Live from NCOF: Packaging Is Part of the Marketing Package

Orlando, FL—In direct marketing, people do judge a book by its cover—or more accurately, they judge a company by its packaging. That’s why, in these hypercompetitive times, it may no longer be enough to simply plop your products into generic corrugated boxes, toss in some bubble wrap and packing peanuts, and slap the postage on it.

And as consultant JoAnn Hines, aka the Packaging Diva, noted during a session at the National Conference for Operations and Fulfillment, increasing attention from the traditional media about waste is compounded by the effectiveness of social media in disseminating such reports.

Increasing environmental awareness is, according to Hines, a key trend influencing packaging. “Green is no longer on the fringe,” she noted, and companies that appear to be flouting concerns regarding sustainability, recycling, and waste reduction risk suffering a consumer backlash, as had last year.

Amazon responded by launching a range of items with what it dubbed Frustration-Free Packaging, which not only entailed less waste but was also easier to open. The online megastore also introduced a Packaging Feedback Program in which it solicits customers’ comments online.

Amazon’s efforts to reduce packaging waste won it kudos from the media and consumers alike… until a significant portion of customers who bought hard drives from the company began to report receiving damaged goods. Apparently Amazon had, in its zeal to reduce waste, had removed too much packaging. The lesson here: Striking the right balance when it comes to packaging is trickier than one might think.

Footwear brand Puma hopes to have better luck with its eco-friendly packaging initiative, which it expects to roll out next year. It plans to replace the traditional cardboard shoebox with its Clever Little Bag, a reusable bag made of recycled material that is lined with cardboard only on the bottom. The new packaging, Hines said, aims to eliminate the need for dunnage and carrier bags while also reducing the use of cardboard.

Eco-awareness isn’t the only packaging trend Hines discussed. She also spoke to the importance of using packaging to do more than protect goods in transit. Packaging can be another marketing medium.

Hines pointed to how outdoor apparel merchant Moosejaw turned the basic brown box into an engagement tool by adorning it with multiple stickers that reflect that fun-loving brand ethos.

For instance, Moosejaw has a “sealed with a kiss” sticker, stickers personalized by the individual packers, stickers encouraging recycling, season stickers (during the Christmas season, it included stickers with a message along the lines of “Pretend this is the prettiest gift wrapping you’ve ever seen”). “They want everyone who gets their package to remember it,” Hines said.

Mark Mitchell of packaging design firm Tailford Mitchell shared other ways to create packaging that creates a positive impression:

  • Consider adding some color to the packaging. If you’re already putting your logo on your shipping boxes, look into adding color too.
  • Consider using new materials. “Who says it has to be corrugated?” Mitchell asked. “Just one simple thing can set you apart from your competitors.”
  • Drive further engagement by using your packaging to encourage reipients to visit your Website or participate on social your social networks. If you sell kitchenware, for instance, use your packaging to tell customers that they can download free recipes at your site.
  • Make your packaging multipurpose. If you sell children’s products, you could provide some sort of craft instructions using the packaging.
  • Include free samples of other products if appropriate. “This will surprise and delight as well as possibly get a new sale for you,” Mitchell said.

And lest you view packaging as nothing but a cost center and therefore something on which you should spend as little as possible, consider the cautionary tale of food cataloger/retailer Hickory Farms.

Previous management had pinched pennies on its packaging, Mitchell said, to the point where consumers were shying away from giving its products as gifts during the critical Christmas season. So the current ownership decided to invest in upgrading the packing materials and design—and sales rose accordingly.

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