Category Archives: Customized Packaging

Paying to Advertise for You


Almost every small business is looking for a way to get its name out and about without dropping a ton of cash on expensive ad campaigns. Who wants to spend much-needed money with little in return, especially in today’s economy? Companies try giving out customized pens, calendars, t-shirts, caps, you name it, each with varying degrees of success and associated costs. Check out the Advertising Specialty Institute impressions study, which compares different types of promotional items.

Custom printed bags get a lot of bang for the buck, the best way for small businesses to constantly market and advertise their names. The impressions study listed above has more specifics.

Consumers want bags they can use a dozen times more for different reasons. Not only does customized packaging serve consumers by providing reusable bags, but it also reinforces the company’s image and promotes the business name every time the bag is used. Yes, every time the bag is noticed, on the sidewalks, at friends’ houses, at the office or on the subway.

It’s similar to a walking billboard. Pedestrians who see a well-designed bag will turn their heads for a second look. Don’t believe me? Just sit on a park bench and observe. The pedestrian is not likely to remember the stranger carrying the bag, but the image of the bag itself will resonate. Or maybe the friend or co-worker will inquire about the store. Better to have that great image associated with your company than your competitor!

And by the way, according to the Advertising Specialty Institute, 187 people will see that bag in the United States. The cost to make those impressions is lower than other forms of marketing.

Speaking of marketing, a number of small businesses try to go the online route by blanketing the web with promotional comments. I’m talking about those who drop links to their blog or website link on tons of forums, regardless of whether these are appropriate avenues or not. Believe me, it’s more than okay to market your business online, it’s encouraged, through signature links and mentioning your store when appropriate. It’s not okay to derail threads! No one likes a spammer, or ad bomb, the type of poster who leaves one self-serving comment and a URL link no matter what the forum topic. Or worse, illegible posts created by auto commenting software. Ever see those? Like obnoxious word salad. Grammatical nightmares that make no sense in any context. Don’t associate your company with that kind of marketing. To promote your small business in a positive way, it’s much better to be part of the online discussion than a sideline hack. Just my two cents.

Brand or Bland?


Which bag above are you immediately drawn to?

As we discussed in previous posts, your company logo, from its lettering to design and choice of colors, immediately makes a statement about your business, for good or bad. Your logo is what your business stands for, what your particular style is, and what a consumer or client can expect. It’s a vital form of communication, an instant visual image that will either resonate or repel. If you have a million different emblems used in advertising, packaging and marketing, changing styles from one week to the next, it certainly makes it difficult for customers to associate any particular motif with your company. How will they recognize your business when it’s constantly changing image?

Consistently using the same carefully crafted logo is a much better bet to building your brand. In a tight economy, consumers are extremely leery about shelling out dollars for a brand they know nothing about or do not trust. When money is falling from trees, they may be less hesitant to try every product under the sun. But when the wallet contracts? So do the extra expenditures and the risk taking. Yet brand loyalty remains, as consumers perceive value in its purchase.

So what message is sent when packaging has next-to-no design? I’m talking generic packaging here, plain bags and boxes. Perhaps nothing comes of it. Maybe no one gives it a second thought as they head out the store door. Maybe a consumer assumes that the retailer is doing so well, the retailer ran out of customized shopping bags. Or maybe the consumer wonders if the stockroom forgot to re-order or is a disorganized mess. Or maybe, there is no message, because the store doesn’t have one, because it’s not important enough. That is a wasted opportunity. Maybe someone likes the red bag handles. But is anyone going to remember where that bag came from? Is anyone going to feel compelled to ask? Of course not.

Who wants to be anonymous? Small businesses that prefer to hide don’t make the Fortune 500 anytime soon. And just like companies take their logos and packaging seriously, very few businesses set out to be confused with a generic store brand. Everyone wants to stand out from their competitors and catch a shopper’s attention, for the most part. So when department stores and national retailers set up their own lines, they treat them as separate entities, including their own particular design and logos. J.C. Penny promotes a lot of its floor space to its own private clothing label, Arizona, while Target prominently displays its own food lines, Archer Farms and Market Pantry, near the name brands. Each brand has its own look and continues to attract and retain its own market. Those are just two examples, I’m sure you have a dozen of your own.

By the way, I’m not saying that logos are the be all and end all to a successful business. That is ridiculous. Start-ups can’t rely simply on well-designed logos to attract a billion new clients and call it a day. The company has to offer something to begin with, and something that consumers want or need, and let those consumers know the company exists in the first place. But we can’t ignore the vital part that packaging and overall branding plays.

The Tiffany Box


Hope everyone enjoyed a great Father’s Day, yesterday. Which brings me to the general subject of gifts. Or more accurately, how those gifts are wrapped. I’m always thinking about the packaging! So imagine this: you receive a beautiful Tiffany diamond bracelet for your birthday, for Valentine’s Day, for a special occasion or wedding anniversary, whatever the case may be. Most women would be thrilled to accept such a thoughtful, elegant present any day of the year. Except, perhaps, when the bracelet is found in a hideous, garish lime-green foiled bag with the company name stamped on like an afterthought. The presentation is a monstrosity compared to the iconic blue box known round the world. What if the bracelet was wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag? That would still be terrible. Although the jewelry is genuine, and may be the most beautiful piece ever created, the reaction is definitely going to be skepticism about the origin. As in, “Is this a fake?” Or, “Where did you get this, outside the train station?” No, really. Where did you buy this bracelet?

Even if that Tiffany bracelet was presented in a pretty pink box, its recipient might still doubt that it really came from the famous jeweler. Packaging must be as authentic as the contents. Anything less, and the reactions are usually going to be weary and mistrust. Why? Because consumers do not like being duped. If they come to expect a particular blue-hued box with that Tiffany bracelet, it’s because of brand awareness. Tiffany spent more than a century and a half building its classic reputation and as a result is globally recognized. The company not only took its jewelry designs seriously, but its packaging, going as far as having the box color trademarked. As a result, competitors cannot take Pantone 1837 and slap it all over advertising in attempts to mislead consumers. (The number “1837” stands for the year Tiffany was founded, and when the famous blue hue was selected to represent the company’s craftsmanship.)

For ages, research firms have been trying to get a handle on consumer behavior. Many come to the conclusion that perception is key, meaning how a consumer sees a product’s packaging is how the consumer sees the actual product. If a soda is served in a bottle differing in color than what the consumer is used to, say Coke in a brown labeled bottle instead of red, the consumer will think the soda itself has also changed in taste. No matter the reality.

What does this all mean for your small business? Carefully build your brand and then stick with it. Tiffany chose its blue hue in 1837, the year the company founded. The jeweler didn’t go through packaging redesign every few decades, confusing customers with a rainbow of colors selected on a whim. Customized packaging is an integral part of your brand, not an afterthought or just another expense on the books.

Logo-Less Has No Legs


When customers frequently purchase a product, they become accustomed to that product’s design. In fact, they actively look for the familiar image when shopping. It doesn’t matter what the image actually is, as long as it is positively identified with a brand. What happens when the company decides to modify its brand, changing iconic logos to unrecognizable designs? Sometimes, disaster.

As just one example, take Tropicana. In early 2009, the broadly recognized orange juice underwent a design change, from the identifiable orange with straw brand symbol to a more generic, blander logo. What happened? Customers were outraged, even though the juice was absolutely the same. A number of customers had trouble finding the orange juice on shelves, confusing the new logo with discount, generic brands. Many customers were vocal and complained directly to the parent company, Pepsi. As a result of the backlash, and sales plunging almost 20%, Pepsi had to backtrack a bit.

In 2010, The Gap also badly miscalculated when it changed its long-time logo, going from a serif font on a solid blue background to a bulky sans-serif complete with a small, gradient blue square floating behind the name. What on earth did it mean? A clothing chain without direction? Redesigning logos is not cheap. This looked like a graphic designer out of grade school had fun with the system fonts. Needless to say, the new logo flopped. Customers stormed to Facebook and Twitter, complaining bitterly about the redesign, with good reason. The identity of a clothing chain catering to youth was wiped out, replaced by a hideous block of text without purpose.

Recently Starbucks has updated its logo, to less fanfare than either the Tropicana or Gap debacles. At the start of 2011, the 40-year old coffee chain introduced its new look, changing its logo to omit the words, “Starbucks Coffee” from cup packaging. The logo itself has been tweaked four times now, but this is the first time that the company name has been left out entirely. Coffee drinkers are not exactly inspired by the change and some were actually quite angry, as evident from user comments on the chain’s website. And those are just the fans of Starbucks, the long-term customers who don’t mind shelling out four bucks a cup, at minimum.

Which leads me to this question: What if someone new to the brand is unable to identify the product? Yes, Starbucks is ubiquitous, with a shop on every corner it seems, so it’s hard to get away from the brand. But that doesn’t mean the company should take its audience and potential market for granted. Also, what does Starbucks plan on selling if not coffee??? Sometimes broadening a name allows a company to be more encompassing, especially when that company is in a leadership position. In this case, Starbucks eliminated its name from packaging because it might venture in other fields aside from coffee. Sometimes going in too many directions, or far afield from your core business, is completely ill-advised. We’ll see which way Starbucks goes.

Color Combination


Colors can draw someone in, or repel, depending on the situation. Let’s say a child is celebrating his or her birthday, with a trip to the toy store for a new gift. In most corners of the universe, a child simply can’t wait to go, bursting with excitement at the idea. Now imagine that child walking into such a toy store, and instead of bright, vibrant colors, the walls are black, adorned with dark images and serious fonts. How many kids are going to be impressed by the overall somberness? Many kids might even be frightened. That kind of atmosphere just doesn’t attract or appeal to children, who are drawn to fun arrays of colors, and a constant state of playfulness.

The same applies to packaging. A child might be excited by a toy placed inside a plain bag, once opened of course. But her eyes will immediately light up at the mere sight of a bright box, complete with balloon lettering and ribbons, making that present even more special and anticipated. Conversely, most adults wouldn’t care to receive a high-end sophisticated or romantic gift wrapped in a rainbow bag, complete with cartoonish fonts fit for the circus.

It is often thought that colors affect mood, and even behavior. That red is attention getting while blue is calming and green is associated with nature. Whether you believe such “color psychology” is valid, marketing hype or outright quackery, many successful companies take colors into consideration when designing logos and packaging. When colors are non-complimentary, as the above mentioned situations, the experience is likely jarring. Likewise, when the packaging does not match the original shopping experience, (i.e., the identifiable logo is missing or the colors do not match the store environment) a customer can wind up with the feeling that something is wrong after purchase, but what?

Packaging is communication, always sending a message to customers about your business. As a result, the choice of colors should never be overlooked. If your intent is to convey happiness, sending customers out of your store with dark, black bags, isn’t going to cut it. Colors must also be harmonious. If the colors of company logo clash with the custom printed bags or boxes, the effects can be hideous.

Picking colors for your store’s bags and boxes is not just based on what your personal favorites may be, but what you are trying to convey.

Follow the Golden Arches


Fifty six years ago today, Ray Kroc opened a McDonald’s Restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois. It was actually in 1940 that McDonald’s stared with a car-hop restaurant, in San Bernadino, California. Prior to even that, White Castle popularized the fast-food hamburger by selling an image to the middle and upper classes. “Julia Joyce,” a White Castle spokesperson hired in host cities, visited several Women’s Clubs each day, touting the nutritional values of hamburger meat and cleanliness of the White Castle kitchens.

Today, McDonald’s is a multi-billion dollar franchise. Rather than relying on or taking its repeat customers for granted, the biggest fast food chain stays vigilant with marketing. In other words, McDonald’s is constantly making buzz about its products, whether it’s a new menu item, a variation of an existing menu item or a promotional tie-in.

In 2010, McDonald’s even changed the way it packages fast food. From understated fonts to bold sports typography and bright images of “healthy” ingredients such as lettuce and onions. Different meals have different graphics and different fonts to accent the food. How you see a font is similar to how you see a product. For example, the “Good N Cold” drink has frosty lettering while the fries have “crispy” text. Would you associate Hawaii with a style similar to the Wild Wild West? Of course not.

Most small businesses, unless they were rained on by the lottery fairy, initially operate by their bootstraps, sometimes for many years. Owners, facing a stream of expenses, often opt against investing in marketing, advertising and branding. But all of that is how the business grows and is recognized. Look at McDonald’s. Earlier this month, the corporation announced it would be hiring 50,000 new employees, which shows how business is doing. (Employment is usually a lagging indicator of the economy. Layoffs happen after a market tanks. Likewise, new employees happen after the market picks up.)

No matter what if the economy is expanding or contracting, entrepreneurs are used to frustration. My father and uncle started this business from scratch in 1950 and worked hard for every client. But entrepreneurs are also the types who relish freedom, the ability to act on one’s ideas without consent from a committee. They thrive on recognition and feedback, while assuming risk for failure. The Stockdale Paradox usually comes into play: “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the disciple to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Again, McDonald’s did not start out to become a multi-billion dollar fast food franchise. It started out as one restaurant serving barbecued meals. It wasn’t until a multimixer salesman, Ray Kroc, took the idea national that it became a franchise (and not overnight.) By 1965, there were 700 restaurants nationwide, 5,000 worldwide by 1978. Today, the franchise has literally served billions of burgers.

Getting Better All The Time


On this day in history, back in 1959, NASA introduced the country to its first astronauts: Alan Shepard and John Glenn among others. Since the inception of the United States, Americans have been known not only for their resilience but for innovation. When a new product comes on the market, it is soon replaced or competing with even faster, strong, sleeker designs. What’s going on with your packaging? Is it keeping pace? Are you using yesteryear’s material with an unidentifiable brand?

If a product is flying off the shelf, sales quarter after sales quarter, it makes little sense to fix what’s not broken. The exception to the rule: some companies purposely take items off the shelf to entice existing customers to try to new products or create a “buying panic” with what’s left in stock. For example, the cosmetics company LUSH routinely discontinues soaps and scents to make way for new items in its stores. Sometimes, when a product proves to be exceptionally popular, LUSH retains the product instead of giving it the axe.

But when market share dives off a cliff, it is imperative for a company to make changes. Changing the packaging is not changing the product, but how consumers see that product, otherwise called “positioning.”

When the Volkswagen Beetle debuted, autos on the market at that time were large. The car positioned itself as the alternative to those autos with its “Think Small” ad campaign. Contrast that with the Ford Edsel which had no position, no hole to fill in the consumer’s mind, and to this day is still laughed at. (Common sense will always trump the latest gimmick when it comes to long-lasting value.)

Sometimes consumers go shopping for what they want, a specific product in mind. Say milk, bread, and eggs. Many times, consumers go shopping and discover what they want: a box of baked goods, a bag of chips that happens to catch their eye as they are on the way to the milk aisle. This is labeled “impulse buying” but for many, it’s because the product’s persuasive marketing reminds consumers of a basic need to fulfill. In this case, the consumer was likely hungry for a snack.

Now, the questions. One, is your company fulfilling that need, whatever that need may be? Two, is your company visible enough for consumers to know about your products? Three, what is special about the packaging?

Remember, consumers don’t just value a product for what it’s worth, but what advantage that product has over another similar product. Consumers base decisions on their personal values, their likes and dislikes. But choosing a product is all relative. Meaning, when I’m shopping for something, in my mind I’m asking, how is that product in comparison to other items in the category? Is it better priced or better looking? More functional? Easier to use?

Things to think about.

Poor at Presenting


“Failure to communicate” is possibly the best known expression used for when problems arise. According to Andy Lopata and Peter Roper’s book on business communication, And Death Came Third (2006), about 81% of organizations are poor at verbal communication, from networking to public speaking. The effects of miscommunication are negative, to put it mildly, from making hapless errors to just plain old losing the deal. Poor packaging, in turn, is also poor communication.

Why? The results of effective communication are immediate. Take infomercials which fill a need, and fast. More than 75% of calls and sometimes even 95% of calls are made within 30 minutes of the commercial airing. Very few consumers write down the toll free number with the intent of calling at a later time. It’s pretty quick – when they see a product they want, they make the call to buy.

Presentation is persuasive. In a blind taste-test, wine drinkers would not necessarily know the variances between expensive vintages and cheap knockoffs if not told otherwise. Sometimes, tasters can’t even distinguish between types. Served in a specific glass however, taste testers notice big differences among the chardonnays and burgundies. Why? Because the mind is now pre-determining what the wine is supposed to taste like.

Presentation is not everything however. Something must be behind the package. Back in the 1870s, would anyone have bought “Snake Oil” if the concoction was sold in a clear, glass bottle, and no one around to sell you on its contents? At the time, original Snake Oil tonics were actually pain-killing opiates mixed with non-essential ingredients. Half a million pounds of opiates were sold annually, so it was pretty popular. Similar, competing tonics even offered swigs of alcohol with every sip. Then travelling carnival barkers began selling inferior, useless potions. Since carnivals blew into and out of town, angry customers weren’t able to alert potential customers from being swindled. Now, Snake Oil is a term used to describe something fraudulent, a product that will never live up to ridiculous, over-the-top claims. Outright lies will always seal the fate of a useless product.

Presentation also has to be seen. It can’t hide waiting for someone to notice. Many companies frequently lend products and attire to celebrities. Why? These wealthy celebrities certainly can afford to buy such items on their own. It’s to build or maintain brand value by association, a theme that is also prominent in films. James Bond wouldn’t be caught dead driving around in a minivan or spotted wearing outlandish and unfitted shirts. Everything about Bond is specific, evoking class and sophistication.

For many parity products, meaning that items are similar to others on the market, you cannot change what the product is, but what it means. Vodka, which tends to taste the same no matter who manufacturers it, relies on packaging to capture an audience’s attention and imagination. How do perfumes advertise without offering samples? By selling an image associated with the scent, a storyline and an appropriate package. Some sneakers are not popular solely because of the style, design or material but because of the endorsing athlete. (A conundrum for companies when that athlete goes astray or gets arrested.)

Packaging is not everything but it is a pretty big something. Back in 1987, Forbes magazine tried offering readers a box of Marlboros, sold at half price. But the cigarettes were presented in a generic brown box.  Only 21 percent responded. That’s a terrible response rate. So remember, presentation, presentation, presentation.

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