Powering Perception with Packaging Embellishments
Imagine ordering a product online and it arrives in a package that is plain or appears worn. Now imagine that same product arriving with a beautiful, embellished label. Though the product inside may be the same, there’s little doubt about the important role packaging plays in brand perception.
According to Ken Collins, vice president of sales and marketing at Adcraft Labels in Anaheim, Calif., embellishments raise a brand’s perceived value, even if it isn’t sold in a traditional brick-and-mortar retail environment.
Collins points to a recent line of packaging that Adcraft worked on for POPWHITE, a toothpaste and mouthwash brand currently only available online. The products are designed to whiten teeth, but use a color correction process, rather than the traditional process that uses peroxide. To convey POPWHITE’s innovative, high-end attributes through its packaging, Adcraft used a soft touch coating to give it a luxury feel and a specialty bright foil that reflects the whole color gamut.
“So here’s an example of someone, like an MLM [multi-level marketing] or direct-to-consumer product that wants to make sure that when the consumer gets it, it has a high perceived value,” he says. “They’re holding something that feels rich and looks rich.”
Of course, embellishments are also useful for products that end up on a retail shelf as a means for setting them apart from the competition. Whether it’s foiling, embossing or debossing, specialty coatings or ink, embellishments can add distinction and perceived value, but only if done right.
The Draw to Add Enhancements
Although adding embellishments to a package may be to influence a consumer’s perception of a product, it can also be an important means of getting a consumer to consider the product for a longer period of time. Bill Gillespie, vice president of sales for Tucker, Ga.-based Bennett Graphics—a printing, fulfillment and mailing business that produces a small number of folding cartons for customers on its new Scodix digital enhancement press—describes the significant leap of consumer interaction with an enhanced piece.
“The interaction time with anything we print is higher because of the enhancements,” he says. “The amount of time a consumer spends with it in their hands is greater.”
Enhanced packaging goes even further than serving as a strategy to increase engagement with—and a potential purchase of—a product. Dr. Andrew Hurley is an associate professor at Clemson University and co-founder of Package InSight, a package design and research company using consumer biometric data to improve retail packaging. He explains that companies are regaining market share through the use of embellishments and premium packaging. At one time, he says, a brick-and-mortar store was the only marketplace. Now, the competition has spread to e-commerce. In order to stand out on shelf, some larger companies are using packaging to build an experience and differentiate from their traditional brand.
Jeff Dieter, director of technical services at Diamond Packaging, goes so far as to say that sometimes packaging embellishments—including foiling, embossing, debossing and specialty coatings—have such a large impact on the consumer, the packaging sells the product more than the product itself. Dennis Bacchetta, Diamond Packaging’s director of marketing, agrees, explaining that brands only have so much time to attract the consumer’s attention, and sometimes embellishments can be a deciding factor.
“Brands have a limited amount of shelf space and a limited amount of time to capture the attention of consumers in the retail environment,” he says. “The key is to create upscale brand ambassadors that attract the consumer’s attention when and where it matters most—on the store shelf.”
To achieve “shelf presence,” Bacchetta says brands can use decorative processes, including hot foil stamping, cold foiling, embossing, debossing, and specialty coatings, effects and decorations.
What Can be Done and What are the Challenges?
Because embellishments such as foiling, spot UV applications, embossing and debossing can have an effect on a consumer’s perception of a product, they are alluring options. As more brands request enhancements for their packaging, package printers will benefit if they can provide a solution.
Although Bennett Graphics only produces a small number of folding cartons for existing customers, Gillespie explains that the company’s Scodix digital enhancement press has given them the ability to provide customers with embellished folding cartons if and when they need them, on demand. Because the process is digital, he explains there is no tooling involved, allowing variable content on embellished cartons.
“What that means to folding cartons … if you’ve got 60,000 folding cartons, but 200 SKUs that make that up so it’s spread out over all kinds of versions, the perfect solution is to print it digitally,” he says. “Then bring it over to the Scodix and enhance it and it’s all digital.”
Although working with a digital enhancement press has its benefits, there are some pitfalls to be aware of. Gillespie explains that these enhancements will not tolerate being cut or scored because the embellishment can split and even peel off of the substrate. He suggests working with a designer to plan around that limitation. Gillespie also says that the technology works best with coated and cover papers.
Collins explains that Adcraft usually combines a few embellishments to create a finished package, but it typically works best to include a contrast to make the embellishments stand out more.
“Cold foil and hot stamping are two of the most popular embellishments,” he says. “Everybody likes shiny things.”
In addition to cold foil and hot stamping, Collins says that Adcraft Labels uses tinting cold foil, as well as spot glosses and mattes, and pattern and specialty varnishes, which are popular. Adcraft also uses its hybrid presses to build tactile features with ink.
“We’re able to put patterns and features right in the digital inks,” he explains. “That’s probably our most popular thing at the moment because it’s new.”
What Markets Benefit Most?
Even with the capabilities and understanding to begin applying embellishments to packaging, it’s important to find out what brands and markets benefit the most from enhanced packaging. In general, brands strive to stand out from the competition and one of the best ways to do that, specifically for luxury brands, is to add embellishments or use a specialty substrate that “imparts unusual depth and distinction,” Bacchetta explains.
“The combination of design, textures and tactile effects add distinction and reinforce the positioning of an upscale or luxury brand,” Bacchetta says.
However, not all brands are created equal. Hurley explains that through its research, Package InSight has discovered that there are some markets that benefit from embellishments, while others see no significant shift by their inclusion.
Take, for example premium or luxury items, such as wine and spirits, olive oil and chocolates. Hurley explains his research indicated that these sectors aren’t necessarily brand dominant, meaning consumers are more likely to make a purchasing decision based on price or design. Consumers are likely to buy these items as a gift or as a means to have a new experience. It was determined, Hurley says, that when time was taken to enhance packaging in these categories, attention to the product increased, as did sales.
On the contrary, household staples, such as laundry detergent or cereal, do inspire brand loyalty, making it much harder to sway consumers with embellishments, Hurley explains. There are also some examples of products that don’t benefit from embellishments, but also don’t necessarily carry a lot of brand loyalty, like popcorn.
Hurley explains that Package InSight conducted a study that involved embossing, debossing, foil stamping and applying UV spot varnish on popcorn products, but found the embellishments had “zero impact on shopability.” Although adding embellishments to popcorn packs did not increase attention or purchase intent, it didn’t detract from it either, he says.
To Embellish or Not to Embellish?
Collins explains that adding embellishments to a package doesn’t necessarily guarantee its success, especially if it doesn’t complement the brand’s message. When implementing embellishments, they need to be well thought out to work with the overall artwork, design and concept, he says.
“You can take a package and put lots of bright, shiny foil on it and it’s going to look cheap,” he says. “Or, you can use it with slight nuances and in conjunction with other things and make something that’s very elegant.”
The process to decide how embellishments will work with an overall package typically starts with a conversation with the brand and designers. Dieter explains that many times, the brand and designer will have preliminary conversations about packaging prior to approaching Diamond Packaging. However, Diamond is normally involved early in the process, to discuss capabilities and logistics.
“We typically discuss design, embellishments and process capabilities in the early stages of new products,” he says. “We are often asked for advice when they are looking for something new and innovative.”
On top of working with the customer, Hurley suggests package printers, brands and designers should think of consumers as investors, and develop packaging based on data and insight. For example, Package InSight conducts studies based on consumer interaction with packaging that venture into the consumers’ psyche.
“It’s the subconscious that we’re digging into, and this idea of neuroscience. We’re able to understand the way you feel about something based on your biometric responses, versus asking you after you’ve had a shopping experience,” he says, “and you’re not able to articulate it. But we’re capturing that data live, as you shop.”
Specifically, using eye-tracking technology, Package InSight is able to track and record eye movements up to 50 times per second, and emotion-tracking technology that allows them to analyze facial movements and correlate them to a consumer’s emotional experience at that point in time. In other words, Package InSight is able to pinpoint how each consumer is feeling at a specific moment in time based on interactions with packaging. Hurley explains that humans are not consciously in control of many of these emotions.
According to Hurley, if brands invest more in packaging, it results in a more successful product. Producing and testing new packaging designs in what he describes as a “pilot market study,” before going to market can reveal what consumers expect from the package they’re interacting with.
“Let your shoppers build your packaging for you,” Hurley says, “and they will gladly do it.”