How DTC brands can use packaging as an innovative branding medium
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Packaging is an expense that’s often left to the last minute. It’s a problem that’s solved reactively rather than proactively.
For many ecomm retailers, that’s a lost opportunity. Packaging is the first physical touchpoint between your business and your customer. Plus, it’s the only marketing channel that reaches 100% of your customers.
For DTC brands, packaging is your business’ retail store, the stage that presents your product to the customer to say, ‘Here I am,
Today we’re going to take a look at:
- The importance of packaging for DTC brands
- Sustainable packaging
- DTC packaging design examples
UGC and packaging
A key marketing tactic of DTC brands is the shareability of their content. This content may be in the form of user-generated content; it may be a well-written blog, or a collaboration with an influencer.
It’s hard to talk about the DTC business model without referencing Glossier. The brand relies heavily on social media monitoring, mainly Instagram, and the content of its customers’ to complement any marketing campaigns.
Teami blends tea worked with Kylie Jenner to take their product to a health-conscious audience.
Two years after the post, the photo has almost 2 million likes.
The point is this: User Generated Content (UGC) is integral to spreading a brand’s name amongst new audiences. And when that new audience buys your product, you must make a positive first impression to foster more user-generated content.
The unboxing experience
As you read early, first impressions last for online retailers, and you only get one chance at making an excellent first impression.
Think back, briefly, to the time you were a kid at Christmas. You could see the tree, your presents underneath. When it was time to let loose, the excitement that went through you as you tore off the wrapping paper was sheer exhilaration.
Today, when you come home from work and see an Amazon box at your front door, that same emotion kicks in, even when you know what you’re receiving.
Excitement, anticipation, delaying the satisfaction of having something new. Then, as you open the box and physically interact with the brand for the first time, you’re consuming an all-encompassing experience, an experience of unboxing and seeing something new for this first time. With senses heightened, even just slightly, customers are more emotionally involved with your brand.
At this point, they’re most receptive to you, your product, your brand, your values, and everything that makes your brand what it is.
This is all well and good in theory. In reality, what are the benefits of an unboxing experience for your DTC brand?
A well-planned unboxing experience can leave your customers feeling like they received a lot more than they bargained for. Rather than being ‘adequate,’ your brand has extra perceived value, which helps foster customer loyalty. This, in turn, creates an excellent foundation to leverage value-added selling as part of your marketing strategy.
Branding & innovation opportunities
In a traditional retail store, packaging takes on the role of a marketing channel. Its job is to complement the product on the store shelf and contain all information on why a customer should buy this brand over that brand.
DTC packaging isn’t burdened with that role.
This lack of marketing material means more real estate for branding, product propositions, or saying thanks.
Many minimalist brands decide not to use this extra space on their packaging design, thus letting the vacant space do more.
On the other end of the scale, innovative brands can also use the space on their packaging to create more of a rapport with their customer upon delivery.
Another way that DTC brands can innovate is by using sustainable packaging.
Sustainable packaging has developed immensely over the last decade. With the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic challenges making consumers more conscious of where everything comes from, ‘eco-friendly’ packaging is less of a nice to have and more of a necessity.
DTC brands that prioritize environmental conservation should implement sustainable packaging to show that their messaging, product and packaging are all aligned.
The real opportunity for innovation comes when we take a closer look at materials technology.
Ikea has implemented mushroom-based packaging, and cosmetic brands use seaweed-based packaging that dissolves when exposed to water.
Biodegradable mailing bags are becoming more accessible for smaller businesses, meaning that the ‘sustainable’ packaging aspect is now almost worth marketing itself.
Should cutting-edge packaging materials be too far out of your reach, look closer to home. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the humble cardboard box is made from one of the most sustainable materials around - paper pulp.
While paper and cardboard recycling rates are still alarmingly low in some parts of the world, cardboard packaging is the truth.
Packaging made from recycled paper pulp is versatile, cost-effective and easy to acquire. Go one step further by using FSC-certified packaging to show that your packaging is part of a ‘cradle to cradle’ cycle. This certification also ensures that if your products are made from virgin fibres (read: freshly cut trees), those fibres are harvested from responsibly and ethically managed sources.
Bonus tip: The terms’ vegan glues’ and ‘vegan inks,’ when referencing packaging, are akin to greenwashing. Adhesives with animal bi-products are not suitable for use with wood fibres. Similarly, any ink used on paper pulp requires ink with mineral-based oils to prevent bleeding.
Packaging materials & options
If you approach packaging for your brand with the idea that packaging is a box, you’re missing many branding and marketing opportunities.
Packaging is so much more than a box.
Packaging is a medium that holds your product from the moment it leaves your store to the moment it arrives in the hands of your customers.
That medium may be a box.
It may be a standup pouch, ideal for dry goods and small accessories.
It may be a mailing bag, ideal for durable outerwear and apparel.
It may be a cardboard tube, ideal for bottles, printed materials and t-shirts.
These mediums can be packed with custom printed tissue paper or another form of void filler and then sealed with custom printed packing tape.
These are just a handful of options when deciding on the packaging for your brand. By thinking outside of the box (pun intended), you can use traditional packaging materials in untraditional ways, ultimately making packaging innovation part of your marketing strategy.
DTC packaging examples
Now that you’re aware of the role packaging plays for DTC brands look at some businesses that have nailed their packaging design.
Concrete Jungle is a German brand selling concrete-based jewelry directly to their online audience.
Their unique product design fosters brand loyalty, but they take that to the next level by creating packaging that adds incredible value to the brand’s overall experience.
Main takeaways: Your unboxing experience is the basis of a positive first impression.
British DTC brand Raylo gives customers access to new phones on a monthly payment to avoid telco providers. When the contract is up, the phone is refurbished and given to those in low-income communities.
Raylo used packaging engineers to design a single box that would contain the phone and all its accessories, a case made from recycled plastic and all warranty information. As a reseller of another brand’s products, Raylo uses its packaging to make its name known before the brand of the product they’re delivering.
Main takeaways: Use value-engineered packaging to create something truly unique for your brand.
Oase is a luxury supplement brand selling gummies to stimulate and promote healthy and robust hair. Their luxury is expressed in their product label’s minimalistic design and echoed onto their packaging, which creates a seamless experience, going from external packaging to bottle to gummy.
Main takeaways: The fact that DTC packaging doesn’t need to ‘sell’ the product leaves you open to maximize the value of minimalistic packaging design.
Polish CBD manufacturer Hemp Juice creates several types of CBD oil with a range of value propositions; fight anxiety, relax and simply unwind. Each style is branded accordingly.
Not only that, they avoid the ‘weed’ branding cliches by using a muted yet fun and understated design on all their physical mediums.
Main takeaways: Use colour to distinguish your products over both digital and physical mediums.
Blue Moon Spiritual Wellbeing
Blue Moon Spiritual Wellbeing is a British subscription-based business selling crystals with various health benefits.
Knowing that their customers use their products in a therapeutic service, the brand uses its packaging to turn that unboxing excitement into a positive, calm and tranquil moment. The purples and light blues create this feeling of ‘positively magic.’
A thank you message is printed inside the box, and tissue paper is used to extend that excitement during the unboxing experience while also adding a little security.
Main takeaways: Use emotion to build positive associations between your brand and your customers during the unboxing experience.
The world of packaging is much more than a box. Furthermore, the DTC business model presents a wide range of opportunities, not just for product innovation but also for branding innovation.
As the first physical touchpoint between your brand and your customer, your packaging is the perfect medium to innovate.
Done right, you’ll see more user-generated content, an increase in customer loyalty and much more.
Guest post by Phil Forbes
Phil is a bearded Australian living in Warsaw, Poland. When he's not taking Packhelp to the world, he can be found trying not to kill his plants, reading about dinosaurs or writing for his blog expatspoland.