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The Psychology of Custom Packaging (and How to Utilize it)

The Psychology of Custom Packaging (and How to Utilize it)

Aug 11th 2020

Does Custom Packaging Really Matter?

I doubt we’d have written an article if we didn’t think it mattered, but yes, if employed the right way, custom packaging can make a big difference for businesses of all sizes. What is a shipping package if not a small, cardboard billboard? A visually striking, thoroughly branded, eco-friendly shipping package sends a strong first impression, builds word of mouth (I mean did you see that package in the mail room earlier?), and shows that your brand won’t be contained in a boring cardboard box.

You can read the rest of the article if you want, or you can get started designing your custom packaging right away. Overwhelmed? Read on for some custom packaging design tips learned from consumer psychologists and years in the sustainable packaging biz, or just contact us and we can do the heavy lifting for you.

First Impressions Matter (Even in Ecommerce)

We all know that first impressions matter. In dating, in job interviews, and in retail. Psychological studies have backed it up time and again- a person’s first impressions of a person inform their perception of that person throughout their relationship. In the case of a blind date, it may be a blessing that your shirt had a stain on it that you didn’t notice until later, but in the world of business it can really make a difference to the bottom line. What you wear to the job interview will likely affect how you’ll be treated throughout your time at the company (congratulations on getting the job, though). You wouldn’t show up to a job interview in pajamas, so why would you ship your killer product in something boring and unsustainable?

It’s not just your clothes, your personality makes a big first impression, too. Why do you think sassy brand Twitter is so big these days? Personality makes a difference in brand first impressions, too. The only issue is, you don’t have a way to be the coolest one in the room if your brand is left silent on the doorstep. So how do you show personality from the first time your customer sees your product on their stoop? Packaging.

In the retail world this isn’t new information - a national study conducted in 2018 by the Paper and Packaging Board found that 72% of consumers stated that packaging design can influence their purchasing decisions. On the converse side, in 2010 Australia mandated that all cigarettes be sold in plain packaging- a move that resulted in national smoking rates significantly declining (rates declined more than they had in 20 years of anti-smoking efforts). Okay okay, so you get how it could have an effect in a retail environment, with competitors all lined up next to each other, but does it matter for a shipping package?

Let’s first answer that with a big old, “it depends.” For everyday items like toilet paper, pens, or dog food, probably not. People are going to buy the staples no matter what. Particularly in a time in which more and more businesses are transitioning to ecommerce, people are purchasing groceries and basics online in record numbers. However, if your ecommerce brand offers something extra- like function and joy or style and environmental responsibility, custom shipping packaging really does matter.

Custom mailers

Whether you’re selling clothing, toys, cbd oil, or candles, you’re facing a ton of competition, and you should be offering more than just a product that fills a specific need. Ecommerce brands are consistent throughout- from their social media to their website experience to their email marketing and finally to your doorstep, they tell a unified, unique story that consumers use to build their own identities (and future purchase decision, more on that later). What is the search engine if not the modern-day, safely distanced shopping aisle? Awesome, your website is so slick it makes Amazon nervous, but your customer’s first physical interaction with your brand is on their doorstep or in their mailroom. Make it count.

You know what else matters? The unboxing experience. The shipping package makes the first impression, the unboxing experience makes the second. Click that really obvious link a couple sentences ago for tips on how to make yours satisfying and eco-friendly. You want it to be eco-friendly, trust us. When the shipping package comes into play, your customer has already been swayed by your digital presence to part with their hard-earned cash- make sure they know it’s worth that and the wait. Don’t take our word for it- a little company called Apple pioneered this packaging first impression hack.

Word of Mouth/Viral Marketing

“Okay okay I get it, custom packaging is important for first impressions, but what else does it do? My website and product are flawless, are there any other reasons to justify the cost of responsibly-sourced custom packaging?” We’re glad you asked. What is a shipping package, but a small, cardboard billboard? Beyond its physical impressions, a package that makes a customer feel better makes them even more excited about the brand and likely to share it with their friends and family.

Design a good enough unboxing experience around your product, and you could even rake in the views with one of those unboxing videos your kids are probably watching. The ideal custom packaging should be striking enough to make an impression in the mailroom, responsibly sourced and stylish enough to make an impression in the hearts of your customers, and protective and layered enough to make a compelling unboxing video. Does your packaging satisfy those criteria? If not, better get started.

Custom packaging for small business can be beautiful and unique

Brands and Self-Perception

We touched on this a little already, but it’s worth going over again- especially through the lens of environmental responsibility and stewardship. The key principle of custom packaging design is that the package represents the brand’s values. We hope sustainability is a core value of yours (and by extension, your customers). Packaging that has clearly been chosen because of its eco-friendly attributes is essential for any brand that has made sustainability a part of its core values (which again, you probably should).

It’s what people want- 66% of customers surveyed reported that they would be willing to spend more on a product from a sustainable brand. Customers who buy from sustainably-minded companies are often self-conscious about the packaging to begin with, so if you fail to be as visibly sustainable as possible, they will notice. This can lead to guilt, and a hesitancy to make repeat purchases. This is why it’s critical to lead with sustainability- again, the shipping package is your customer’s first physical interaction with your brand. Get it right and you cement that emotional connection between your customer and your brand, right off the bat.

6 Principles of Custom Packaging Design

We’re on the same page about the importance of sustainable custom packaging now, right? Now let’s go over how to actually pull it off. Good custom packaging design involves a balance of the aesthetic, the eco-friendly, the branding, and perhaps most important- the protection of your products in transit. While your packaging needs may vary depending on your product and industry, the following are some general guidelines for designing the perfect custom shipping packaging. 

1.) Less can be More (but Not too Little)

Truly sustainable brands should reject excessive packaging- both aesthetically and physically. Aesthetically, avoid foils and flash, as they often render the packaging unrecyclable (plus at some point it’ll feel like you might be overcompensating for something). Anything shiny, lined, slick, or full coverage is probably too much- and probably can’t be recycled.

Physically, you don’t need a Russian Doll approach with layers upon layers of packaging either, and you don’t need enough void fill to fill a bathtub. Make sure your packaging is protective- maybe do a trial run or two when first implementing new packaging solutions, but don’t go crazy with it.

2.) Material/Package Type- Match Your Product

Not every product-type requires Apple-level packaging- if you’re selling something more basic or on the lower end of the cost spectrum, there are custom packaging solutions that will work for you that might not work for a higher-end product. Presentation style boxes convey a “luxury” feel, good for a more expensive product, while a recycled, custom paper mailer makes for a cost-effective step down. To get even more cost effective, but sacrifice that more premium feel, an eco-friendly poly mailer is an extremely versatile, still customizable option. There is no one-size-fits all packaging solution, but there is a good, green option for just about every need.

Custom product packaging that's affordable and attractive like this mailer

3.) Color is Key

Neutral tones, like kraft paper and unlacquered cardboard scream “eco-friendly” with packaging, but don’t confuse that for drab. Some color and design is important, as long as you’re consistent. With color- stay true to your brand, and be cautious of how ink bonds with different material types. You don’t want your packaging looking like a cheap knockoff of your brand, you want it to look like the genuine article. Want to go even more eco-friendly, and don’t mind sacrificing on color? Algae ink is making waves in the packaging industry as the most sustainable ink available.

4.) Shape and Structural Design- Keep it Safe and Secure

A very simple rule for packaging shape and size is to use the smallest, snuggest package you can that does the job. Think about that bag of chips you open to find just a handful of actual chips at the bottom of the bag- it’s just disappointing. People get frustrated by huge, empty packaging for the same reason. Plus, unlike in the chips example, more air actually increases the chances your product gets damaged in transit as it freely bounces around the box. Don’t just fill the void with a bunch of plastic air bags, either. They aren’t just a nuisance, they have a low quality feel that is best suited for something very basic, something for which minimal thought needs to be applied to its packaging.

If you ship objects that are roughly the same size, a custom insert can be a striking way to both protect and present your product in a shipping package. Not everything needs to be in an insert- if you sell a wide variety of products you could go bankrupt trying to create a unique insert for every possible product combination. If you find yourself in that position, try GreenWrap or corrugated bubble as eco-friendly plastic air bag alternatives.

5.) Brand Everything

Brand doesn’t just stop at a logo. Think about your brand’s story, and how you can let it “unfold” with the packaging. Your messaging should take place throughout the unboxing experience- convey your brand values and make your customers feel good about themselves and their purchase. A custom shipping box has 14 different surfaces that you can use as a canvas- don’t just slap your logo on the outside and call it a day.

Even with mailers there are ways to slip brand messages in and extend the “unboxing” process- use packing slips, handwritten notes, or stickers to encourage customers to interact with your brand for longer than it takes to open a box and throw out the packing peanuts. And please don’t use styrofoam packing peanuts.

Custom-printed packaging doesn't limit your creativity to the outside of the box

6.) Real Sustainability Matters, Not Just the Messaging

It’s easy to be cynical about brands “embracing sustainability” on a purely surface level while reaping the rewards of the naive eco-conscious consumer, but we really do believe sustainability matters, and we put that ethos into every product we develop. Greening your packaging is a relatively easy, substantive step to take in the right direction. We all want a better planet, and if you can help achieve that by changing something as seemingly minor as your shipping packaging, why wouldn’t you?

We offer a wide array of 100% recycled packaging, and everything we offer is 100% recyclable. We don’t just offer eco-friendly cardboard boxes either, we offer a full line of eco-friendly packaging supplies, including tape, shipping labels, and void fill. Did we mention the algae ink we’re using? Tell customers your sustainability story while making a real difference for the environment. Custom, sustainable packaging from EcoEnclose is a great first step towards a greener future. Get inspired with custom packaging examples or contact us to start working on your sustainable packaging framework.