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Personalized Packaging: A Genius Marketing Idea or a Waste of Time and Materials?

by Nahla Davies on 03/05/2021 | 5 Minute Read

Personalized packaging has created a buzz for quite a few years, and while it might have seemed like a fad, there are signs this is changing. In the last year, we’ve seen many companies and brands start to explore the value of personalized marketing and in-market niches where this is a relatively new idea. 

Whether this is the minimalist, personalized design of Prose, a luxury haircare line, or the industrial-scale offer of HP’s SmartStream D4D, some analysts have speculated that the future of packaging is personalization. Looking from the perspective of your own brand, you might be more skeptical. Maybe investing money in this might be a waste. Well, not in today’s market. Here's why.

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The Advantages of Personalized Packaging

Consumers have become adept at assessing whether an advertising message is relevant for them. Because of this, it’s increasingly essential to indicate the significance of your brand upfront. 

For starters, the technique has been incredibly effective in email marketing, and it feels like there isn't a campaign that doesn't do it. Given that the average office worker receives around 121 emails a day, you have to cut through the noise, and personalization is an effective means of doing that. And if the system works for email, well, why not for physical branding and packaging?

While most consumers can perform this automatic mental filtering, there's one group particularly adept at it—Generation Z. Younger folks, some claim, have a short attention span. But that’s not exactly true. Instead, a growing body of evidence indicates that younger generations possess a sophisticated filter that screens out branding messages. Personalization is one way to get around this.

One of the earliest campaigns that made use of personalized packaging was Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign when they printed names on individual Coke cans. This new strategy was born when the company realized that while the brand itself is iconic, the younger generation had failed to relate to it personally. According to Coca-Cola, printing names on cans led to a 2.5% increase in sales.

Another notable but overlooked example comes from Dedicato a Te by Barilla, an Italian e-commerce platform that offers personalized packaging designs to each customer. Customers are allowed to personalize their packaging with photos, pictures, images, names, and messages. Dedicato a Te also offers personalized packaging based on celebrations or occasions throughout the year as well. As an added benefit, the packaging materials are also fully recyclable. 

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Diminishing Returns?

Of course, as with any new marketing technique, personalized packaging has its detractors and skeptics. A common argument against this is that it results in higher overall production costs, which logically could make personalization too cost-prohibitive. Taking Dedicato a Te as an example - it’s not unreasonable to think about how allowing customers to personalize their own packaging would increase material costs.

Indeed, when it comes to the ROI, you can easily summarize their arguments. Brands have a limited marketing budget. It makes sense to use strategies like focusing your dollars on encouraging customers to buy a product rather than making them feel great afterward.

This style of marketing strategy has a long pedigree and can be very effective. One of its central axioms to remember is the earlier the investment in the marketing and purchasing cycle, the greater your eventual returns. That is why many argue that the central tenet of PR is getting eyes on your brand rather than following up with existing customers.  

If that’s the case, however, why are successful brands becoming hyper-personalized over the last few years like Vans or Function of Beauty's shampoo? Smart marketers today realize that efficient marketing is about far more than just pointing out the advantages of a product or bringing their brand to public attention. 

The most effective marketing goes beyond the effort to cut through the noise and connecting with consumers. It aims at something far grander. That is nothing less than a personal, emotional relationship with audiences.

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Building Relationships

Most consumer surveys today indicate that young people relate to brands as if they were real people. Increasingly, they seek real, meaningful relationships with the companies and brands they support. 

That is why personalization – packaging, messaging, or even the products themselves – is so potent. Receiving something with your name on it invokes arguably the most personal and emotional relationship of all-and that's your relationship with your family and the packages you receive at the holidays.

The power of personalization is such that the technique has recently become popular across many different industries. Most advanced sales platforms and marketing tools now offer at least some form of personalization. And that leads to a question. If this technique is so effective, so much so that it has the potential to make or break the success of most online businesses today, why don't more packaging designers make use of it?

Well, there is one critical reason for this. Given the information available to most packaging design companies, it can be impossible to do so. Though online retailers are getting better at collecting data on their customers, very little gets passed on to creative teams, and some designers are in the dark.

This gulf between marketing and design is incredibly wasteful. Marketers today spend much of their time collecting information on potential and actual customers to break them down into categories so they can effectively target advertising. Packaging designers, however, have a whole host of other concerns, from the aesthetics of the packaging to what they're legally required to print on the container.

Too often, those impulses are pulling in opposite directions.

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Integration and personalization

If implemented properly, personalized packaging can become a new approach to consumer segmentation. And it could directly influence how we design packaging. That includes not just the simple step of printing a customer’s name on the packaging of the product they have bought, but potentially far more sophisticated methods. 

Ultimately, marketing today is about building a close relationship with your customers, and tailor-making something is about as impactful as it gets. Maybe they already bought something from you, but if you want them to buy again, it pays to invest a little time and money into your relationship.