What if Packaging was the Only Marketing Tool You Had?

For many start-ups and small brands unable to afford advertising, packaging is the only marketing tool they’ve got. You know what? That’s a good thing. Larger brands become preoccupied with advertising online and in traditional media, with promotions, social media sites and distribution into more channels. As a result, package design often gets short shrift; that is, less attention and fewer marketing dollars, to the detriment of the brand.

Packaging delivers brands into consumers’ hands like nothing else can. It’s real and tangible. It can be held, examined and placed into shopping carts. Consumer interaction with packaging usually clinches a purchase decision. Package design, done well, reinforces the value of the brand in consumers’ minds. It makes it more desirable than all of its competitors in the category; crucial when there’s likely not much perceived difference among products. Thus it elevates the value of the product inside. But in order for that to happen, packaging has to be compelling or it goes unseen.

Success through package structure design

Great package design delivers brands in a unique manner that’s buzz-worthy, garnering considerable free publicity. The POM brand made its mark not through advertising, but through package design. Remember that they market a basic product: juice. But there’s nothing banal about its packaging. POM Wonderful packaging created a stir of excitement and drove people to the brand. Sure it helps that POM offers an antioxidant-packed, healthy juice but so do other brands; yet POM has become a leader and its success has been driven largely by its packaging.

POM’s distinctive double-curved bottle is iconic and its new product packaging is just as unique and innovative. When the company launched three new tropical juice blends a couple of years ago, their press release announced it in this manner: “POM Wonderful® 100% Pomegranate Juice, the leading premium refrigerated juice, takes a bold step in innovating the category by powering up the produce aisle with a re-imagination of Tropical Blends: POM Hula, POM Mango and POM Coconut.”

Reimagining juice also led to reimagining packaging which is obviously part of the POM brand DNA. The top curve of each package features the pomegranate, its crown clearly visible beneath the bottle cap. Simple verbal communication describes each juice blend: “50% POM 30% Pineapple”, “40% POM 40% Mango” and “30% POM 60% Coconut Water”. The bottom curve of each package respectively morphs into a hula skirt, a mango and a coconut corresponding to each blend. This deft use of visual brand communication delivers the brand in a meaningful, decisive manner.

There are plenty of other brands that fully leverage their packaging to take full advantage of its power besides often-cited leaders like Apple or Method. So what’s effective for packaging success? Keeping packaging simple but sophisticated. Going for unusual package structures and package design architecture. Ensuring that it will generate buzz and PR by creating a memorable, exciting experience that consumers will want to share. Using packaging as an impetus to build a community around the brand. Creating a unique visual and verbal language proprietary to the brand to deliver value in a manner in which competing brands don’t do. Integrating package design into the brand DNA.

Make package design the first marketing initiative, not the last

To be most effective, package design needs to be planned from the outset – as new products are planned – and as part of an overall marketing strategy.  If product packaging is lackluster and needs to be refreshed, there’s an opportunity to rethink its design in order to make the brand more compelling.

Wild Turkey’s refreshed packaging for its bourbon and rye whiskies gets to the core of its legacy brand in a decisive manner. There’s no doubt that these categories are very popular and highly competitive, and no doubt that Wild Turkey has a strong cadre of fans, but the brand had more potential to attract new fans. Heritage and authenticity are vital for a brand that relies primarily on its packaging to do its marketing.

Deep red faux tax strips feature gold foil lettering to denote the kind of whiskey contained in each bottle, along with the verbal brand communication: “Crafted with conviction”.” Further brand communication appears embossed into the glass near the bottom of the bottles: “Bold. Genuine. True.” The labels feature realistic drawings of turkeys on each bottle in the product range. These illustrations were rendered by professional wildlife artist, Julie Rhodes, who worked in painstaking detail with the National Wild Turkey Federation to ensure the authenticity of her hand-crafted drawings, and they’re magnificent. Package design with label illustrations say “handcrafted with care and authenticity like the product”.”

Wild Turkey’s refreshed packaging goes to the heart of the brand, delivering clear value to the consumer. Eddie Russell, son of founder Jimmy Russell, said it best: “We wanted the new packaging to capture the hard work, craftsmanship and heart that goes into making Wild Turkey. My father and I have been making whiskey the same way for over 60 years. From hand selecting the grain, to bottling the liquid and everything in between, we make sure our product is made the right way, the traditional way, at every single stage. We’re proud of our whiskey, and we’re glad to have packaging that embodies that.”

The approach that Wild Turkey took for its retooled packaging points the way for many consumer product brands whose packaging currently misses the mark. The secret to strong package design refreshes is to make certain that the brand’s equitable assets are retained and then further strengthening them by creating an ownable, unique visual and verbal language, as Wild Turkey did. Ask yourself whether this new packaging will call attention to the brand among the many varieties of whiskey on retailers’ shelves. You know the answer.

Doing things differently with toy packaging

Many people think that children’s toy packaging is pretty formulaic. That isn’t true. New ground is being broken by adventurous brands every day, fully leveraging package design to market their brands in a convincing manner. PR drives interest in small brands at events like Toy Fair, a trade show which is held every February in New York City. Industry experts and toy bloggers jump on the coolest new toys and bring them to the attention of the world. Visuals of new toys and toy packaging in social media makes a powerful impression and get consumers excited about their imminent release in retail stores and online.

A highlight of Toy Fair last year was the Lammily Doll, the brainchild of artist Nikolay Lamm. Mr. Lamm had sketched a more true-to-life doll and positioned it next to a Barbie doll for an art project. The sketch went viral and people began to ask for the doll. Working with a former Mattel manufacturing executive, Lamm launched the doll, whose proportions and size portray an average, realistic American 19 year-old. Lammily is a shorter, fuller-figured version of Barbie and she doesn’t dress like a fashion icon but like an average young woman with less makeup and a more natural look. After the launch of his first doll, Lamm added dolls with new body types and skin tones to appeal to an even larger group of girls.

Lamm’s packaging, like his doll, is unique and tells the story while giving a nod to her origin. Water-color illustrations portray the original Lammily doll clad in a blue shirt and roll-up denim shorts walking on a path surrounded by lush scenery and carrying a suitcase filled with travel decals. The doll itself rests on a removable panel inside of the packaging so that she can be easily removed from the twist ties that hold her in place. The inside panel, like the outside of the packaging, features soft watercolor artwork. This is unique packaging in the fashion doll category; it’s a stand-out and it makes the brand a stand-out. There’s been plenty of buzz about Lammily, most of it positive and enthusiastic and all generated by a toy and its unique brand packaging.

On the tech side of things, another hit of the show and with bloggers was an exciting new toy called Bloxels, which cleverly mixes blocks with pixels, utilizing an app that enables kids to create their own video games. Parent company Pixel Press based in St. Louis, Missouri developed the game, billing it as “The most kid-friendly video game creation platform, ever.” On a small board, players place blocks, which are color-coded to stand for different things: green for walls, blue for villains, white for doors, etc. There are 250 different blocks to choose from so that kids can build whatever kind of video game they’d like to. After the game board is finished, it is photographed with a tablet or smartphone to create a 3D version on their app so that kids can play their new game with their friends. The games that are created can be edited and changed or scrapped to develop entirely new games. Not only do Bloxels engage kids who love video games, the toy begins to teach the basics of coding using color and simple concepts that can easily be grasped. Due to that, classroom learning kits and lesson plans appear on the brand web site. Parents and teachers will easily endorse a toy like this that combines exciting play with real learning.

Bloxels provides kids a chance to show off their personality, passion, creativity and skills,” said Daniel Wiseman, founder and Creative Director.  “By becoming a Bloxels Builder, you are the artist, the game designer, the storyteller, the programmer, the publisher and the player.”

The packaging for the product is simple and extremely effective. The black game-building board with its multi-colored blocks appears in the center of the front panel, with the Bloxels logo at the center of the image. The white background subtly shows a grid pattern based on the game board architecture. Beneath the imagery, simple verbal brand communication sums up the toy neatly in a fun typeface: “Build Your Own Video Games”.” The side panel of the packaging gives a verbal and visual listing of the contents of the package. Across from that, the Bloxels logo appears again with the brand web site listed beneath it. Nothing else is required, including advertising.

What we can learn from Apple’s marketing strategies

It seems to me that, even as brands grow, they should continue to leverage the power of packaging to the max and, rather than advertise, they might consider using some smart PR tactics to generate buzz and interest in their new products.

So why not tease consumers via social media and drop hints to the press about a hot new product that’s about to be unveiled while simultaneously being secretive about the details? Why not promise an unveiling date to build anticipation, and generate press? Then, why not wow everybody with not only product but packaging that delivers value, uniqueness and enjoyment during its presentation? And why not offer consumers an opportunity to pre-order the first round of products due to “limited supply”? For added buzz creation, why not send influential bloggers each a product and let them light up the blogosphere with their enthusiasm? That’s what Apple does.

That’s product and packaging working hand in glove for the brand, and, you guessed it: No advertising required.

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