Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.

Julia: All right, everybody. We are back this week when another good friend, a good colleague of mine, Sarah Hackman. She is also a StoryBrand guide and you guys are gonna get so overwhelmed by all these StoryBrand guides who are on here, but they are a wealth of resource and I love the StoryBrand community.

And so when one of our listeners asked us about packaging, I was like, “Please, no, don’t make me talk about that. I have no idea.” And so I went to the community and asked if somebody was an expert in packaging. Sarah volunteered to be on the podcast. Sarah, tell us about yourself, where you are, your business, et cetera.

Sarah: Thanks for having me, Julia. I am in Central Missouri, just outside of Columbia, Missouri, where the University of Missouri is located. Go tigers! And I run a design business called Hackman Creative, and that’s because most businesses waste time and money on graphic design without considering their overall marketing strategy, or they’re just plain out of ideas.

And like Julia said, I use the StoryBrand framework in my work and combine that with a framework that I use for clean design so that organizations can stop wasting money, get lasting results, and grow their business. 

Julia: That is awesome. How did you land in this design world? 

Sarah: Design is in my DNA. I grew up in a very artistic household. My mom’s an art teacher. Our one car garage never housed a car; it was my mom’s art studio and my sisters and I had free reign of all the art supplies. So it’s only natural that I ended up in the graphic design space. Now graphic design isn’t necessarily art. There’s a different, it’s like a different media, a different medium, right? Because there’s a different goal to that. 

Art is something that’s in your house or at a museum that you are enjoying, evokes feeling. Design is more strategic than that, but there still are art elements. So it’s that creative brain space that I was in all growing up. That naturally led to where I am today in creating marketing materials, packaging design that connects with people because at the end of the day, that’s what design does.

Julia: I am not a designer. So maybe all I’ve heard, all of our design friends will be like, she has no idea what she’s talking about, but I always picture like art is this very like inspirational feeling sort of thing. And then design takes that and applies it to something practical in a way. That’s how I think about it because our team talks all the time about how, just because you have the tools, like maybe you have Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or something like that, doesn’t mean that you know how to make it purposeful or practical. And so that’s kind of how I like to think about it, but maybe I’m totally off base.

Sarah: That’s actually a really great way to think about it. Julia, it’s the emotion that comes in with design and that strategic purpose for “the thing,” whether that’s a postcard that comes in the mail or a book cover on a bookshelf that inspires someone to buy, and products on shelves, packages that come in the mail; each of those has to be designed in some way that connects with people. And that’s something that’s different than art. 

Julia: Totally. Yeah. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about, is packaging. Because you’re right. Like if something comes in the mail, how many of us get so much junk mail? If it doesn’t catch our eye or evoke something, at least in my house, it goes straight into the recycling bin. We don’t even look at it.

That kind of answers one of my questions, why is thinking about the packaging important? But talk to us a little bit about that. Why do we think need to think about it? 

Packaging is unlike any other type of marketing. And some people don’t even realize that packaging is part of marketing, you know, your radio ads that connects with our auditory sense, commercials on the television – that’s very visual. Packaging is about actually interacting with “the thing.” It’s something tangible. We hold it in our hands and there might be some auditory aspect of that, whether that’s the sound of the paper as you’re tearing it open or the crinkle of the wrapper there, but it’s something that captures a person’s attention in a way that no other medium or collateral can, and it just intersects with people’s lives. Whether that’s I’m walking through the supermarket and it’s a category of product that I see all the time, or maybe there’s a new product on the shelf that I’ve never noticed before. 

There’s the little piece of advertisement on the shelf or it’s something that comes in the mail and captures my attention that way. And then I have the unboxing experience, the unwrapping of that product in that package. Even if the exterior boxes plain cardboard, when I open that up, I’m going to experience the packaging of the thing inside of it.

Julia: For sure. And that makes so much sense. I’ve never thought about the fact that packaging is multi-sensory where so much other marketing is not.

I’ve been thinking about walking through a candle store. You’re using your nose to smell things like that, where that could attract you. And I realize that it’s more about the product than it is about the packaging sometimes, but still, you’re engaging with more than just your eyes or your ears, which is what we mainly do around marketing.

One of our original questions from our listener was, what makes packaging sell to us? And I sense in that question, why would I choose one thing over another thing based on packaging? Because I know I am like, oh, I have no idea what’s in this, but it looks nice. So tell us a little bit about that. 

Sarah: It’s a combination of things. When it comes to, what is it about packaging that sells to us? It’s the words on the packaging itself, but also what colors are used. There’s so much psychology in design that helps consumers connect with products on the shelves in the stores. And I’m always going to mention mailboxes, now, because with the pandemic and more people buying things online; people bought things online before, but I really feel like there’s an even greater amount of purchases that are happening online and so the packages hitting your mailbox matters even more. 

Julia: For sure.

Sarah: But it’s how does that package make me feel? Because even if you think about it, if you’re choosing a box of Fruit Loops off the shelf, it’s really colorful. That packaging is evoking a certain feeling for you. You’re not necessarily thinking, okay, how many ounces are in this; that’s the most important thing, with “64 ounces of Fruit Loops” really loud and large on the box!

That’s small and yes, that needs to be on there because of all the guidelines for food packaging, with weight and nutrition information. But it’s not the most dominant thing. It’s the colors, the imagery, something that is reaching to grab the customer’s attention whenever they’re walking through a store.

Julia: So do you feel like that’s mainly in colors and imagery, or do you think that there’s other things, like how would people pick what to put on it? Does that make sense? 

Sarah: Yeah, that’s a great question, Julia. I would say it’s a combination of those factors: colors, imagery, typography, even the composition of those elements on the packaging itself. If you think about packaging that you’ve encountered over the years, some things might come to mind of being more minimalistic type packaging, some more colorful type packaging. And so that also speaks to what audience you’re trying to capture. 

Thinking about food products is this, and we’ll stick with cereals, is this cereal designed to connect with health conscious audiences? Is it designed to connect with families with children, busy moms? Because even the audience that you’re trying to reach will inform how your packaging is designed. 

Julia: Totally. And I think, again, going back to  our very, very, very first comments, that’s where this idea of art and marketing come together, because you have to know who you’re speaking to. I love minimalistic packaging, but that doesn’t mean everybody would love that. And so if a company is trying to target somebody who’s not me, or not like I’m not in their demographic, that’s something that they would have to think about. 

Sarah: Absolutely, it definitely would. A couple of recent examples in my personal life come to mind. Last year, I purchased some weighted jump ropes. In the pandemic, let’s get some more physical activity going on. And that was purchased online, came in the mail. Of course, the words and the imagery on the website, that’s what sold me on this, but there was something about the packaging. And I think I would feel this way, even if I weren’t a designer, that really drew me in, there were two different jump ropes. They each were in their own box labeled to the weight of the rope and even the design elements on the box, mirrored the widths of the rope. So you knew which one was which, which one was lighter, which was heavier. And the handles were perfectly placed in the box. Everything about this was designed absolutely gorgeous.

So later in the year I purchased a speed bag because I like kickboxing and I have a heavy bag. I need to speed bag, too! That product arrived in a very simple plain box. It was in a plastic bag. There was an instruction sheet in there, as well. Not really any design, no experience around that. I have to actually sit and think, what company did I buy that speed bag from? Because there was nothing about that packaging experience that connected with me emotionally. It was just transactional. I have a speed bag. Cool. I can  hang it up, but the weighted jump rope, I feel something. I felt something whenever I unboxed that product 

Julia: And it being memorable too. Like you’re still talking about it.

Sarah: I’m still talking about it! And my husband laughs at me, I save packaging because I’m so into it as a designer, I think I need just need to photograph everything in storage tather than have all these samples of cool packaging.

Julia: One of my favorites is, I used to have a Birchbox subscription probably four or five years ago, especially when it was super popular. And each month you got a different design on the box. I also still have all those because they’re beautiful. When I look at them, I don’t want to trash something that’s beautiful. There’s something about that. So now it stores like ribbon and craft supplies and they’re very useful now.

But if you think about packaging, and these are just like boxes, not product packaging per se, but like packaging in boxes, nobody’s talking about the best Amazon box that they got, except if they’re talking to you about, “My object was five inches and the box was 20 inches. Like why did they do that?” Or the only way we talke about Amazon boxes is in our conversations about waste. 

Sarah: Yeah, it’s in this negative way.

Julia: Nobody’s talking about how great Amazon boxes are, but we are talking about different experiences that we have with unboxing and opening. It’s even clear, like when you see how many influencers are opening things on Instagram, et cetera, because there is something magical about like having that experience.

Sarah: There’s a study, it’s about four years old. And I’m curious to know if this source has new data, but about four years ago, a study was released saying that 75% of 18 to 24 year olds are more likely to take a photo of packaging and share it on social media if it’s something that’s visually engaging. And so that is indirect advertising for your product. 

Julia: Oh my gosh. Well, I feel like I need to skip my next question so you can tell us about your example of packaging in the wild, because you told me a little bit about it and I just feel like it’s super pertinent. So tell us about this project you’re working on.

Sarah: My client, Do Hope, is a nonprofit organization in Rwanda. Thousands of Rwanda women are trapped in survival sex work because of generational poverty. Do Hope provides counseling, spiritual development, and vocational training so these women can break free from the cycle of poverty, heal from trauma and live empowered lives.

As part of that process, these women become artisans and make this beautiful, handmade jewelry inspired by Rwandan culture. This jewelry is available online for purchase and it’s also available in us boutique stores here in the Midwest. My client was looking to expand the presence of Do Hope’s jewelry in US stores, but they wanted to have a display that would draw customers in. So even displays are packaging. And what I came up with, as part of this process, is a display that served multiple purposes and was truly a piece of packaging that engages customers. The final display is actually a box. So imagine a box that comes in the mail that has a front flap and a lid, printed on all sides.

Julia: What you showed me was very photo centric.

Sarah: Yes. It’s very visual so I’m going to describe it as best I can here on the podcast. You may have seen videos on YouTube or Instagram of people, unboxing something that’s heavily designed. Imagine that. So the box itself is about 9 by 12. And every single panel of this box has imagery of these women in Rwanda making the jewelry. The top of the box says, “This is what empowerment looks like.” It has the brand colors of Do Hope, it has their logo. And again, an image of a woman’s hands holding beads and string as she’s making this necklace. And then on the front and side panels, there is an image, a portrait of these artisans. So three different women are featured on the box. There’s a QR code where folks can scan and hear that specific woman’s story. 

The front lid has the logo, or the front flap, has the logo and the one-liner of the organization. The back of the box has more detail about the organization as a whole, how they connect with these women, how they take them through training and the counseling process and then share some of the success. And then when you open the box, the inside flap to the inside lid is an image of the workspace where these women create the jewelry. The inside left flap is an image of a woman on the streets of Rwanda with some language talking about the problem: thousands of Rwandan women are trapped in survival sex work, and then on the right side flap, there are more portraits of other do hope artisans that connects to the success that these women have as part of their journey and connecting with Do Hope, that they live empowered lives and that their entire family story is changed; it’s changed for generations. 

So this box, then, once it’s opened, the store owner who has purchased their Do Hope jewelry to sell in their store, they actually fold those flaps, the side flaps back, fold the top flap back as well. And this is shipped with some adhesives and some hooks because they can, it’s a very simple setup, they secure the flats together from these little right angles. There are some small Xs on the inside lid where store owners put the hooks to then hang the jewelry. So this box, which store owners get in the mail, they have an unboxing experience and feel more connected with the product that’s in their stores. They have a really easy setup for this display. They hang the jewelry. And so when customers come and visit the boutique store, A) the owner again, is connected with the product even more because of the experience that we gave them with this display packaging, the customer is engaged and excited about the product because of the story that we’re telling visually on the packaging.

I’ll also add that all of the jewelry holders, the little holder that holds the earrings or the necklace where it hangs from the hook, has the Do Hope logo and the woman who made that jewelry signs their name. So you actually have their name handwritten on the back of that bracelets so you know who made it. And then there are a couple other items that connect with this box. We have little cards that are shipped with this box to the store so that customers have that additional information about the products that they’re purchasing and a buy-in to the story. 

And what’s really needed about this particular piece too. We set up to solve the problem of how do we engage customers and draw their attention to this jewelry in the store. But when we came up with this box solution, we discovered that, Hey, this would help our board members tell the story of Do Hope and connect their communities and their networks with Do Hope. So every board member was shipped this box with samples of the jewelry that they can take to book clubs, community groups, keep in their office. So by nature of how we solved the door display problem with packaging, we were able to utilize that same packaging in a different way where the board can use it as a functional box. 

Julia: Gosh, Sarah. I just think that’s the coolest example ever. And I, of course, coming at it from a non-designer, but social media background, I am like how many cool opportunities are there for like other marketing? I recently read a book, I talk about it all the time on this podcast, The Marketing Rebellion, how to make your marketing human. And one of the things that he talks about is creating experiences that people will talk about and that’s exactly what this packaging is doing, for one, the store owner gets to have their own unboxing that they could choose to put on social media if they wanted to, but then they have had such a cool experience that they’re probably gonna tell people about it. And then more people who see it will tell more people about it. It just is really cool. So well done. Do Hope should be so thankful for you. 

So going back to one of my other questions, what are some elements that you feel like everybody should make sure that they have in their packaging? Let’s not think about if you have a food product, you need to have all that regulatory stuff. Everybody needs to find out on their own. But what are some design things that you would say people should think about when they’re thinking about their packaging? 

Sarah: When thinking about your packaging, I’d say the design elements are going to vary based on what the product is and where someone is interacting with it in the world and in their day. So it’s kind of hard to say, like, these are the absolute three things you need to have, because even as I’m standing here at my desk, I have two different cups of tea that I’ve had today. One tag on the tea cup has the logo, the name of the tea blend, steep for four minutes and on the back, “Over 300 years of excellence.” So it’s all about them and how amazing they are, how long their tea has been around. The other, Yogi tea, which I think many people might be familiar with, has an inspirational message on it.

So I would say, what are the “must include elements” on your packaging? Really think about the customer when you’re designing your packaging, what do you want them to feel when they interact with your product? 

So I would say the main things you want to have with your packaging are not necessarily, “Be sure to include the name of the thing.” which yeah, you want to include the name of the thing, but think bigger picture. What is an absolute must for someone’s first interaction with this product? Is it in the store? Okay. So a quick visual read, if someone’s walking down an aisle, that’s going to be important. So maybe I need to adjust the size of the typography, the name of the product. Maybe my brand has a lot of staying power, so I need to have the logo place at a certain size. 

Is my product and the packaging, something that someone’s going to primarily interact with after they buy it? So that’s going to have a different visual field than something that’s on the shelf, because I’m not seeing that packaging as an advertisement on the shelf to buy this thing. The customer has already made the decision. It’s showing up at their door; what experience I want them to have? How do I want them to perceive our brand once it’s in our home?

Okay. So maybe the logo doesn’t need to be absolutely massive on this. Maybe it needs to be in this corner, but I show images of success, that happiness, that joy, that they’ll experience from engaging with this product. So I say it’s more about thinking through, “Where is this in the world where my customer first interacts with this item?” And then make your design decisions based on that.

Julia: Yeah, that is so good. Even going back to your tea example; listeners, as you know, we’re both StoryBrand guides, healing that a tea label has over 300 years of excellence, like I’m sure your flag goes up just as much as mine does, whereas like, that is not being the guide. And it does show authority, but my thought is like, if you have a limited amount of space, use it really wisely and use it to create an experience.

And that doesn’t mean you have to leave your logo off, but the Yogi tea label creates this experience, this inspiration, like this tea tastes great, but it’s also making me feel great. And it’s not just tea. And I think that that’s even something important as what you’re saying: what are they experiencing it on the shelf before they buy it? Are they experiencing it in their home? And then I think also like, what do you want their continued experience to be like, as they, especially if it’s a product that they’re using up or using over and over. Do you want them to have a continued experience or was it a one and done like your speed bag?

Sarah: Exactly. There’s a great example of Heinz ketchup, whenever they moved to the squeezy top bottles on the shelf in stores. The bottle is placed on the shelf where the bottom of the bottle, the solid plastic where the packaging is clear and the white cap where you squeeze out of the bottle was on top. So sitting, we’ll call that upright on the shelf. And the label, of course is upright because you’re walking through the store and you see your Heinz ketchup, you’re going to be able to read the label, but people, whenever they purchase the ketchup, brought it home, put it in their refrigerator. They were storing it, we’ll call this upside down because I want all the ketchup to sink to the lid so it’s easier to squeeze when I use it. I want to be hitting the bottom of the bottle all the time. You know, that bottle smack to send it all down to the squeeze top. And so people would see the logo or see the label upside down in their refrigerator, on their table, on their shelf, on their counter when they were at home because of how they were using the product in its final environment.

So what Heinz did is they flipped the placement of the label on their product. I think they may have adjusted the diameter of the squeeze cap itself to support the whole bottle being on the shelves upside down. So now when you walk through the grocery store, the bottle itself is upside down, in a sense, because the squeeze cap is on the shelf, but the product packaging, the product label is upright in every single instance that the customer experiences it from now on out, in the stores and at home.

Julia: And that even goes to show everybody that you can have a million billion dollar brand, make a mistake and then fix it. Or not even a mistake. It was probably an unanticipated thing that they didn’t think about. So yeah, marketing is not final.

Sarah, this was awesome. You are a wealth of information. Everybody, if you need packaging, don’t talk to me. Go talk to Sarah. Sarah, where can people find you if they want to connect with you? 

Sarah: You can find me anywhere online @hackmancreative on Instagram, at hackmancreative.com and I’ve prepared a packaging checklist for your listeners, so you can find that at hackmancreative.com/inthewild. 

Julia: Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Thanks for doing that. And yeah, if you guys are into making products and packaging, that’s something that, every time I think about it, I’m like, people are brave, I do not want to do that. I know I have plenty of friends who are brave like that and are doing really cool things with products and packaging. Talk to somebody who knows what they’re doing. I think that’s one thing that I’m taking away is, all of this stuff I would have, I could guess at a few of the things, but there’s no way I’m thinking about all of those things. So talk to somebody who knows, somebody like Sarah. 

Until next week, everybody. We will talk to you then!