Consumers can’t be pigeon-holed any longer. Large numbers of them are responding to packaging that feels personal, fits their lifestyles and inspires them. The secret? Speak to and be in sync with your audience, while making each person within the group feel like they are the only person you are speaking to.
It seems that the nature of marketers is to try to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, to the detriment of the brand in the eyes of their target audience. This leads to a watering down of brand values and the lack of a unique brand personality. Package design that tries to be all-inclusive turns brands into commodities.
This discussion isn’t about package segmentation—where a specific branded product line offers a number of varieties to meet various consumers’ needs. This is about developing overarching package design systems to appeal to specific target audiences who are defined not by age groups or stage of life but by the interests of individuals within those groups as well as their lifestyles. Conventional wisdom about demographic groups has to be challenged to package effectively now.
An audience of one
Consumers are responding in large numbers to packaging that feels personal, that fits their lifestyles and inspires them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that packaging has to be designed so that it can be personalized although that is definitely a consideration. Advances in digital printing technology make it possible to use short runs to personalize packaging as a core brand value for consumers—so expect to see more of it in future. Jones Soda created a fan following in a tough category by personalizing its packaging out of the chute. Instead, some brands choose to offer seasonal or limited editions of packaging that delight consumers. Orla Kiely’s designs for Method and Betsey Johnson’s for Kleenex are good examples.
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Yet, even without that, packaging can offer a customized experience central to individuals’ lifestyles; that make them feel that they are directly being engaged due to shared values. Accomplishing that necessitates a deep understanding of the brand and its attributes to hone in on the right audience. This takes many hours of research but is well worth the effort.
Research leads to the designer’s ability to translate the specific drivers of the brand’s audience in visual and verbal communication that resonates on packaging. The secret: to speak to and to be in sync with this audience, while making each person within the group feel like the only person in the world with whom we’re speaking. This begins a relationship and a deepening level of engagement, followed by undying love and loyalty that brand owners dream about, as long as the brand delivers on its promise. Hasbro’s Nerf Rebelle, Monster Energy Drinks, Knob Creek Bourbon Whiskey and AXE men’s personal care are examples of successful brands with unique personalities that speak to an audience of one while building a community of fans simultaneously. They aren’t for everyone, but everyone who loves these brands is a rabid fan. That’s the point.
Package design elements that are driving today’s consumers
Color and compelling visuals make a significant impact when they tell a story; typography can accomplish that, too. Exciting new fonts look handwritten and expert package designers can create uniquely-designed, handwritten logos and key verbal communications to go to the heart of a one-of-a-kind brand. Think: Ben & Jerry’s and Mattel’s Barbie signature. Like a handwritten note to a friend, typography can feel personal and that is emotionally connecting and satisfying. Icons can have the same effect. What does the Apple icon mean around the world to early adopters and the tech savvy?
Tactile substrates prompt targeted consumers to notice and pick up packaging, too. Expensive materials suggest exclusivity. Hasbro’s Transformers Platinum Edition Year of the Snake collector’s packaging features gold foil shields with snake insignia. The figures of Transformers like Optimus Prime are superimposed over the shields and there is great attention to detail, which thrills fans of the brand. The packaging speaks: these are premium-priced collectors’ items. It also says that the packaging is integral to the value of the toy; it’s a keeper and should be kept in pristine condition.
Connectivity can be achieved via quick-response (QR) codes or cool augmented reality on packaging that enables consumers to use their smartphones to engage with brands in a personal manner. Unique brand personalities, tones of voice, originality and humor can be leveraged and stories can be told; real stories that appeal to its audience’s personal stories and lifestyles. When brands build special cultures that engage their fans to interact with them and with each other, magical things happen. Human beings have a powerful drive to make meaningful connections.
Focusing on the ritual of unwrapping packaging can be a brand focal point, as Apple and its fans understand well. This is another opportunity for connectivity and sharing confirmed by the growing volume of online “unboxing videos” which has been explosive as enthusiastic consumers regularly shoot videos of themselves opening packaging. Since 2010, the number of YouTube clips in the "unboxing" category has increased 871%. According to CNN, in 2014, 2,370 days (6.5 years) of unboxing footage was uploaded on YouTube.
When the pleasure of peeling back layers of packaging is shared within a community as an event, something great has been achieved for that brand, going to the heart of customer experience. Each aspect of interaction should reinforce the brand and provide value, including the opening and use of packaging. Thus, attention to package design structure, closures and functionality should also be considered and leveraged to fit the unique personality of the brand.
Dr. Martyn Newman, a London-based doctor, consulting psychologist and expert in emotional intelligence and leadership, and author of “Emotional Capitalists—The New Leaders,” states: “Ultimately, the only way to create real profit is to attract the emotional rather than the rational customer by appealing to their feelings and imagination.” Packaging plays a large role in accomplishing that for consumer product brands.
Shifting demographic targets
Consumers have dramatically changed; they can’t be pigeon-holed any longer—hence, the need to challenge conventional demographic wisdom. A global study called Female Tribes compiled by JWT London in April 2014 found that 70% of women feel alienated by marketing, despite their purchasing power and their decisive role in making purchase decisions.
The research recommends that brands should stop defining women based on their responsibilities, age groups or life stages such as working moms, retired grandmothers or single working women and start focusing on their lifestyles and ambitions. This understanding should help marketers and package designers to address women’s emotional drivers to engage them in a meaningful manner.
Brands like Dove, LUNA Bar and Hanky Panky get it and that’s why they’re so loved. Extrapolating this data, and knowing what we do from our own research, we should consider this when packaging products for targeted adult groups for all consumer and licensed product brands.
Kids are a different matter. By the time they reach their tween and teen years, they respond to influencers within their groups who gravitate to brands in a more discerning manner than younger children. Brands must uncover the drivers for these influencers, rather than trying to appeal to all kids within these age groups.Forward-thinking graphics, color combinations and punchy verbal communications should hone in on what they respond to: unconventional package structures with interesting closures and cool unwrapping experiences are a plus.
The major toy companies are experts at targeting kids who are the fans of each of their brands, yet their audiences also are in transition. Kids are engaged with technology at a young age, leading to flagging toy sales. But Lego is showing the way forward by taking an anthropological rather than the usual marketing approach. The company’s marketers study kids at play and that’s not all. Lego studies the cultures in which children live around the world, their interactions with their parents and how they use social media.
Lego has reaped great benefits from these insights by tapping into the sustained play patterns necessary to master the skills to build increasingly sophisticated structures. While many toy brands struggle to make and keep fans, Lego’s website enables kids to share what they’ve created and enjoy other kids’ creations, merging real and virtual worlds in a seamless manner. We could argue that kids’ obsession with pads and smartphones actually increases the likelihood that they will embrace Lego due to the strength of their experiences with the brand.
Packaging for the Lego City series demonstrates why kids are so attracted to the brand. There is the promise of excitement, and accomplishment, for younger kids who love helicopters, police vehicles, motorcycles and ATVs as they test their skills to build these structures. Older kids can see plenty of challenges and attainable satisfaction with “expert” level kits. Let’s remember: Plenty of parents remember and love the brand, too. They can engage with their kids and Legos and thoroughly enjoy the experience. Even if they don’t, parents feel good about endorsing Legos as desirable toys for their children because of the educational and developmental values that they offer.
Lego surpassed Mattel as the No.1 toy company in the world in 2014. What’s even more striking is that Lego was named the most powerful brand by Consultancy Brand Finance, which publishes an annual ranking of the top 500 global brands.
This isn’t about being the most valuable brand in monetary terms but about being the highest in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Proof that delivering to an audience’s emotional needs, making the brand part of their lifestyles, committing to keeping brand values and ensuring quality experiences lead to love and undying loyalty.
Ted Mininni is president of Design Force Inc., a leading package and licensing program design consultancy to the consumer product and entertainment industries. He can be reached at 856-810-2277. Mininni blogs about package and licensing program design at www.designforceinc.com.