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Branding and Design: Brands don’t exist without packaging

Personalized versioning is packaging targeted to an individual consumer

It’s day 89 of working from home and I’m finally taking some of this enforced downtime to clean out my inbox – after being guilted into it by colleagues who told me they did it weeks ago. One of my friends had 150,635 unopened emails and was thrilled to finally have the time to go through them.

So naturally, I looked at the number of my unopened emails. I have 1,015. 

Your turn. I’ll wait while you check. (When I ask this question in my live presentations – remember those? – the highest number of unopened emails that someone in the audience has ever had is 47,202.)

Why is the number of your unopened emails relevant to packaging? Because our attention is being pulled in so many different directions that we can’t possibly get through it all. In one day, the average person receives 121 emails and spends 53 minutes scrolling through Instagram and/ or Facebook. That was before the pandemic; in the past few months, social media usage has grown 25 percent; we’re averaging an hour and 20 minutes a day. Plus, we’re bombarded by about 5,000 ads a day. And, by the way, our attention span wasn’t that great to begin with.

Behavioral scientists have determined that the attention span of the average consumer is eight seconds. Let’s put that in perspective: the attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds. A horse’s is seven seconds. We humans are somewhere between a fish and a horse. 

It stands to reason then, that eight seconds is the amount of time brands have to engage consumers. So, what can packaging achieve in eight seconds? Plenty. Brand owners know it, they just need you to show them what’s possible.

When a delivery makes your day 
Packaging has the power to launch products, create brand loyalty, drive brand revenue and create memorable brand moments. I’ll go as far as to say that brands don’t exist without effective packaging. Done well, packaging can entice a consumer to pick a product among hundreds of others – whether off a shelf or from an online line-up. 

And speaking of online shopping, there has never been a better time to elevate the role of packaging. UPS demand for home deliveries increased nearly 10 percent in Q1 2020; Amazon sales in North America increased 29 percent. For millions of people, getting a package delivered has become the highlight of their work from home/ stay-at-home day.

Today more than ever, print and packaging providers have the opportunity to work with their clients in a consultative approach, showing the power of packaging and making sure clients understand what it can do when it comes to consumer engagement. 

When I strategize with brands about packaging and how to create that level of differentiation, I often talk about a technique I call versioning. Versioning exists on a spectrum: on one end you have mass production, where you make a million of one. That is, a million of the same version of a package, label, flexible package – whatever your thing is. On the other end of the spectrum, you have single versions – millions of ones. 

If we start on the mass production side of the spectrum, we move across the continuum to greater levels of customization, from random versioning to affinity versioning to one-of-a-kind, and finally to completely personalized versioning.

The four levels of versioning
There are four level of versioning that I want to explore in greater detail. Random versioning is when you don’t know where a package is going or who the purchaser is. As an example of random versioning, consider the limited-edition M&M packaging released to coincide with last year’s Oscars. The personalized packages have various messages of love, humor, celebration and more. (You can even write your own message.) The idea is that certain versions of those packages will appeal to certain consumers. And while M&M won’t know who they are or how many they buy or how often, the packages are all within the same SKU and share the same brand story – just a slightly different version. 

The next level of customization is affinity versioning. This is about connecting packaging to a specific demographic, geographical area, special event, or a combination of factors. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and consider promotional packaging tied into college American football season. The brand designs and places packaging featuring SEC teams in the southeast, while products featuring the Big 10 are placed in the midwest. Digital print enables brands to create affinity versioning in real time, during the season and playoffs, because of its ability to ramp up fast and produce short runs cost effectively. Consumers are enticed by the packaging that features ‘their team’ and are more likely to pluck it from the shelf or online. 

The next level of customization is one-of-a kind-versioning, where every single package is unique. That means I am the only person in the entire world that has a particular version of a package. King of Pops is a gourmet frozen treats brand with a cult following. For Halloween, it designed five special edition flavors and wrappers. The wrappers had ghosts all over them, but no two were alike. King of Pops sold out of the initial print run of 18,000 and had to make 25,000 more to last until Halloween. It was the first time the company ever sold out of a flavor.

Finally, we get to millions of ones – personalized versioning. This packaging is targeted to an individual consumer and may have even been designed by that consumer. You’re likely familiar with the Share-a-Coke campaign, which began in Australia, with Coke printing the top 150 most popular names onto millions of bottle labels. The campaign has had many variations for personalizing the labels – most popular song lyrics, most popular holiday destinations, favorite sports teams, for example. Today you can visit the online Coke store, choose among several products (Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero) and create your own label for five dollars. Adidas, Oreo, Nike, and many other brands offer similar make-it-your-own campaigns. 

No better time for packaging 
Particularly now, when a package delivery can literally make your day, strong partnerships between designers and print service providers is essential to building brand and consumer connection. Powerful design strategies such as those I’ve described can inspire brands to see the possibilities in packaging innovations for capturing consumer attention, driving engagement, increasing sales, and building brand loyalty. All in eight seconds.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vicki Stull is the branding and design voice for Labels & Labeling. She has 25 years' experience in print, packaging and design. Her work can be found at http://www.vickistrull.com/.

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