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How to Use Packaging to Brand Your Small Business as Attractive and Sustainable
As consumers we don't often think about it, but product packaging can be distinctive and eye-catching all on its own. Just consider Tiffany & Co.'s robin's egg-blue box or even fast food containers like KFC's easily recognizable paper bucket.
Product packaging has long been a competitive advantage for marketers that recognize the opportunity to link a brand or product with a particular color, shape, or material used in exterior wrapping.
“The packaging is an iconic representation of what the product or brand is about," explains Professor Rocki-Lee DeWitt of the University of Vermont's Grossman School of Business.
Packaging is an opportunity for marketers to increase visibility and awareness, and that extends to sustainability.
How to Gain a Competitive Advantage through Packaging
Climate crisis and broader sustainability discussions are leading companies to reconsider both how they package their products and how they deliver them. As you rethink your packaging, stick to some of the best practices that have served brands well for making them attractive to consumers.
1. Think about form and function
DeWitt advises companies to “convey the nature of the product through packaging."
Think about how you can package your products in a way that underscores its purpose and makes it more desirable.
DeWitt offers the Heinz ketchup bottle conversion from upright glass to plastic squeeze top as an example of packaging innovation where the form was inspired by the function.
2. Make sure the packaging matches your brand identity
Choose colors that match or complement your logo, along with materials to align with your brand image. Packaging can be anything from a heavy-duty paper shopping bag to a wooden box or hanging garment bag.
Great packaging can be come part of the appeal. "If it is well made, people will display the box itself," says DeWitt. Louis Vuitton's tan fabric drawstring bags for its luxury handbags and accessories fall into this category.
3. Opt for sustainable materials
Position your company as environmentally aware by selecting packaging that can be recycled or reused. But that's not all. Right-sized packaging is also important, says Donald Droppo, Jr., president and CEO of Curtis Packaging. “Over-packaged" products are often frustrating to buyers, who often don't appreciate unnecessary and wasteful paper and plastic that comes with their purchase.
Health food store The Waste Not Shop, for example, sells products in bulk that are placed into paper bags or glass containers the consumer brings.
Consider how that ideal aligns with your brand. Maybe you could go old school and package softer goods like linens, or even books and magazines, in plain brown wrapping paper tied with string. Or swap out plastic for paperboard in take-home food containers.
Effective packaging enables you to extend your brand message beyond the store into the home or office in a positive way.
“Your product needs to be supported by your packaging," says Droppo. “You want the consumer to feel good about their purchase."
4. Shy away from plastic single-use bags
Plastic bags are a major environmental concern and bans on single-use plastic bags are proliferating. Many retailers are no longer offering plastic bags often in response to a ban, but some stores have taken this trend as an opportunity to demonstrate concern for the environment — and simultaneously market their companies.
Take women's clothing retailer Free People. Customers who make a purchase in-store receive their merchandise in reusable cloth bags. Or athleisure retailer Lululemon, which prints variations of its reusable shopping bag throughout the year.
As a small business, you can align with this widespread concern of consumers by ditching plastic bags and switching to reusable totes designed to match your brand.
Your product or business packaging is a source of competitive advantage when done well. That means choosing materials, colors, and functionality that match your brand. And rethinking your packaging to be more sustainable shows you're a forward-thinking small business that keeps its finger on the pulse of what consumers care about.