Thinking Beyond the Box—The Future of Packaging

Brands play a large part in people’s lives. They incite much more than just a simple transaction. Consumers don’t just buy products anymore; they search for brands with authentic stories to tell – and that deliver holistic experiences. Brands are now required to be the solution to unmet needs, informers of values, and a means of inspiration, information and education. They don’t just sit on a shelf in a store – they also sit next to friends, acquaintances and idols on social media feeds. In order to continue to meet expectations and occupy such a predominant space in people’s lives, beloved brands must keep reasserting their relevance in new and disruptive ways. New technologies and trends are emerging to enable these companies to do just that.

Consumers today view the products they use as an extension of their own values. As such, they now look to connect with the brands they love; both socially and around causes they believe in. Engagement is coupled with an expectation of transparency, enabling them to always seek a common ground around their values, ideals and beliefs. In the current age where social media dominates a large share of all interactions, people want their lives and their choices to be meaningful—and they want others to know about it. Not only do people buy the brands they like, but they also follow them online, and listen and engage with what they have to say. Brands like Toms have dominated the conversation for a while, while conscientious start-ups such as Pura Vida are increasing in numbers, as well as social media mentions. Established brands like PepsiCo are also exploring new ways to find common ground with their target by introducing new brands. Life Wtr, which breathed new life into bottled water, has built a brand on inspiration and creative potential.

Brands can be disruptive by looking at trends outside of CPG to engage consumers—even new and lapsed users—in new and exciting ways. Mondelez capitalized on the adult coloring book trend that hit late 2015 and 2016 by introducing fully customizable coloring book-inspired Oreo packaging in the Asian market. By offering patterns, coloring and shipping to anywhere via their website, the brand was able to create a new excitement that put the product secondary to the experience. In a market where Oreo lacked the love it experiences in the US, this successfully engaged consumers to build an affinity in a new market. This trend of personalization isn’t new to brands, but also shows no signs of going away. Personalization creates a sense of intimacy with a product, and many heritage brands are looking for new ideas and technologies to keep up with scrappy start-ups that specialize in offering a unique touch in a scalable way.

Engagements must also transcend both digital and physical touchpoints in order to be truly consumer-centric in the always-connected environment. People interact digitally and physically at the same time, which has led to a changing customer journey. Despite these changes, packaging is still the embodiment of a brand. It is the main touchpoint at shelf. The key to success is to elevate a brand experience to the level of theater, having an impact, value, and the means of being something shareable to extend the reach of the experience beyond the limited release or the purchase occasion. New technology has emerged that creates adaptive and dynamic digital experiences on pack. Digimarc and HPI partnered to deliver Digital Watermarking, a technology that allows shoppers to point their mobile device at a package to read the invisible watermarks that are directly embedded under the existing packaging design, enabling them to access coupons, educational materials, recipes, photos, games and more with the tap of a screen. Watermarking is an opportunity for a brand to create interactive content that delights consumers and encourages engagement without going through expensive redesigns to change the pack.

Brands that create relevant customer experiences across all customer touchpoints are the brands that can successfully win over customers at retail. Content is king, and customization and personalization are coveted. According to a study by Deloitte, people are wiling to pay a 42% upcharge for personalization, and brands such as Coke and Smirnoff are utilizing new technologies in disruptive ways to deliver on that desire for consumers. These are just two brands that recognize the importance of understanding consumer motivations and how the role of packaging can create shareable stories and memorable experiences throughout the entire shopping journey. These stories and brand messages are also omnipresent in a consumer’s life. The line between digital and physical environments continue to become more blurred, making brand stories increasingly transparent to the consumer. Due to this, those stories and experiences being relatable to the target audience in an authentic way is key. To maintain a spot in a consumer’s shopping cart, a brand must establish its importance in their life overall. In achieve this, brands must strive to be relevant in people’s lives in ways they don’t expect.

About the Author: Jessica Shvarts is the marketing manager for Interbrand’s Consumer & Retail Brand Experience team. She has a great interest in all things branding, especially related to current events and trends. Prior to joining Interbrand, she worked in the nonprofit sector, during which time she developed a passion for the pen through her work in grant writing. When she’s not living and breathing all things branding, Jessica enjoys traveling, live music, and Cleveland sports.


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