As eCommerce gets more crowded by the day, branding has become the bread and butter of differentiating a business.
Creating a logo, a tagline, a color scheme, and the company tone tends to be the first step in brand building, and the second is applying it to all aspects of the business that are customer facing, like website design, email templates, and social media.
But an often overlooked place to slap your brand on is the very order you're shipping out -- the package your customer will receive.
Let's look at the typical merchant who's selling on Amazon and their own hosted storefront, like Shopify. When a customer makes an order on Amazon, absolutely no part of a merchant's brand is touching them. No website experience, no direct contact with the customer.
What's the point of having a brand if the customer is a) unaware of it, and b) not experiencing it?
That's where your branded packaging comes in. Personally, when I order off Amazon, I expect nothing but the product. An unexpectedly-branded package raises eyebrows, provides brand awareness, and leaves a memory, which hopefully results in additional purchases, whether via the same customer or word-of-mouth from that more-than-satisfied customer.
Plus, for some odd reason, the unboxing experience is something people enjoy. Call it memories of Christmas, a genetic curiosity, or the thrill of ripping something open, but there's something about unboxed stuff that's appealing, as evidenced by the plethora of unboxing videos on YouTube and their 57% growth rate.
Those unboxing videos double as social reviews and substitutes for the physical experience brick & mortars offer. Not only do viewers get a look at the product through someone else's view before buying, positive feedback from the unboxer can influence a potential customer to purchase.
Spectacular packaging not only elevates the customer's experience, but it makes your product much more appealing, if not memorable, to the viewer.
What's in the box? Potentially lots of stuff. Orders can be more than just a box and a product. Plenty of brand elements can be added, and just as many services are out there to help get the job done:
- The very first thing your customer lays eyes on has the power to immediately wow them. Boxes are the first, largest, and most important packaging element to a brand. They protect the product, but they're also a first impression that can turn an otherwise mundane box-opening into a branded experience.
Here are some services that can create custom, branded boxes for you, but be wary of prices:
Protective materials - All the insides (the tissue paper, bubble wrap, and styrofoam), as well as the very tape keeping everything together are fair game to brand-ize. Consider adding your business' colors to each. For tape specifically, you may want to apply your logo or business name to it by using the following services:
Notes - Everybody loves a handwritten note expressing genuine appreciation. Throw one into an order for a personal touch that make the customer feel like they've done more than just buy a product. If that's too time-intensive, consider printing scripted notes, and sign them instead.
Surprise perks - If a note doesn't cut it, throw in an extra perk, like a discount on any single, subsequent purchase that gets ‘em buying more. Or include a small treat, like mints, candy, or a keychain. Small, swag-like stuff that you'd expect from a fair or event works well here.
Learn from the Pros
For some inspiration, let's look at a few well-branded examples from fellow ecommerce entrepreneurs:
Danny P. began with a mission to create a premium, leather wallet case for an iPhone that looked attractive, was accessible, and oozed quality. But before the customer is even able to see the product, the package embodies those very adjectives.
Looking at the packaging, you can tell there's some serious thought put into it. If you're going to go on the route of an elegant-esque brand, as Danny P seems to do, your packaging must reflect that.
They aren't quite an ecommerce business, but the lesson sure isn't lost on them. Thelma's sells cookies and ice cream sandwiches, delivering them them in a literal box oven that helps keep the goodies warm.
From the packaging alone, you get the sense that the treats are fresh, warm out of the oven, and made with love by your dearest grandma. It isn't just cookies -- the entire package perfectly represents a branded experience.
Clarks Desert Boots
Established way bay in the 1950's, Clarks pioneered a WWII inspired shoe that's been popular since inception. As a special partnership with an English manufacturer following their 65th anniversary, they upped their game up by producing England-inspired shows with limited edition packaging.
Everything about this packaging speaks limited edition. It's equipped with socks, cleaner, laces, and it comes in an authentic double box. Plus, it's entirely made in England, reinforcing the global aspect of the brand and celebrating its English customers.
A Word of Warning
I'm sure these examples look exceptional, but branded packaging obviously comes at a cost, which is why it's sometimes referred to as "premium packaging." There are clear issues to be aware of.
When it comes to the bottom line, you must ensure that custom packaging won't break your margins. Using the custom services listed above means paying more than what you would for your average cardboard supplies. It can get expensive, which is why most "premium" products -- i.e. expensive -- are more willing to splurge on packaging (think Apple).
Factoring your branded experience into the price of the product is a standard way to remedy the added costs, as the customer is paying for an entire experience, not just the product.
Also, rather than going full-on custom, it's also possible to purchase various colored boxes that align with your brand's color pallet. Ali Express, for instance, sells unique boxes in multiple styles and colors. It's not branded specifically to you, but it's a step up and it's cheaper.
On the fulfillment side of things, branded packaging can present some issues. If you're all about in-house fulfillment, it's not too much of a problem, as you've got complete control over everything and can package as you see fit.
But if you're using outsourced fulfillment or dropshipping, the fulfillment process is out of your hands, making it difficult to get your custom packaging in the hands of your 3PL (third-party logistics provider) or supplier. Fulfillment is all about efficiency for them, so adding your special branded materials to the process may be off the table unless you're able to negotiate some arrangement.
Ultimately, keep your target customer in mind. Are they interested in a branded experience? Do they care? If you fiddle with custom packaging, be sure to gauge reaction to see if it's worth it.
It's also more than just customers. Some impressively-branded packaging can garner buzz on social media, YouTube, and product-related blogs that can provide a serious boost to brand awareness. At the end of the day, like any business strategy, be sure to measure your efforts to ensure it's all worth it.
Harrison Dromgoole is the Content Creator at Ordoro, a shipping and inventory management tool. Ordoro tackles the unsexy but essential function of supply chain and order management, allowing merchants to streamline their back-office processes across all their sales channels so they can focus on growing their business.