Packaged, Sealed and Delivered: 5 Tips for Impactful Packaging
First impressions are a topic we talk about often, and it’s no different when we think about packaging. Visit any grocery store or Target, for example, and it’s clear that brands are competing for attention on already crowded shelves. With so many options now available, we’ve become frozen in indecision. Are we really choosing the best almond milk? When it comes down to it, we’ve ultimately (and admittedly) picked one brand over another because we couldn’t resist its packaging design, and we’re betting you’ve done the same.
We spoke with three experts, including Christine Achtermeier, business manager for Indirect Channel at Outlook Group, Neenah, Wis.; Randy Barron, director of product innovation at Distinct Packaging, Purchase, N.Y.; and Dan Shedd, president of Taylor Box Company, Warren, R.I., on the topic of packaging and what distributors need to know. Here are their best tips.
1. Build brand awareness
A consumer might know the product, but what about the brand behind it? Think of this as an opportunity to bring your customer’s story to the forefront. For Barron, that starts with packaging.
“What we are seeing are more small and medium businesses recognizing the importance of brand awareness and the impact it has on their current and potential customers,” he observed. “With this in mind, they are starting to experiment with branding their packaging (shipping boxes, mailer boxes, bags and tissue paper). Everyone opens a box that is mailed to them, so to get that customer to remember who sent it to them is important.
“The trend is to be able to have access to shorter-run, quick turnaround, affordable, customized products so they do not have to sell the farm to create customized boxes,” Barron continued. “They can get short-run, quick turnaround (about seven to 10 business days) packaging and send these to their top clients to drive special promotions and marketing programs.”
2. Know the trends
Before approaching prospects, it’s important to know what’s trending in the sector. According to Achtermeier, distributors can expect to see sustainability gaining additional ground within the next six years. She even shared a distinctive finding with us.
“A recent report by Researchandmarkets.com predicts that demand for sustainable packaging will grow about 5.1 percent annually by 2025,” Achtermeier noted. “Expect to see a continued shift from rigid to flexible packaging; expanded use of the ‘How to Recycle program’; continued innovation around recyclable/compostable materials; additional use of thin film label structure; and a reduction of single-use plastic.”
The demand for more sustainable packaging creates a greater opportunity for packaging to serve more than one purpose. Shedd expanded on this point as it relates to luxury packaging.
“Reusable is also a requirement that we are hearing from many clients particularly in the e-tail space,” he said. “They want beautiful rigid boxes designed to have an afterlife in a consumer’s home as a storage container or decorative piece. This addresses the sustainability and environmental concerns alongside luxury packaging.”
A particular case study stood out to Barron. The customer, Jill Goldstein, of JGoldsteinPR, had settled on an international culinary kit highlighting the canine stars of “Pup Star: World Tour”—the third installment of the popular kids’ Pup Star movie franchise. The promotional tool was to be mailed to social influencers, primarily consisting of mommy bloggers. But sending items ranging from a whisk and a recipe book to dog treats in any old box wouldn’t do; the packaging needed to resonate with the target audience. Enter Distinct Packaging. After some discussion, the parties came up with a unique solution: vintage suitcases covered in stamps from various cities and photos of certain pup stars. There was a catch. The challenge, Barron explained, was not simply with the design; rather, Distinct Packaging had to have 60 to 70 suitcases done in a week.
“The week started and [the client] wanted it economical,” Barron recalled. “So, if you did an analog, you know, offset, you’d have to create a die, full colors, so you’d have all these color plates, [and] it would have been extremely expensive, [at around] $100 per box or $200 per box out of the gate. We said we could do it; we created a box that looked like a suitcase, and we ... got it done in a week. The cost per box was somewhere around $25 and we put it in digitally, we cut it digitally, [and] they absolutely loved it. I think if we [were] to do printing [and] were doing it any other way, we wouldn’t have been able to do that. The fact that we could turn it quickly was important to them, and it was a little bit of a premium cost to do it, but it was still a lot less than it would be to get it analog.”
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. And as She Scribes! blogger Kimberly Vetrano mentioned in her review, which was published on Distinct Packaging’s website, her friend’s daughter found another use for the package: a storage unit for dress-up clothes.
3. Consider design component
While design may be the hook it is equally important to think about how packaging supports a product. There isn’t one universal package that’s going to match every item you place in it, but figuring out what will work (and what won’t) will help you find the perfect solution. Achtermeier believes this is one of the most important components to packaging design.
“Understand the product needs (e.g., product protection, distribution conditions, barrier requirements, etc.) [in order] to ensure the proper packaging for the application, and know how to design around those needs, as well as for the specific printing method being used.
“Understanding the print process (flexographic, offset, digital), costs associated with the process (plate costs, for example) and how to design packaging around each of the print processes is key,” Achtermeier went on to say. “Oftentimes, designs may come in with multiple spot colors, where process colors are best suited, as an example. Align the project with the print process (i.e., large volume versus small volume and multiple SKUs). In the case of food and beverage (F&B), understanding food safety and how that relates to print process and requirements can be another challenge, as all inks are not suitable for packing in the F&B space.”
In regard to the outer design of a package, Barron advised his customers to start off with the KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly) principle. Attention to detail is one such theme culled from Barron’s advice. He touched on a variety of points, including symmetry, making sure everything is where you want it to be, sticking to the idea of “less is more” when designing, removing any cut or crop lines and ensuring fonts are embedded in the final design.
For Shedd, the main piece to keep in mind when creating a package is to think about its mission: “What story is the client looking to accomplish with the package?” He explained that this is a chance for a brand to connect with its audience and tell its story.
He later shared a case study involving the launch of a new brand of spirits. The end-user, who hoped to wow liquor store owners and their distributors with the product, provided images of its preferred packaging category to the broker, and specified a budget of $7.50 per box. Having been unsuccessful in its quest to secure an overseas partner that could provide design insight and a quick turnaround, the panicked distributor turned to Taylor Box Company for help.
“We all sat down with our design team and reviewed all the materials he had gathered and then set out a plan to provide him with three design drawings for his presentation to the client,” Shedd said. “These were prepared over the course of the next three days and then emailed to him. Note: This work was done under an NDA and written confirmation from him that if his client selected one of our designs and [if] our budget and delivery met his goal, we would be awarded the work.”
The client did choose one, and the team was able to put together the prototype. With a few minor changes, as per the request of the client, the prototype was approved and ready to go. “[The team] then provided a quotation to him based upon the decorative specifications outlined to us by his client,” Shedd relayed.
The client sent in a deposit and purchase order, and the company got to work. “Five weeks later, we began delivering the first of the 37,000 custom boxes, and that was actually a full week ahead of schedule,” Shedd said. “We have run several more projects for this individual successfully.”
He left us with a few takeaways from this case study: Get the commitment sooner rather than later; win with design and service, not price; and communicate to move things along.
4. Keep communication open
More often than not, mistakes stem from not having enough information, and when selling packaging, it’s no different. In order for you to be successful, collecting all the details necessary for a project is beneficial. Achtermeier pointed out that this is a common mistake distributors make. Failing to ask questions can lead to problems with supplier partners because they can’t do their job most effectively.
“Mistakes can result from a lack of information and details,” she said. “Distributors submitting opportunities to their packaging partner with very little information create major challenges in providing an accurate proposal and solution. I believe the key to success is gaining in-depth knowledge of the opportunity. Distributors need to do the research, know the customer’s needs, have a full understanding of the expectations, specifications, application and pain points they may be experiencing.”
Achtermeier added that being available and responsive before, during and after the project launch will leave little opportunity for delay.
Shedd concurred. “The single biggest time waste in the design, quote and production process is missing information.”
5. Learn from mistakes
Achtermeier also touched on the idea that learning from past projects that didn’t do well can help create better outcomes in the future.
“Another area of opportunity involves projects that do not come to fruition,” she said. “Communication is key here as well, allowing your packaging partner to understand why the business did not materialize. It takes dedicated time and resources to develop the solution, generate pricing and, at times, provide ‘what-if’ timelines. For a supplier, knowing why a project didn’t happen is critical in understanding what can be done differently in the future to ensure success. Closing the feedback loop is as important as on-boarding the new project.”
Shedd also agreed with the power of partnering.
“Work with them as a partner that will build value for your relationships and not as a supplier that you see strictly as a costly added element,” he said. Another tip he listed was to “Pay promptly—nobody likes being a bank when they are focused on providing you and your clients with a great package and service.”
In addition to open communication, you should set practical goals.
“What works best for us is to talk to us either by phone or email and set realistic expectations on deliverables,” Barron concluded. “Try not to make everything a last-minute event, and give suppliers reasonable lead times for manufacturing and delivery, if possible. Most importantly, try to vet out the client so there is a higher probability of the quote we offer converting to a sale—[that’s] a win-win for everyone.”