How to use packaging as a marketing tool

You spend countless hours thinking about your product and what goes into it. But do you spend the same amount of time thinking about how you package it?

For many E-commerce businesses, product packaging is an afterthought. After all, you’re not competing for attention on the retail shelf anymore; you can easily get away by dumping everything into a plain cardboard box.

Ignoring packaging, however, is a major marketing blunder. Your customer journey might start on your Ecwid store, but it’s fully realized only when they get the product in their hands. The packaging is an integral part of this journey. Ignore it and your story falls a little flat.

There are practical reasons to invest in product packaging as well. In this guide, we’ll look at packaging as a storytelling device as well as a practical marketing tool to help you sell more. By the end of this article, you’ll learn:

  • How packaging enhances your product experience
  • The role packaging plays in your brand story
  • How good packaging can help you win on social media
  • How to use packaging inserts to boost customer loyalty

Why Packaging Matters

In the days of physical retail, packaging had an obvious role to play: to help your product stand out on the retail shelf. Since you were competing for eyeballs against dozens of similar competitors, you had to ensure that your packaging stood out and drew in customers.

Standing out packaging.jpg

Thankfully, as an E-commerce business, you don’t have to deal with in-store retail competition anymore.

Instead, your product packaging serves many different roles, from creating better experiences to winning over influences.

On this note, let’s take a closer look at four reasons why investing in packaging pays:

1. Create a Better Product Experience

“Product experience” is the entire gamut of sensory and psychological responses customers have to your products.

It starts with your first contact with the customer (usually via an ad) and continues through the way they interact with your website, your customer service, and eventually, your products.

Whether a customer considers your brand premium or pedestrian, crude or cultured, will depend on the complete product experience.

Packaging is an integral part of this journey. The moment a customer opens the packaging is the first sensory experience they have with your product. Before this, the product has only existed as pictures and videos in your store. The packaging is the first real thing they get to touch and feel.

If your goal is to create “customer delight”, this moment of first contact has to match or even exceed the expectations set by the rest of your marketing. You can’t promise space-age materials and stunning design and then dump everything into a rough cardboard box. That breaks the brand illusion you’re trying to create and tells customers that they’re buying just another commodity, not an experience.

Think about how brands like Apple treat their packaging. Everything from the quality of the boxes to the design of the inserts is carefully crafted. It acts as an extension of the Apple brand - superior craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Create a better product experience.jpg

The biggest trend in design and packaging for the last couple of years fueled by Apple is simplicity. You can craft simple yet powerful packages, making your products look nifty.

Further reading:

2. Extend Your Story

One of the most dominant trends in marketing in the last two decades has been storytelling. Customers today don’t just want to buy a product; they want to buy into the story behind the product as well.

A customer who has bought your product already knows your story - at least partially. He might have read your ‘About’ page, gone through your product descriptions, and maybe even exchanged an email or two.

Your product packaging offers prime real estate to extend this story.

Think about a customer who just received your package in the mail. At this moment, you have their undivided attention. Instruction manuals, thank you cards, brochures - whatever you include inside the box will at least be glanced at once.

If you have something important to say, this is the ideal time to say it.

This doesn’t just include words - you can also reinforce your story by carefully choosing packaging materials and accessories. For example, if you’re an eco-friendly brand, you could use recycled paper or include plantable seeds in the box.

Your packaging is a blank canvas; you can use it to sketch out a fuller picture of your brand. For example, if you sell hand-made soap, perfume or cosmetics you can emphasize it by choosing craft paper as a package as Zielinski & Rozen shop did:

Tell the story with your package.png

Further reading:

3. Use Packaging for Social Media Marketing

If you’ve spent any time on social media in the last few years, you’ve likely come across an “unboxing video”.

There are massive YouTube channels dedicated solely to unboxing new products. The influencer opens the package on camera and talks about everything it includes in detail.

Obviously, strong packaging gives you an easy win in this department.

But outside of influencers, average social media users also like to share pictures of their recent purchases. If your packaging is innovative, they are likely to share it, earning you free word of mouth.

Use package for SMM.jpg

You can add thank you cards or well-crafted cards with your brand story. It often creates an aww-effect and people love to share such details on social media.

4. Offer Better Value as a Gift

An average customer might overlook shoddy packaging when buying for himself, but he will think twice before buying the same product as a gift.

After all, unwrapping the present is a key part of the gifting experience.

In fact, in some giftable categories - such as perfumes, high-end stationery, gourmet chocolates, etc. - the packaging is often the key selling point. People buy them precisely because they look good.

You can add a special congratulation card if you know your customer ordered your product as a gift:

Special card for gifts.jpg

If your product is frequently gifted, investing in packaging is well worth the expense.

App store highlights:

The question now is: How do you create better packaging? What are some ways you can leverage it as a marketing tool?

We’ll cover this in the next section.

Using Packaging for Marketing

Packaging can be a tricky field to navigate. You have to balance price, functionality, and aesthetics. You also have to factor in what your customers care about.

If you want to use packaging as a marketing tool, here are a few tips you should follow:

1. Understand Your Brand (And Its Customers)

Of late, there has been a trend of brands following the Apple playbook and creating minimalist, high-quality packaging.

While this might be a good general trend to follow, you have to ask yourself: is it aligned with your brand? Is it something your customers actually want?

Fancy packaging for the sake of fancy packaging is a waste of resources. It doesn’t amplify the product experience, nor does it reinforce your brand story.

For example, if your key selling point is your eco-friendliness, using styrofoam and plastic actively goes against your brand values. Instead, using recycled paper would work well with your values.

And if you sell artsy jewelry highlight it through the fanciful packaging and wrapping:

fancy packaging.jpg

Thus, before you settle on a packaging style, ask yourself:

  • What are my brand’s core values? What kind of packaging can reinforce them?
  • Do my customers prefer complex packaging? Or will they be happier with packaging that minimizes waste instead?
  • What kind of packaging matches the product? If there are cheaper/costlier variations, what kind of packaging will you use for them?
  • Do the majority of my customers have a specific need (such as gifting)? If yes, can I create customized packaging for this particular need?

2. Include Something “Shareworthy”

If you want your customers to share pictures of their unboxing experiences on social media, you have to give them something shareworthy.

Sure, great materials and gorgeous designs work well enough, but you can get fantastic results by including something that helps you stand out.

Examples include:

  • A packet of plantable herb seeds wrapped in recycled paper - perfect for an eco-friendly product
  • A handwritten note of thanks
  • Some form of personalization. Even crude personalization, such as Coca-Cola’s fantastic “Share a Coke” campaign, can be wildly successful
  • Innovative packaging design that turns the waste cardboard into fun objects, such as this design concept
  • Extra add-ons such as stickers, mini notepads, and calendars, etc.

Your goal is to give the customers a moment of unexpected delight that they might feel like sharing with others. Every brand includes an instruction manual and a warranty card, but few take the time to write personalized notes.

Holidays is a great way to diversify your usual packaging. Use a wrapping paper with a pumpkin for Halloween, add a sprig of mistletoe for Christmas. Be creative and let your fantasy guide you:

Holiday wrapping.jpg

Remember that new and the unexpected gets shared on social media. If you can leverage this in your packaging, you’ll get tons of word of mouth - all for free.

Further reading:

3. Include Incentives for Repeat Purchases and Referrals

A customer interacting with your packaging is always good news - it means that you’ve managed to sell your products.

To turn this good news into great news, you need your existing customers to:

  • Buy from you again
  • Refer their friends to you

While creating a solid product will net you referrals and repeat purchases naturally, you can scale the process faster by offering incentives.

These incentives can take different forms, such as:

  • Loyalty cards that offer points or discounts for future purchases
  • Exclusive coupon codes
  • Steep discounts for referrals (plus extra loyalty points for each referral)

These don’t have to be a part of your standard packaging. Instead, experiment with different campaigns. Drop a flyer with a coupon code in one box. Include a referral discount in another. Change the discount based on the product maturity, season, etc.

For instance, if you’ve just launched the product, you could create a contest that offers discounts for sharing pictures of the purchase on social media. This will help you earn much-needed UGC early in the product’s lifecycle.

Similarly, around the holidays, you could offer Christmas/New Year themed discounts.

If you want to create loyalty programs, check out the Gratisfaction app.

Further reading:

4. Align Your Priorities

Creating packaging that’s affordable, protective, beautiful, and environmentally sustainable is a tough ask.

You will have to cut corners somewhere.

Where you choose to cut will depend on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to. If your customers are environment-conscious Millennials, sourcing eco-friendly materials should be non-negotiable. If the product is delicate, make sure that the packaging is extra protective.

Essentially, you have to take three things into account:

  • What customers want and expect
  • What aligns with your brand’s values and beliefs
  • What best fulfills the product’s packaging requirements

You also have to keep practical considerations in mind, especially packaging weight and dimensions. Switching to a smaller, lighter box alone can save you thousands of dollars each year in shipping costs.

Speaking of packaging weight, you’ll want to read this guide to E-commerce shipping.

From the Ecwid app store

5. Get a Branding Boost by Using Eco-Friendly Materials

Your customers are increasingly aware of the unnecessary waste in their packaging. Excessive plastic, tons of styrofoam, use of nonrecyclable paper - these are not only bad for the environment but also difficult to get rid of.

Replacing these with eco-friendly materials can be a big win for your brand. For one, it helps you stand out as an environmentally responsible company. And two, you can pitch the change as a customer-friendly move designed to eliminate waste.

Often, switching to less packaging can be cost-effective as well. Using crumpled paper in place of bubble wrap and styrofoam, or replacing glossy paper with recycled sheets can often be cheaper. Simple package can still be good-looking:

simple packaging.jpg

Consider this tactic if your product can support it. It’s good for the environment and your brand.

6. Keep Retail and Gifting in Mind

If you’re primarily an E-commerce store, you don’t have to really worry about getting customers’ attention in a retail store.

But that doesn’t mean you can ignore how the packaging looks entirely.

There are the obvious branding and product experience aspects of it. Well-designed packaging, as we said earlier, helps extend your brand and its story.

There are also practical aspects, chiefly:

  • Drawing customers’ attention in pop-up stores and live events
  • Positioning your product as a giftable item

Even if you decide to never hit the retail market, there will be times when you’ll have to display the product. Trade fairs, live events, pop-up shops - your experience will be far better in such situations if you have attention-grabbing packaging.

If your product falls into a giftable category (fragrances, stationery, affordable electronics, etc.), you can also consider creating special packaging just for gifting. Customers looking for a gift item are often drawn as much to the packaging as they are to the actual product. It’s especially true for flower shops. Helen Olivia shop created a few types of gift boxes for special occasions, this particular one is for a newborn:

Gift box.jpg

Should you decide to sell your products at a pop-up store or live event, you’ll be pleased to know that your Ecwid store can accept payments anywhere. Refer to this page to learn more about selling everywhere with Ecwid.

Further reading:

Over to You

Packaging might not command the same attention as product or pricing, but it’s still an important cog in your marketing machinery. Apart from helping your product stand out more, great packaging also serves as a marketing tool, helping you earn social media mentions and enhance the product experience.

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