Establishing an emotional connection through package design

Creating an Emotional Connection Through Package Design

Successful packaging for consumer product and licensed brands not only fosters attention and an emotional buy response out of the gate but satisfies consumers’ unconscious need to identify who they are by the brands they choose and to get “emotional validation” from them after they make a purchase. Powerful packaging leads to consumer adoption of the brand as a means of self-expression. Just how important is consumer emotion before and after purchase?

According to a scholarly article published in the Journal of Applied Packaging Research: “A history of marketing reflects the directive that ’emotion leads to action.’ Indeed, studies have shown that 95% of thinking is unconsciously realized where consumers make purchasing decisions based on emotion rather than rational thought. In addition to being emotionally driven, research has found that decision making occurs in brief phasic events, approximately 2.5 seconds in length.”

2.5 seconds doesn’t give marketers much time to make their case to consumers. It’s a challenge but it’s also a great opportunity. Packaging is visual and it makes the brand tangible. Consumers have a visceral reaction to it and they will reach out and touch it if we make it compelling. If we leverage the unique assets of the brand in a riveting, emotive manner, the consumer will hone in on it to the exclusion of everything else on the shelf.

The importance of a compelling brand story

The cultural and experiential values attached to a brand with a distinct personality have meaning and if that meaning is felt deeply enough and ascribed to by a group of consumers, the brand becomes essential to them. So the ultimate challenge for packaging is to deliver the brand story in a convincing manner – within seconds. Astonishingly, too few brands are creating and delivering authentic, meaningful stories based on defined values, in spite of all that we know about consumers’ emotional need states. Too few are being inspired by brands that have become classics and cultural icons with cult-like followings. The human brain is hard-wired, not to facts and features, but to a good story.

However, not all brand stories create lasting impact. If they’re focused on creating a lifestyle image, restless consumers might adopt them for a time, but then they’ll inevitably move on to another brand that captures their imaginations and fits that lifestyle. A compelling story is memorable and connecting, human to human, and it is in the humanization and personality of a brand that lives by a core set of values, that deeper, more enduring connections are made. Smart brands wisely invite consumers to write part of the story and to live the brand on a deeper level. Communities are built around brands like these which are represented by a design language and aesthetics that drive emotion.

Why does all of this matter so much? According to Forrester Research, 89% of consumers feel little emotion or personal connection to brands that they purchase. No emotion, no loyalty. And for those marketers who think that consumer satisfaction, that is, delivering on the brand promise is sufficient, think again. According to Gallup published research: “If you don’t make an emotional connection with customers, then satisfaction is worthless.” This is a wake-up call for brands.

Great design delivers emotion before and after purchase.

Donald Norman, director of The Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, is respected for his thought-provoking books and articles. In “Emotional Design,” Norman’s argument is that “the emotional side of design may be more critical to a product’s success than its practical elements.” He observes that there are ” three different aspects of design: visceral, behavioral and reflective.” Visceral design is about physical appearance. Behavioral design concerns itself with the pleasure and effectiveness around the use of the product. Reflective design involves the rationalization and intellectualization of the product by the consumer. Norman notes that these three things are interwoven in any design and that they go to the heart of emotion followed by cognition. Package design that leverages beauty, fun, enjoyment or another positive emotion is transferred to the product in consumers’ hearts – and then their minds.

In “Emotional Design,” Norman recalls a radio show in which he took part with designer Michael Graves a few years ago. Norman had criticized Graves’ rooster teapot as being difficult to use. While on the air, a caller chastised him by remarking on the beauty of the design. “I love my teapot. When I wake up in the morning and stumble across the kitchen to make my cup of tea, it always makes me smile.” There is deep insight here. Note that the consumer not only purchased the product because of its beauty of design in which the packaging would have played a definite role, but that afterward, his use of the product continued to reinforce his decision by giving him pleasure on a daily basis. This overcame any difficulties he experienced in his use of the teapot! Marketers talk about mind share but is it more important than heart share?

Conclusion: aesthetics and emotions can surpass functionality in importance for consumers. As Norman points out: “Usable designs are not necessarily enjoyable to use.” I would add that they likely won’t inspire many consumers to purchase them, either. What does all of this have to do with packaging? Everything. To consumers, the package is the product. The emotions and connections conveyed by packaging are transferred to the product within. If they are strong and enduring they make the brand transcendent, especially if they deliver continued enjoyment.

Delivering the brand visually through package design

The relationship between consumer and brand is formed by several layers of connection: brand story, brand personality and aesthetics that form a unique language, verbal and visual. They must come together synergistically in product and on packaging to deliver an emotional punch.

New, robotic toys fascinate kids and adults alike. But what if a brand came along with a cutting edge, new concept in artificial intelligence? How could it be packaged to cut through all of the latest, high tech gadgetry in the marketplace in an emotive manner? Enter in the ground-breaking Cozmo, palm-sized robot by Anki, shipping this fall. YouTube reviewers have characterized this super-computer dynamo as “a Pixar character come to life.” They’ve stated that gaming with Cozmo is more like playing with a pet than squaring off against a computer. But the question is how could consumers possibly know that unless they tune in to YouTube or tech bloggers’ sites? Answer: the packaging.

Cinco Design’s packaging solution is deceptively simple. Brand colors are crisp white across the bottom of the package and bright yellow across the top with an easily removed outer sleeve. The small robot sits on a “platform,” clearly visible on three sides. Beneath the platform appears the product name: Cozmo, followed by one of the shortest, most effective brand stories ever. “Big brain. Bigger personality.” Immediately, consumers can see that this isn’t your average robotic toy. There’s more to Cozmo. The expression in his eyes is attention-grabbing. The left side panel telegraphs the story featuring a riveting visual of Cozmo with a different expression in his eyes. The Anki brand name appears on the top of the visual and that is all. Consumer-to-Cozmo “eye contact” will trigger an emotional response and a deep sense of enjoyment; no doubt about it.

The right side panel of the package tells us that Cozmo is “almost human;” that this robot evolves and uncannily meshes with his owner’s personality. Cozmo learns from experience, explores his surroundings, studies his owner, and he’s clever. We also learn that this is a high tech “toy” that isn’t technical to use; in fact, it’s quite simple when the app is downloaded. Cozmo has three cubes to play with solo or he can engage in games with his owner. The back panel of the package informs us that Cozmo has “a mind of its own” and let’s us know that he’s likely to pull surprises on us. No dry facts here, just enticing insights into the robot’s personality. How human does Cozmo seem?

This is packaging that sells the product; it hits every key point of effective marketing: brand personality, brand story, aesthetics and simple but effective visual and verbal brand communication. It doesn’t matter that Cozmo costs $180. Consumers will have to have this item. More importantly, the brand itself will become a “must have”, not because it delivers on its promise, but because it provides profound enjoyment which satisfies a deep emotional need. YouTube unboxing and product review videos attest to that. Excellent design attests to that.

Leveraging package design to connect on an emotional level

Some of you are thinking that the Cozmo packaging example might be unusually emotive and connecting given the nature of the product itself. How can consumer brands in other categories deliver the same emotional punch via packaging? Well, how do KIND, LEGO, Apple, Disney, Gillette and Corona accomplish the same thing? I submit that a well-developed package design strategy and brilliant creative execution play a huge role in the success of all of these brands.

Can marketers simply rely on delivering a quality product anymore? Or should they be focusing just as much on package design to deliver the brand in a manner that deeply satisfies consumers’ emotional needs? You tell me.

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