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Packaging should tell a story. However, far too many brands leave the pages unwritten because they are only looking at packaging from one angle. For some, the priority is reducing packaging costs. Others only focus on creating the boldest style possible. Others simply don’t put any thought into packaging beyond selecting appropriate dimensions. There’s a big opportunity that’s being missed with these approaches. Packaging is an opportunity to increase product value and brand perception in one step. Take a look at four things to consider when making your next packaging purchase if you want to tell your brand’s whole story in a glance.

1. Create an Alliance Between Package and Product

Never view packaging materials by their own merit. The value and benefits of a specific packaging material can only be viewed in relation to the product the packaging will hold. This usually requires some research regarding the durability, breathability, vulnerability and wear patterns of the product that you’re packaging. Here are some questions to ask about a packaging material when shopping around:

  • It is durable enough to hold the product for prolonged periods of time?
  • How does it hold up to different temperatures?
  • Can it be easily scaled to fit products of different sizes and shapes?
  • Is the material ideal for our complete product line?

Many brands get backed into a corner by choosing packaging that has many constraints attached to it. For instance, they may select a packaging option that works for larger items. However, the same materials may not work well for smaller items. This takes the option of having uniformity in packaging off the table. In some cases, packaging that can technically be scaled for other products comes with higher costs once you look into customization.

2. Choose a Philosophy

The idea of choosing a philosophy for your packaging may seem a bit “out there” at first. However, this is a very important aspect of choosing packaging that represents your brand. The very first decision to make comes down to what you want your packaging life cycle to look like. Here are some options to consider:

  • I’d like the packaging to take on a second life in the customer’s home. I want to make boxes so durable and attractive that people use them to store household items and personal belongings for years to come! “The best recycling system is one where, well, you don’t get to the point where you need to recycle at all,” according to recycling expert Finn Arne Jørgensen.
  • I’d like the packaging to be easily recyclable. The packaging will have clear markings instructing customers on how to recycle the materials.
  • I’d like for the packaging to be easily disposable. The packaging can be thrown away easily without the need for customers to do any extra steps. The interaction with the packaging ends with the unboxing experience.
  • I’d like a hybrid packaging option that allows the customer to decide. While the packaging is attractive and durable enough for customers to use it a few more times for alternative purposes, there’s no need to invest the time and cost into creating packaging that is intended to last permanently.

What makes this an important step in the journey of selecting packaging is that “packaging philosophy” directly impacts how your customers will interact with a product. While there is no wrong or right way to choose a packaging philosophy, offering items that can be recycled or repurposed can greatly boost brand appreciation and loyalty among customers. In fact, customers have come to expect non-wasteful packaging. In one survey, more than 80 percent of consumers across the United States, United Kingdom, China and Germany stated that they believe it is a manufacturer’s responsibility to supply sustainable packaging.

3. Anticipate the Product’s Journey

You wouldn’t cross the Atlantic Ocean in an egg carton. Don’t expect your product to make its own epic journey in flimsy, unsuitable packaging. The fact is that far too many brands overestimate the smoothness of air, rail and truck transport. You have to envision that your product will be subject to moisture, extreme temperature shifts, crowding and impact as it’s processed and transported. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing if the package will arrive looking the same way it did when you shipped it off. This is why it’s important to slightly “overprotect” your merchandise. Hopefully, you’re coming to the table with some research and data regarding how your product holds up in various temperatures and conditions. Here are some points to consider when selecting packaging for various products:

  • Do I require food-grade packaging?
  • How much pressure can be applied to the product before it sustains damage?
  • Do I need two different types of packaging to protect components with different resiliency levels?
  • Do I need to include labels regarding keeping perishable or delicate products at specific temperatures?
  • Do I need to include “perishable” labels?
  • How much insulation is needed? Will air exposure compromise the product?
  • Is filler necessary to create a buffer between the product and the walls of the packaging?

Many brands will actually do “test runs” to see how their products stand up to the wear and tear induced by transport using different packaging materials. This can be a good option for smaller brands that don’t necessarily have the capacity for research and development to put their products through extreme tests. While there may be a desire to cut costs and reduce environmental impact by selecting the packaging with the smallest footprint, this can sometimes create higher-than-necessary rates of “send backs.” In addition to eating into your costs, this actually creates more waste due to the extra fuel and packaging needed for returns and replacements.

4. Consider the Unboxing Experience

When you’re selecting packaging, what you’re really doing is preparing for that “big moment” when the consumer gets to finally interact with the eagerly awaited product. Ideally, the package is going to arrive perfectly intact. However, the battle isn’t won just yet just because the package hasn’t been tarnished on the way to the recipient. There is an entire unboxing experience that will follow to determine your customer’s first impression.

First, think about the message that you want the exterior of the box to convey. Do you want a highly branded package that allows everyone from the mail carrier to the person walking their dog down the street to know that something has arrived from YOUR brand? For many brands, huge lettering and oversized logos on packaging really work for brand reinforcement. Other brands like to create a more subtle, homespun look that makes the recipient feel as though they have just received a carefully curated care package from a loved one. There are tons of options like kraft-paper boxes and sleeves that can achieve this!

Next, it’s time to consider the actual process of opening the package. You really want to make this an intuitive process with the lowest amount of frustration possible. During the design process, this is the point where the brand must work with package designers to balance the need to keep a package secure with the desire to avoid a scene where a customer is “stabbing” at the packaging to try to release the product.

It’s very important to link the level of security that you place on a product with the actual protection level needed. If a product is already perceived by a customer as being very sensitive, adding that extra level of protection is appreciated. This can include everything from a very pricey piece of jewelry to an item that requires the purchaser to be 18 years of age. However, creating an overly secure packaging system that includes zip ties or bolts for an “everyday” item can feel excessive.

The key to creating a satisfying unboxing experience is to include “just enough of everything.” While customers want to feel like you have included the proper amount of padding to keep an item secure, they don’t necessarily want to open a box that is overflowing with padding that seems wasteful and excessive. However, finding products floating inside an empty box without any wrapping or padding points to low quality control.

Are You Rethinking Packaging?

Packaging has gone to some exciting places in recent years. The good news for brands looking to think outside the box with their future packaging choices is that it’s never been easier to make customers happy while also keeping a very tight bottom line. The newer eco-friendly and recyclable options out there make it easy to choose lighter products that make everything from sourcing packaging materials to shipping your products less expensive. Even brands that choose to stick with traditional packaging materials will find that there are ways to integrate eco-friendly touches through filler or labeling for increased sustainability.