August 8, 2023

Unboxing Your Packaging Strategy

Aside from its protective factor, it is also another opportunity to tell the story of your brand in a way that invites your customer on a journey. The journey of a customer from unboxing to picking your product off of the shelf, can either be an experience – or a simple transaction.

Let’s discuss why there should be a strategy behind your packaging and how to get started on your own.

Packaging strategy: Unleashing the “Wow Factor” for Your Product!

A packaging strategy is a comprehensive plan of how your brand will create, design, and implement a packaging solution for your product. It involves a thoughtful and purposeful approach to how the product will be presented to your target audience, from the choice of materials to the shape of the packaging, from the design aesthetics to the functional aspects of the packaging.

The main goal of a packaging strategy is to align its design with the overall business objectives and marketing goals of the brand. It takes into consideration various factors, including the target market, the product’s positioning, competition, budget constraints, and sustainability considerations.

Why Your Brand Needs a Packaging Strategy

Taking a strategic approach to how your product is packaged gives you the opportunity to design how customers will experience your product and, ultimately, your brand. From the moment they see it on the shelf or unbox it at home, they should get a sense of your company.

The impression of your brand is multiplied by how customers interact with the package it’s housed in. If your company promotes “sustainability” and reducing single-use plastics, it’s a good idea to seek an alternative to an unrecyclable plastic bottle. If you’re thinking strategically, you can experiment with biodegradable labels, non-toxic inks, recycled plastics, or other materials as the main container of your product.

Don’t just play lip service to customers, thinking about your values down to the last detail fosters a deeper connection with your target audience.

Where does a Packaging Strategy Start?

Your strategy should always start by looking at your customer.

Who are they? What do they enjoy? What do they value? Where do they shop?

Answering these questions before you start the design process will help you gain inspiration and insight into how to design the label for your product.

One example of a company that does this well is Liquid Death.

Liquid Death’s Brilliant Packaging

In the beginning, liquid death was kind of meant as a joke. According to an interview with CNBC, the creator, Mike Cessario, was Inspired at Vans Warped Tour in 2009. While attending the event he saw musicians that were drinking out of Monster cans, but they’d replaced the energy drink with water to stay hydrated during their sets.

As a graphic designer, punk rock music fan, and advocate for healthier drinks, he thought that there should be a healthy alternative to staying hydrated that should be marketed like Monster Energy. He created what he thought would be a niche packaging design that would catch on with punk-rock musicians and any of their sober fans looking to keep up while drinking something healthier than alcohol or sugary energy drinks.

Because he knew his customer so well, he was able to create a design that spoke to those people, with a melting skull and “kill your thirst” as a tagline.

Liquid Death Packaging Design

Liquid Death’s punk rock branding, and alternative packaging (most waters came in plastic bottles at this time) served as a powerful tool to gain a cult following that permeated into the mainstream.

Creating a successful packaging strategy isn’t just luck, it is a process with some key components.

Key Components of a Packaging Strategy

There are four components to creating a successful packaging strategy. In the rest of this article, we are going to show you why these components are important so that you can use this process to create a successful strategy of your own.

  1. Understanding your target audience
  2. Understanding the landscape
  3. Storytelling Through Design
  4. Choosing the correct vessel

Understanding Your Customer Values

Using Liquid Death as an example, if you know who your customer is and design something that speaks directly to them, you have a chance of finding success.

Understanding your customer comes down to one thing. Research.

Men’s hair care brand, Gravallese, did a ton of research before creating their line of men’s grooming products. The creator, Vincent Gravallese, came from a family of barbers before opening a shop of his own. For years he experimented with different products in the shop. One thing he began to realize was that patrons and their partners didn’t like the “crunchy hair” look and “dry scalp” concerns were common among men.

Gravallese Model Photo

Gravallese took a deeper look into the ingredients in most pomades and was shocked at what he saw. “Most of these ingredients contained microplastics and petroleum products.  I was stunned that the ingredients I was reading about were on lists of products to most likely cause cancer and had serious impacts on our water supply and the earth.”

The ingredients he began to craft his pomades with had natural ingredients and wouldn’t cause irritation to the scalp like the others did, and the natural ingredients left the hair feeling soft after you washed out the product getting rid of the crunchy hair complaint.

He hired Commence to create the packaging and branding that spoke directly to the customers he saw inside his barbershop. Gentlemen that cared about how they looked, their body’s health, and the world they lived in.

Packaging Design for Gravallese

There’s a saying, “If you’re talking to everybody, then you’re talking to nobody”. When doing research you’ll need to find out everything you can about what your customer wants. You can do that by conducting interviews, surveys, and observing.

Once you’ve done the research and feel comfortable, you should use it to create what’s called a buyer persona. A buyer persona, also called a customer avatar or audience profile, is a fictitious character that you create to help you better understand your customer. Your persona should define the values, wants, needs, and more of your desired customer. There are plenty of resources out there to help you create personas, check out this one from HubSpot that includes a free template.

Once you’ve identified your target, it will make it easier for you to tailor your content, messaging, product development, and services to meet the specific needs, of your audience.

Understanding The Competitive Landscape

“Where do I stand out amongst competitors?”

If you’re competing for shelf space like other CPG brands then standing out is important. One brand that did just that was Chobani, the yogurt brand.

Before they rebranded, Chobani looked exactly the same as competitors in the refrigerated aisle. Everyone had a white, plastic container that had pictures of fruits across the label. Chobani’s Chief Creative Officer, Leland Maschmeyer, decided that they needed to differentiate themselves.

Chobani side by side packaging updates

The first change for Chobani was they traded in their glossy label for one that was matte finished. Why? Because it felt different in customers’ hands.

Chobani painted fruit packaging

Next, they removed photos of fruit and replaced the label with earthy tones and hand-painted illustrations of fruit to celebrate the imperfections and the natural ingredients used in their product.

For some brands, the ingredients might be the star of the packaging. For others, it might be the process of how the product is created. The point we’re trying to make is that you need to find some way to stand out from the crowd. One way of doing that is custom-branded merchandise.

Storytelling through design

Packaging is your brand’s opportunity to tell its story. While ads, emails, social media, and websites are ways to market your product, packaging should be thought of as another marketing tool. Packaging should align with the brand’s overall marketing and promotional efforts to reinforce the message and create a cohesive brand experience.

While you’re working with a smaller canvas that doesn’t mean you can’t take full advantage of the wrapping your product comes in.

For example, the Direct to Consumer (DTC) brand, Our Place, does more than ship your pan after your order. Upon delivery, they create an experience that makes customers excited to unbox their product and start cooking.

From the moment you get the pan you’re greeted with messaging that is unique to Our Place. It creates excitement that pushes you to open the box the moment you receive it.

Our place pans packaging

Once you do you’ll find a pamphlet that highlights the brand’s story, how to care for your pan, and recipes to get you started. Complete with a QR code that links to their website and social channels, the brand is inviting you to stay connected and share your experiences online.

Another great representation of this is Barnacle Foods. A kelp-based food company approached Commence Studio with a packaging design idea for their bullwhip hot sauce. The brief was “feature a salty seaman and the Bullwhip Kelp ingredients”. Commence pitched an illustration of a salty female character to represent the primarily women-led company.

Barnacle Foods character drawn by Commence Studio
Barnacle foods packaging design by commence studio

The new hot sauce label and female character were a hit, and Barnacle wanted to build off this momentum!

Commence created labels for all 16 core products each featuring unique illustrations of original characters, Alaskan landscapes, and signature ingredients. The artwork illustrated around the bottles and jars builds on the brand’s narrative and encourages customers to pick up and turn them to discover more around the bend.

Choosing the correct vessel

Earlier we mentioned something about choosing the right vessel for your product. I.e. if you represent sustainability don’t choose plastic, choose an alternative that supports that mission. Your packaging strategy should include a container that will protect the product, of course, but it’s also an opportunity to stand out as well.

Take Califia for example. If you’re not familiar with them, they make alternative milk.

Think almond, oat, pea, etc. For generations, milk had come in a few different packages. Glass bottles, milk cartons, or milk jugs.

Cailifa went with something different from the traditional. Their iconic bottle has a screw-off top and bottle shape that is anything but ordinary.

Califia lineup of products

They’re a great example that the shape of what you put your product in can change the game of standing out on the shelf.

Building a Sustainable Packaging Strategy

Now that you know the components of a packaging strategy, you might be asking yourself, “What do I do now?” Our recommendation is to start studying your customers and your product.

First, list the unique characteristics of your product. Those are the things you’re going to want to highlight in your packaging

Next, you’ll research your customers. Get out and talk to people who you think would like your product. Hell, go full Costco and start handing out free samples and listen to what people think. That’s going to be some of the most important information.

Then, combine the research you’ve gotten into an idea that will display those differentiators, tell your company’s story, and makes your product irresistible when they see it on the shelf.

To make your packaging a sustainable process as you expand into additional products, implementing design systems will help make that work scalable.

Packaging Design Services

Working with professional designers can take some of the load off of you while you focus on other areas of your business. At Commence Studio, we’ve supplied countless CPG brands with branding and packaging services to help them create sustainable packaging solutions.