We spend more time staring at screens than sleeping. We’re bombarded daily by a relentless fusillade of information—some valid, much of it vapid. Political polarization, trolls and manufactured outrage infest our timelines.
Despite the promises of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms that claim they’re fostering connections and community, abundant research reveals that our digital lives are causing many of us to feel increasingly disconnected and depressed.
Full disclosure: I’m as guilty as others. My laptop is rarely shut down and my iPhone is essentially an appendage. I stream movies and binge-watch Netflix. I use multiple apps to manage my myriad smart home devices. I love technology and can’t imagine my life without it.
But the pervasiveness of our digital lifestyles and—let’s face it: addictions—often leave many of us feeling a bit hollow, unfulfilled and craving physical, sensory experiences.
What’s often overlooked as our purchases and transactions increasingly migrate online is something that successful marketers and brands understand and celebrate: the remarkable physical power of packaging design.
Recent research indicates that despite being the first generation of true digital natives, an overwhelming majority of Gen Z “prefers to shop in brick-and-mortar stores.” The craftsmanship, tactility and physicality of smart and beautiful packaging is an essential part of that retail experience, offering a welcome respite from the daily digital noise.
Simply put, “Consumers use their hands to connect with brands,” write professors Lawrence Williams and Joshua Ackerman.
Seductive, touchable packaging sells. It effectively builds valuable connections with consumers that engender assurance and advocacy.
Ironically, it’s many online brands that best understand the power of packaging to elicit an emotional response that lingers, to surprise and delight. Yes, the allure and appeal of these brands begin with the ease and convenience of online shopping and ordering, but the experience is enhanced and elevated by the packaging’s arrival and unboxing.
No sentient brand marketer can credibly argue that packaging shouldn’t evolve and innovate to become more sustainable, smarter and more integrated within the digital/ecommerce ecosystem. And there are some incredibly cool examples already in the market.
The brilliance of Australian wine brand 19 Crimes’ packaging is that it performs equally well as a digital or analog expression of the brand. One needn’t download the app to access the augmented reality experience; the labels tell a compelling and captivating story on their own.
Augmented reality aside, here are five additional strategies that brands should consider to harness the sensory power of packaging and connect with consumers.
Make it reusable or upcycle it
Create packaging that can be kept, reused and inspire your customers’ creativity. Two great examples are the glass containers of Oui by Yoplait yogurt and Dragon Well green tea. As Gratitude’s president and CEO Andy Schamisso says, “We anticipate some upcycling, some artistic customer creations, some useful re-use and repurposing and some love from what we believe is a welcome change to the typical, generic and boring presentations on the shelf today.”
Sustainability, waste reduction and eco-friendliness are musts and should be table stakes for every brand. Danish brewer Carlsberg recently introduced a cool innovation called Snap Pack, which replaces the ubiquitous plastic six-pack rings with a glue that binds the cans together.
Earn a seat at the table
Packaging’s impact doesn’t end on shelf; it continues at home. Cereal brands have long understood the importance of extending their engagement inside homes. From games, puzzles and quizzes on the box to toy surprises inside, they earned a seat at millions of breakfast tables, forging memories, loyalty and even love. Method revolutionized home products by hiring Karim Rashid to design beautiful structural packaging that doubled as home decor proudly displayed by delighted customers.
Design hidden treasures
Incorporate subtle images, messages and little doses of personality that aren’t apparent upon first glance. When consumers find these graphic gems, they add a sense of discovery and whimsy that inspire sharing. The personal greetings—”hey u,” “hiya,” “hiii” and “yo”—on the tabs of PepsiCo’s bubly sparking water brand are a simple, fun example.
Keep your spirits high
Luxury wine and spirits brands expertly use embossing, debossing, foil stamping, UV coatings, specialized inks and die-cuts to create a premium, sensory brand experience. Many of these effects and finishes are simply too expensive and impractical for most CPG brands. But with a little research, creativity and consultation with packaging suppliers, printers and production houses, there are plenty of creative and cost-effective ways to deploy some of these techniques to enhance your packaging’s physical allure.
We’d do well to remember that we already possess a powerful tool to achieve meaningful disruption: touchability. Packaging enables brands to provide consumers with a welcome respite from their cacophonous digital lives through simplicity, clarity and the promise of a satisfying sensory experience that ultimately builds trust and loyalty.
So, go ahead, reach out and touch your favorite brands. You’ll feel better in the morning.