Designing Sticky Packaging at Retail

Chip and Dan Heath’s ideas, derived from their research in a recently published book: “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” have made them the darlings of the marketing world. For good reason. With myriad consumer products in the marketplace these days, it’s getting increasingly difficult to get, and keep, the customer’s attention at retail.

The onus is squarely on marketers to find a way to make their brands and products stick. According to the Heath brothers, being sticky means that: “. . .your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions or behavior.” Consider the questions posed by these sticky thinkers carefully:

  • How can brands and products deliver a powerful message, simply and concisely expressed, that deliver the essential core successfully?
  • How can the brand message be made concrete and memorable?
  • How can the brand be expressed in such a way as to hold the consumer’s attention long enough to deliver that core message?
  • How can a brand capture the consumer’s attention by doing something unexpected?
  • How can the brand be made credible? How can we get the consumer to believe and trust in the brand?
  • How can the brand appeal to consumers on a deeper, emotional level?
  • How can we use storytelling to motivate the consumer to act?

What does all of this have to do with packaging? Everything. Packaging makes both brand and product tangible to the consumer. We could argue that it is the singularly most important touch point because it delivers both into consumers’ hands. Not only should brands be sticky; packaging should be, as well.

The fact that so many brands and brand packaging struggle in the marketplace, is evidence that neither have been sticky enough to consumers. So what do we need to do to address that issue?

If effective, packaging delivers brand and product to the consumer in an experiential manner. That is, it engages the consumer on an emotional, rather than merely an intellectual level. It communicates the brand message quickly and effectively. It delivers the brand’s core assets in an emotive manner. When the brand promise is fulfilled in the consumer’s mind, after purchasing the product, loyalty will begin to develop based on trust.

If great, packaging helps to raise brand and product to iconic status. It transcends an entire category to become the clear product of choice. The brand and product the consumer closely identifies with and aligns with. Iconic consumer brands are the stickiest in our culture. Iconic brands don’t have to appeal to everyone, either. They do have to command absolute allegiance from their consumer base, however. How can packaging help elevate brands and products to that level?

Putting Packaging in Retail Context.

Great packaging is the result of extensive research. Consumer research, category and competitive research all play a role in developing superior packaging. But these aren’t the end-all and be-all. An understanding of our culture and trends is paramount. In order to be viable, living and growing, consumer brands and products cannot exist in a vacuum and remain grounded in their own values without consideration of the modern society we live in. Otherwise, they lose their relevance.

What we’re saying: for packaging to be put into meaningful retail context, it must simultaneously be developed in human context. What do consumers relate to in an emotional manner? What kinds of deeply ingrained cultural cues do they respond to? What are the stories that bind consumers to brands? What is relevant to today’s consumer? What kinds of experiences is the consumer seeking at retail?

People, from time immemorial, have responded to storytelling. Marketers understand that, and many seek to deliver stories about their brands in their packaging, advertising and web sites. But how about the brands that connect their own brand stories with richer, deeper human stories? Or the brands that use cultural cues that consumers recognize and respond to?

Brands like Tazo Tea tell two kinds of stories, and these aren’t separate entities. They are tightly woven together and appear seamless. Tazo Tea tells its story of tea leaves sourced from all over the world, blended into unique combinations. But it goes further. The story tells of cultural roots, long-held local traditions and how tea has a distinctive place in 5000 years of human history.

With highly textured “paper” surfaces, some of which resemble sandstone, Tazo packaging features unusual ornamentation and archaic-looking iconic script as background to the typography. The Tazo logo prominently displays ancient-looking symbols. All of this points to the timeless traditions, social and spiritual connections people the world over have to the drinking of tea. The branding and product packaging bring all of this together in a breathtaking way, making Tazo a standout among premium tea brands.

Pepsi has always positioned itself the cola of choice for a young, hip generation. . .for each successive generation of youth. Now the packaging unites with the brand as Pepsi rolls out over 30 new whimsical, contemporary designs on its soda bottles and cans. The eye-popping art work all retains the brand flagship colors–blues with red and white. The brand identity has retained its heritage but has been contemporized for the newest Pepsi Generation. As packaging expert Peter Arnell, whose firm realized the project, stated in an interview: “Product innovation today must be driven by deep consumer meaning and connectivity.” Exactly. Pepsi, the brand, stands for “fun” and “effervescence” the world over. Why not use strong contemporary graphics to connect to kids in today’s culture?

Start-up Stickiness.

Start-up brands face a major challenge. They also have a unique opportunity to tell a compellingly different story in the marketplace. The fact that failure rates are so high among new brands, points to their inability to deliver a compelling, sticky story to consumers. Yet some brands break through to do just that.

A new chocolate dessert manufacturer in the U.K. has generated considerable buzz among consumers and bloggers. While only available at British grocery chain, Sainsbury’s thus far, its fame is growing quickly, and consumers are openly asking for product availability online. How often do consumers get that excited over another new brand?

Dubbed “Filthy” by The Filthy Food Company, plays up the sinfulness of indulging in decadent chocolate chilled desserts. The “Filthy” hand-scrawled brand identity in chocolate brown on white packaging featuring a sensuous, tactile skin—what else–is strikingly unique. The tagline literally hangs from the logo: “Obsessed by Pleasure”. Rich chocolates are photographed on the packaging, oozing of forbidden goodness. Don’t these elements motivate consumers to act; that is, to buy? Don’t these elements promise pure enjoyment?

In a stroke of pure genius, structural packaging opens up to reveal a love letter to the chocoholic. The packaging folds back to form a bowl, inviting the indulgence to begin at once. How about that for a sticky idea in a crowded product category? Indulgence and forbidden pleasure is a story as old as mankind, and here it’s being delivered with a new twist. The brand delivers its message simply and directly. It is concrete and memorable. It delivers the element of surprise–it’s unexpected.

Now the Filthy brand has to deliver the pleasure and enjoyment it promises the consumer. If it does, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t, it will have earned trust and loyalty. Better yet, consumers themselves will assist in further building this brand through Word of Mouth. What is WOM worth to marketers? A great deal in today’s world of highly connected consumers who are in constant discussion among themselves.

What do the three brand packaging examples cited have in common? They’re stand-outs among competitive products. Unique and instantly recognizable. They’re simple, direct, concrete, memorable, emotive to consumers. They tell strong, compelling stories in cultural context. Best of all: they do it in a totally unexpected way.

Bottom line: brands like Tazo, Pepsi and Filthy can’t be commoditized. They’re too unique and memorable. Their stories and cues are too culturally significant. In short, they’re far too sticky. As we begin another year, let’s cast a critical eye over our brands and packaging and ask ourselves a fundamental question: what we can do to make and keep them sticky with our targeted consumer?