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Vicki Strull

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    StrategyCreative DirectionPackaging DesignBrand Identity DesignSpeakingOther

    Quick—You have 8 seconds


    Choice is a wonderful and complicated thing. It’s easy to choose when you’re given only two items to choose from.

    Black pen or blue pen?

    Easy choice – I’ll take the blue pen, please.

    But what if you’re given a rainbow of pen colors to choose from? And what if some are available in fine point and others micro point? Gel ink, retractable ballpoint, comfort grip — the list of choices goes on and on, and that’s for something as simple as a pen!

    Our abundance of choice and our ever-shortening attention span presents a real challenge to brands. Have you been down the toothpaste aisle lately? Paste, gel, sensitivity, whitening, tartar control—and that’s just one shelf in a long aisle of toothpaste.

    With our ever-shrinking attention span, brands have 8 seconds to capture and engage a consumer in-store or online. Combine that with the surfeit of choice available, and marketers and designers have a real challenge on their hands. Why does a consumer perusing store shelves or scrolling through hundreds of products online choose one brand over another? Answer: packaging and branding that make an impact in eight seconds or less.

    Brands Don’t Exist Without Packaging

    Let’s leave pens for something a little more fun. Chocolate.

    How would you choose one bar over another or commit to a brand without the benefit of packaging?

    If you unwrapped all the milk chocolate bars in your supermarket checkout line and placed them next to each other on a table, you’d see a lot of similarities—interchangeable rectangular shapes, medium brown color, alluring sweet smell, sensual swirled texture. How would you choose? Without packaging, these delectable delights become a commodity with very few clues or indicators about what makes them unique—the quality, the taste, the origin, the ingredients, even the values of the brand. Instead, choice becomes a guessing game. And even if you were lucky enough to choose the perfect chocolate bar for you, how would you purchase it again if you didn’t know which bar you chose in the first place?

    Put simply, brands don’t exist without packaging. The packaging captures the consumer’s attention and then informs them of what they are buying: a fabulous chocolate bar that is rich and creamy with just the right balance of sweet and salty, sourced from a fair trade farm. If the consumer is happy with the chocolate bar, then it’s easy to find it and purchase it again – because of the packaging. Your product may be incredible, but if the packaging doesn’t spur the customer to pick it up, purchase, and try it, no one will ever know. So how can packaging stand out in an increasingly competitive market?By focusing on the customer experience and getting shoppers to engage.

    Ownership, Perceived Value, and the Power of Touch

    Touch is powerful. We innately know this because we want to touch those we love by pulling them into a hug after a long separation. We trust a product more if we can pick it up, feel its weight, and inspect its quality. But touch also does something to us on a subconscious level.

    Did you know that you are more likely to purchase something if you touch it? And, not only that, once you touch it, you give it more value and will pay more for it. It’s called the “endowment effect.” When someone picks up an object, they begin to feel ownership over it and add more value to it on the subconscious level. If you can get a customer to reach out and touch your product, they are more likely to buy it.

    So, how do you make someone’s fingers itch to touch something? How do you make something look so irresistible that it must be picked up and handled?

    • High-quality substrates
    • Tactile finishing
    • Textured varnishes
    • Embellishments
    • Digital laser-cutting that creates hairline cuts
    • Holographic effects
    • Digital foiling
    • Sleeking
    • Alluring film laminates
    • UV coatings

    Just to name a few.

    Randomized or One-of-a-Kind, Customization is Key to Engaging Consumers

    Customization is one of the most effective means of engaging consumers.
    Marvel movies are incredibly popular with an impressive array of characters. Let’s look at how Marvel might use the different methods of customization, or another way of saying it—versioning, to market an Avengers movie.

    Random Versioning: When you don’t know who the purchaser is or where a package is going

    Each Avenger gets their own packaging in promotions and product tie-ins. Popcorn containers at the movie theater, wrapping paper, shampoo bottles, toothpaste – some will have Captain America emblazoned across the front, while others will feature the Hulk.

    Affinity Versioning: Connecting packaging to a specific demographic, interest group, geographical area, etc.

    Comic conventions are a fun way for Marvel to connect with their audience. Fans dress up as their favorite characters, movie stars sign autographs, and sneak peeks of upcoming films are shown. It stands to reason that if Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. are at the convention, their fans will show up in droves and the Black Widow and Iron Man branded products are going to fly off the shelves.

    One-of-a-kind Versioning: Every single package is unique

    Imagine if you are the only person in the entire world who has a particular version of a package. That item would feel very special. People began collecting comic books almost from the moment they began to be printed. This is a group of fans who love to collect things. So, if you tell them that a limited-edition product is coming out and no two of the packages will be alike, you can bet that fans will be eager to get their one-of-a-kind item. And they might keep it forever.

    Personalized Versioning: Packaging targeted to an individual consumer – packaging that may have even been designed by that consumer

    Now let’s take one-of-a-kind versioning a step further and personalize the product packaging. Again, this is a loyal group of fans who collect things. Now, not only are they offered a one-of-a-kind product, but it also has their name printed onto it. Mayhem ensues! Fans clamor for their personalized packaging — that they never throw away.
    And this isn’t only applicable to the Marvel Universe! From beer, wine, and spirits, to makeup, perfume, skincare, and everything in between, versioning makes the consumer feel special.

    Connecting the Online and Physical Worlds

    How often have you looked down at your phone, and when you look up, an hour has passed? It’s shocking how easily we are pulled into our online world. In many ways, the online world has become as real for us as the actual physical world we live in. Which is why it is so essential that we integrate our online and physical worlds for our customers so that they enjoy a seamless and memorable experience.

    The customer’s experience with your product can be deepened using invisible watermarks and other image recognition techniques, QR codes, etc., to link to how-to videos, promotions, coupons, loyalty programs, event registrations, and so much more. To take it even a step further, augmented and virtual reality on point of purchase materials and packaging makes it possible to immerse shoppers in the brand experience before they even step out of the store.

    No Better Time for Packaging

    It is a time of tremendous growth potential for packaging. Powerful design strategies such as those I’ve described above, along with partnerships between designers and print service providers, can inspire brands to see the possibilities and power in packaging innovations. Packaging can capture consumer attention, engage them in unique and personal ways, build brand loyalty, and increase sales —all in eight seconds


    *1 According to a study by Microsoft, the average human’s attention span was 12 seconds in 2000, but in 2013, it is estimated to have dropped to 8 seconds. This is shorter than the 9 seconds of attention span of a goldfish. (Source: Microsoft attention spans, Spring 2015)