It used to be that you could walk into any liquor store and, based on price and appearance, be able to quickly discern the premium players from the standard players. The codes of premium were well-established in packaging design — embellished glass, tall bottles, elaborate closures and applied-color instead of paper labels. These visual cues established an aspirational image for many brands that warranted a higher price point — and consumers bought it. Premium, in this sense, was differentiating.

Today, things have changed. We are witnessing a dramatic evolution of premium, making it more challenging than ever to justify the coveted premium price point. On one end, we have the rise of “masstige,” mainstream brands adopting the appearance of premium brands but at a lower price point. On the other end, we have luxury brands developing starter lines that are offering consumers a luxury-brand experience at an accessible price point. The result is a muddy middle, where premium brands are struggling to define a differentiated, yet elevated experience that is accessible but also worthy of a slightly higher price. It can be confusing.

For more than 20 years, Spring Design Partners has been helping brands connect with consumers. In that time, we have seen our fair share of “premium” assignments where the objective was to enhance the perceived value of the product in order to garner a higher price point.

The thinking was that a premium perception translates to higher perceived value, and a higher perceived value justifies a higher price point. This was a legitimate formula and one that established many successful premium brands across the consumer packaged goods (CPG) universe. Yet, as observers from the inside, we understood that premium wasn’t just about perceived value — it was really about consumer aspiration, and its job was to bring that aspiration to life through design.

As we face the new challenges to the premium of today, it all comes back to aspiration. We believe that premium will be inextricably linked to aspiration until the end of time. The key to establishing a premium brand is to understand and tap into consumer aspiration.

For many years, image and aspiration went hand-in-hand. These were great years for the CPG world, as many brands simply leveraged their packaging design to create an image that consumers would covet.

Today, this tactic is wearing thin. Image has become superficial and lacks the authenticity that many consumers seek out in brands. Substance is desired over the superficial, and consumers are looking for brands like themselves; brands that demonstrate passion and conviction and form a strong and uniquely personal identity. What better way to express conviction than through disruption?

We believe that the emerging premium brands of the future will be the disruptive brands.

Voss Artesian Water demonstrated the value of disruption in establishing a premium perception when it launched in the United States in 2002. Introduced in a unique cylindrical bottle, Voss is a premium brand was built on a desire to be different; a lofty task and one that creates great challenges, especially when dealing with the commodity of bottled water. However, Voss has remained successful in maintaining its premium status as it expands and grows.

Yet, the pathway for disruption needs to begin in the brand’s authentic origins.

Most recently, Spring Design Partners worked with Voss to launch a flavored sparkling water line that demonstrates how a disruptive approach to new product innovation can aid in maintaining a premium perception. Rather than take the traditional approach to flavored water, all aspects of the new line extension were approached differently.

Most significant was how the new extension integrates into the distinctive Voss look and feel with its cylindrical glass and monotone, understated color-identity, while at the same time delivering bold disruption through a new pearl cap and bold color illustrations. The new extension pays homage to the established vernacular of Voss’ past, while clearly moving the brand forward.

The results have been promising. Voss Flavored Sparkling Water has achieved a new definition of premium by combining daring boldness with respect for the past. This disruptive approach evolves with consumer aspiration.

A new rulebook of premium is being written, and it’s raising the bar for premium brands across all categories.