Package Well or Pack It In: Why you have to think outside the box (or bag or envelope)
Whether you operate in a world made of 1s and 0s or one constructed with bricks and mortar, your product packaging is the first thing that your customers will see and often the last thing that they will remember. Especially if they’re remembering it for a negative reason. The package sets the tone for your brand, and you’ve got to get it right. Because so many options are available to everyone and no one outlet holds everyone’s attention, you need to use your packaging to help tell your audience what your brand is all about. Even in a digital world that de-emphasizes the physical shopping experience, packaging remains a main player in the ongoing tussle for eyeballs on your brand.
Think about it. As consumers, the brands we use are an extension of our identity. The products we buy today are more than just products: they represent who we are and the values we hold to be true. Doubt it? Head over to Twitter the next time a giant Marvel or DC comic-book based movie come out. People love them or hate them, and they love or hate with a passion. They’re fiercely loyal to billion-dollar ventures that have no practical impact on their lives. But those movies, in some way, represent each and every fan. Marvel vs. DC. Coke vs. Pepsi. Ford vs. Chevy. They’re product choices, but they’re also lifestyle choices.
This philosophy blankets the world of physical products as well. Unless your product is truly unique in the market, there has to be something else that grabs attention. Often, it comes down to values. In some way, we always purchase our values. And when we purchase our values, the brand’s packaging plays the role of reflecting those values back to us from the shelves.
Don’t stick me with a label
Packaging has always been important to brand success. It helps with your positioning, attracts attention, differentiates you from competitors on cluttered retail shelves (or busy websites). In a vacuum, with no outside forces, your package tells people that you’re there. If you do it right, it screams your name to the masses who walk by. But now it has to do so much more.
Today, when we say “packaging,” we’re talking about the whole enchilada, not just the sticker that keeps the enchilada wrapper closed. Packaging today is so much more than a label on a box. We’re talking about the experience of your packaging, from ease of use to the feeling it leaves the buyer.
So much more than feelings
Oh yeah. Feelings. Today’s consumers want an experience. Millennials especially want to feel good about a purchase on a level deeper than “I am happy to have bought a thing I need or want.” They’re looking for meaning. It’s not enough for the product inside to do that job; your have to consider how the packaging factors into that feeling.
For instance, marketing intelligence outfit Mintel recently announced “The Packaged Planet,” a theory that the world’s consumers will soon embrace product packaging that will serve a purpose greater than simply delivering the products inside. Mintel thinks that product packaging could soon be a way to reduce food and other waste on a global scale. If your packaging can be used to make food stay fresher longer, or be multi-purposed to displace garbage some other way, our more modern consumers will feel good about supporting your brand. Ultimately, it’s the product inside that will decide whether that consumer comes back to your brand or not, but if you need a differentiator? It can’t hurt to use your package to make the buyers feel good about their decisions. And major brands seem to agree.
Coke’s World Without Waste initiative, the company’s plan to recycle a bottle or can for every one they sell by 2030, is a direct use of packaging to make the consumer feel good about the choice. McDonald’s is one-upping Coke by going fully sustainable with packaging by 2025.
It’s packaging as brand message. “This is what we’re about (in addition to clowns and polar bears!) and you can be about it, too!” Giving your consumers the ability to eat your water bottle when it’s empty sends a clear message.
Commerce is art, maaaaaaan
If going feel-good and big-picture emotional isn’t your brand’s speed, get clever on a practical level. Use your package to show off your literal think-outside-the-box (or bag or sleeve) mentality. More and more, we’re seeing designers be experimental and take bigger creative risks with innovative and whimsical packaging solutions, creating containers that consumers might want to keep long after the whiskey or beef jerky inside is gone. Imagine it: Your “box” proudly displayed in consumers’ homes and shared with their communities. Package designs that are unexpected, wildly unique and fun, counter-worthy, endlessly social-media-sharable — this is winning the war. If you can get people talking about your packaging, you’ve kind of already won.
That said, you also want the potential buyer to know what you’re talking about. Bells and whistles will make people whistle, but the actual message is what they’ll remember. So make sure your unique selling proposition is loud and clear. The package might transform from a box into a robot butterfly, but it needs to also tell people loudly and clearly what is inside and what makes it great.
To recap: Make the package cool enough to draw people in. Make sure they instantly know what’s inside. Make sure they know why they need what is inside. Easy, right?
Package right or pack it in
As always, millennials are dictating the trends that brands are clocking toward in 2018. They have the buying power, they have the options, and they are only loyal if they’re given reason to be loyal. Consumers, especially those in that oh-so-lovely 18–34 age bracket, are now demanding higher standards of design, especially when it comes to issues pertaining to the environment and sustainability. They are forcing the market to adapt to a better way of doing business, and that’s something we hope is a lasting shift in the packaging industry.