty because some people take out the sleeve to eat the chocolate and some people just take out the mint and leave the empty sleeve inside. So if we [Nestlé] were to make a decision based on cost, I’m sure we would eliminate all of these little sleeves, right? But we would be eliminating this ritual. So that’s why I really ask the teams to understand the whole brand experience especially when it relates to product.”

That isn’t to say that O’Reilly is resistant to change when it makes sense. “[François-Louis] Cailler was the inventor of milk chocolate many years ago,” she explains. “Cailler, the factory, which is about 20 kilometers from our headquarters in Switzerland, still is producing the chocolate today. And all of the milk that goes into our products is from within 30 kilometers of the factory. There’s a real product truth. It’s meaningful, and the product’s delicious. But it is a product that in Switzerland people take for granted.”

Here, Nestlé did a holistic product and package revitalization. “It was about saying, ‘OK, if we introduce a new line with some innovation, how do we do that and get Swiss consumers who are the biggest chocolate consumers in the world, to actually notice it and pay attention?’” Nestlé launched Cailler Les Recettes de l‘Atelier, a chocolate bar line with premium inclusions, such as freshly roasted whole hazelnuts, crunchy almonds and pieces of fruit, visible from the top of each bar. As a bar is made, the inclusions are dropped onto it—making each bar a unique product. Nestlé wanted to convey the concept of a unique experience in a subtle and authentic way.

“Because we have the luxury of using digital printing, we actually did a number of different facings,” O’Reilly explains. “It didn’t need to be consumer noticeable. It was just that little wink in the eye that if you happen to see the product stacked on shelf one after another, they weren’t all identical.”

Keeping it simple

In its frozen foods business, Nestlé noticed a shift in consumer buying habits and expectations for frozen foods. Today’s Lean Cuisine consumers, O’Reilly explains, are looking for fresh food and convenient cooking even outside of the freezer. Nestlé introduced simpler foods that better fit into modern consumers’ preferred eating style. “Many of the products have changed themselves, and so we’re presenting them in a way that echoes the merits and the fundamental truths of the product,” she says. “This is difficult for quite a traditional brand, which has played by certain rules for many years, to pivot a bit and to change the way that it presents its food.” An example cited by O’Reilly is the use of different textures for the background, whether it be slate or different plates.

This understanding of visual language was honed during O’Reilly’s time in Asia. “I’ve had the good fortune of living in places where I didn’t speak the language,” she says. “I thought that I knew a substantial amount of Japanese until I went to live there. I found that I had to use my powers of observation much more.”

What O’Reilly learned was that there’s a language that spans borders. In a sense, design serves as an innate Esperanto. “We may think that we’re so different from one another,” she opines, “and in some cases we are. But nevertheless there are universal truths that we can tap into if we approach things from a very empathetic matter.”