Social media is a way to facilitate conversation and connection. Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are vital to a brand’s continued relevance as they offer the ability to spread virally and reach consumers in much more meaningful ways, and allows for customers to find out more without ever switching devices or media.
Great package design is the true impetus for a lot of these social media behaviors, with the greatest benefit being amazing free marketing for a brand. By having packaging images turn up on these social media sites, it allows brands to be discovered in new ways and passed along by consumer advocates.
“From the standpoint of brands succeeding in social media, packaging can be a huge factor,” says Chris Lowery, Chase Design Group’s president and chief strategist. “Facebook and Twitter thrive on likes and retweets, so the more compelling the image the better. If it’s a package that’s being shared then you want to be certain it represents your brand in a very unique and attractive manner.”
For example, when the brand Better Together baked goods shared an image of its package in a creative context, it was picked up and shared across numerous consumers’ social media channels to the tune of hundreds of thousands of views.
“We already know that package design is a critical factor that influences which product a consumer will choose at the point of purchase,” says Carla Fantoni, vice president of communications for Tetra Pak U.S. & Canada. “Now, social media has extended that window of influence with packaging also serving as the digital fingerprint of a brand when a product image is shared beyond the store shelf as part of the consumer’s everyday life.”
Compelling packaging can expand a brand’s marketing influence via the social media feeds of its consumers—a digital spin on “word of mouth” where the more appealing the design, the more it will stand out in a sea of social media.
Brands Paying Attention
Chelsea Phillips, senior director, U.S. Value Brands at Anheuser-Busch InBev, notes its packaging is an integral part of the consumer experience as it’s the first thing that people see on shelves and company research shows Busch drinkers are passionate about outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing, which is why it created special-edition packaging.
“In addition to changing the graphics on our standard primary cans, we’re taking our hunting and fishing packaging to the next level with ‘trophy cans,’” she says. “These individual special-edition cans are randomly seeded in select packages. People who find them can upload an image on Busch.com to win prizes, so we get lots of creative entries.”
Phillips notes that consumers already love posting pictures showing off their record-breaking bass fish or first buck of the season socially, and this new packaging gives them a way to have the product naturally fit in with the rest of their gear in the photo.
Priska Diaz, founder and CEO of Bittylab, makers of Bare Air-free Baby Bottles, says a lot of thought and consideration is put into the packaging of its products, knowing the images may be posted online.
“Packaging, branding, iconic shapes and colors predominate. Logo design is key on packaging, with the most effective shapes being square and circle, as they will become icons and will be displayed best at 1:1 ratio,” she says. “The brand name has grown, sometimes we see them as big as 50% of the front, so that when shown in pictures, one can actually read the brand name.”
The Bare Air-free baby bottles were first introduced as an online pre-sale three months before it was ready for distribution and thanks to social media and shared, it achieved $50,000 in sales in 48 hours. The company then invited customers to find the items at Baby’s R Us stores and post selfies on its Facebook page. This led to hundreds of thousands of likes and shares.
“As packaging designers, we need to make sure the packaging is legible, exciting and engaging at under the worst circumstances,” she says. “Things to avoid are light or thin type faces, colors that are similar, which may appear as just one and distort the message of your design and shiny lamination, which makes it very hard to photograph because of the glare.”
A Sound Strategy
Tommy Katz, CEO of Katz Marketing Solutions, a brand and marketing consulting firm specializing in food and beverage in the consumer packaged goods sector, opines the most successful brands strategically and consistently integrate branding and packaging recognition into all of their customer touchpoints, including social media.
“If they do the appropriate consumer research to understand their differentiating visual assets, e.g. color, logo, typeface, primary packaging structure, they can translate—but not necessarily copy—those elements in all aspects of marketing communication to increase consumer engagement, brand image and loyalty, and sales,” he says. “Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Tide and Skittles are great examples.”
For example, Skittles invited people to post photos of artwork made with its product and hashtag it on popular social media sites (with the packaging prime in the photos); and Coca-Cola released “Share a Coke” cans with names on them and people would take photos with a can that had their name and share on social media pages.
“Social media is merely an additional vehicle to communicate your brand, so exceptional packaging is still grounded in the timeless fundamentals of extending the brand positioning, communicating the brand’s distinct benefits, disciplined hierarchical brand architecture, and strong merchandising impact at point-of-sale,” Katz says. “Brands want to maximize earned social media, so creative usage of package design visuals and images [still and video] that evoke the package design [such as . visual assets noted above] and are provocative, are more social media friendly.”
The Research on Sharing
Jill Ahern, HAVI Global Solutions’ senior director, consulting, packaging technology integrated solutions, notes company analysis of consumer packaging perceptions measures packaging appeal in a dimension it calls Vibe.
“We see consistently that high levels of appeal on packaging tend to create an experience that makes the consumer feel cool or trendy or smart, and these feelings compel them to share the experience with others,” she says.
There is a very unique and interesting relationship between the customer and the product in the consumer packaged goods industry, and that lies in the connection of the package to the product.
“For example, when someone creates or shares a social post about a beverage that they love, what they are actually sharing is the product packaging, favorably highlighting the product packaging appeal,” Ahern says. “Through this product share, the package design is then visually identifiable and associated with the favorable connotation of the post.”
Over a three-month period, HAVI Global Solutions scanned and measured social media posts in 11 European countries, and looked for mentions of packaging and the words and sentiment associated.
“With the results clear on the prevalence of packaging in relative posts, it was also determined that the sentiment in different countries varied based on social, cultural and environmental perceptions and priorities of their demographic,” Ahern says. “The key takeaway was that in order to be noteworthy and therefore shareable, package design has to provide targeted value. If you create value, then consumers will share: the emotional impact of the packaging design is what makes the product experience shareable.”
More than a specific look or feature though, brand fit and authenticity are very important. Certainly, packages that are posted, pinned and tweeted need to be remarkable but brands have a myriad of ways in which they can stand out.
“In order to be sharable, packaging needs to tell a real story, and forge an emotional connection in some way,” Ahern says. “If our research on over 6,500 packages has taught us one thing though, it is that there is no one ‘right way’ to design a package, but there are a lot of things that don’t work and consumers can almost instantaneously ‘decode’ the unwritten cues on a package.”
The Power of Engagement
“Seeking social media activity in and of itself may not be a recipe for success,” Ahern says. “A key takeaway in packaging innovation is that you must design for an objective and an experience. Leveraging insights to apply technology in a meaningful way is what resonates most with consumers, and often that is found in a synergistic combination of low-tech and high-tech elements.”