The Outer Wrapping Is Just The Beginning

July 6, 2015

A package’s design has about the same amount of time to grab your attention as we do to entice you to read this story: just a few seconds.

By Ilene Wolff

We’re all sparring for a consumer’s attention in our overbooked world of too much to do in too little time, whether it’s in their buying a bottle of shampoo or whiskey, or opening a B2B direct mail piece. That’s why packaging designers have become pop psychologists. Armed with knowledge about preferences based on gender, age, and even geography, these largely unsung marketers employ construction and interactive techniques they hope will grab you. They know that once a package’s outer dress has hooked your attention, their client has a chance to reel you in and get you to sniff a scented sticker, peel away a peek-flap, scan a QR code, or visit a personalized URL for more information.

If marketers can get you involved, there’s a much greater chance of landing the catch. If not, you’ll move on along the retailer’s shelf or to the next piece of mail in the pile.

That’s why your product packaging should be front and center and not an afterthought: It’s the best way to get you noticed by your customers.

Who gets it?

So, how do you produce an attention-grabbing package?

“Ask yourself who’s going to buy this product,” says Carol Quade (KWAY-dee), creative director for Impress Creative in Bay City, Michigan. “Who’s the person it’s going to be marketed to?”

For one client’s B2B direct mail package, Impress Creative decided to market to the end recipient’s inner child, daring to buck the rules even though it was selling a financial services firm to potential business clients—potentially a pretty dry setting.

Not this time. The firm mailed three small containers of Play-Doh® in a generic white corrugated cardboard box, with a heavy card stock sleeve that was four-color printed, scored, and glued. It bore the message: “We play with a lot of dough. Look inside to see how we make business a little more fun.” The financial services company’s name was also printed on the sleeve, but in a font that looked as though the letters were made of modeling clay.

“Part of the reason why we did this with a sleeve is we could put a variable label on it,” says Quade, explaining that digital printing variable labels makes the package hyper-specific to the recipient. “That’s the goal, to really tailor it to who you’re sending it to. Personally, I think they’re (the recipient) more apt to open it.”

In addition to the Play-Doh, the box held a card letting the recipient know he would receive a call from the sender, and, if the call resulted in a sales presentation meeting being scheduled, the recipient would receive a $100 gift card or equivalent donation to a children’s charity.

Quade agrees that age, gender, and geographic location of the targeted receiver play an important part in the package design process. They help accomplish the goal of surprising and delighting the recipient or buyer.

Quade mentions another B2B mailer package, designed for a company that services credit unions with ATMs. The piece was a clear tube with plastic caps, made to look like the containers financial institutions use in their drive-through banking pneumatic tube systems. Inside was a flyer with a personalized URL (PURL) directing the recipient to visit the financial institution’s website, which had a call to action intended to drum up business. Also inside was a pen rattling around, using sound as a way to pique even more interest.

The Cadillac of packaging

Mark Sng (SING), director of marketing for Neenah Packaging, Alpharetta, Georgia, is an expert on how paper’s texture, color, and weight play into luxury branding. All of these factors, and more, affect the entire user experience of opening a box, something Sng refers to as the “unveiling process.”

“How a person opens a box is an indication of quality,” he says. “A well-designed package will self-guide the user through the process of unboxing, while simultaneously creating a sense of anticipation for what’s inside.”

Sng says, “The quality of the paper, its texture and color, helps create a memorable experience.” Heavier weight paper indicates luxury, and Sng sees a current high demand from clients for the more robust stock.

For example, Sng points to Maker’s Mark® whiskey, a high-end brand in the brown liquor family. The bottle’s label paper is uncoated matte stock and has a textured, craft-type finish that denotes history and heritage, he says.

“The key phrase we use is high-touch,” Sng says. “Textured labels tell a handcrafted story.”

Sng, who has a focus on beer and spirits packaging, says that while some brews really are small-batch and made by hand, other so-called craft brews are actually overseen by national conglomerates, although you’d never know it from outside appearances. That’s where bottle shape, label design, and the quality of the paper stock play their part.

When it comes to packaging color, Sng says gold foil really commands attention, and is used mostly in the beauty industry. Luxury brands also continue to be interested in pearlescent papers and inks for an accent or pop-in color.

Color even becomes part of a company’s brand. For example, consider the iconic Tiffany turquoise.

“Even if you didn’t put that brand name on the box or the bag, the color still denotes luxury,” Sng says.

Interestingly, Tiffany uses a shiny, coated paper for its boxes, but Neenah supplies uncoated paper for its bags. “It adds a certain tactile and weight dimension that a coated paper would not,” Sng explains.

Although some colors, like Tiffany turquoise, have become part of the brand, current trends favor achromatic colors such as whites, browns, and blacks, because they are more natural and organic. Sng says, “I think you could almost argue, is it a trend or is it here to stay?”

Newly added to Neenah’s product line-up are five fashion-forward box wrap colors that are inspired by Pantone’s 10 spring 2015 colors. These Pantone colors, in turn, take their cues from nature: all have a warm, soft, subtle effect, Sng points out.

He advises learning the tricks of the packaging trade and employing them to your best advantage. “Anything that you can gain over your competition helps, whether it’s the shape of a bottle or the texture of a label,” he says.

Remember, the clock is always ticking: You have only a few seconds to make the right impression—and the sale.