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Archive for the ‘Packaging’ Category

Custom Printing: A Unique Shoe (Un-)Boxing Experience

Sunday, December 4th, 2022

Photo purchased from …

My fiancee and I recently went to Nordstrom Rack for shoeboxes. We’re working with our autistic art therapy students to make Halloween dioramas. They will be miniature rooms with a coffin, spider webs, rats, skeletons, plus any drawings the students wish to add.

As a student of commercial printing, however, I noticed the attention to quality and detail in the construction of the empty shoeboxes. We found about thirty of them for our various classes, and two of them in particular stood out from the rest. I’d like to talk about why they are effective marketing items beyond the shoes they once contained.

Marketing Is a Dialogue

Good marketing is a dialogue. It is personal, even intimate. A brand speaks directly to you. If the company has done research into its clientele, its marketing department will be able to describe exactly who the target buyer will be. This person will have specific likes and dislikes, interests, values. They will share many of these with other buyers and may even have certain similarities in their personal history. The detail of this “persona” is impressive, given all the data the company must collect and digest to envision this model buyer. But the good news is that the marketing research will allow a brand (let’s say in this case a shoemaker) to predict exactly what kind of shoes you will want and to give them to you.

Based on this information, the company (i.e., the brand) will work to communicate its brand values, with which you will presumably resonate. This is true (in the case of the shoeboxes) for both the product and the packaging. The shoes have to be outstanding. Granted. But the packaging has to convince you to open the box (the “unboxing experience”) and try on the shoes.

These brand values, which perhaps will include the quality of workmanship, the stylish nature of the shoes, the social conscience of the company, or on an even more personal level just how good you will look and how you will feel when you wear the shoes—all of this has to be reflected in the packaging (the box) as well as the shoes.

Apparently Nordstrom Rack (at least this one store) recycles more than 300 shoeboxes a day. When my fiancee and I went inside for the boxes, we saw aisle after aisle of shoes, multiple hundreds of boxes vying for the buyer’s attention. Since the shoeboxes have sides that obscure the shoes themselves (a little), a lot was riding on the unique nature of the boxes to sell the products inside.

The Sample Boxes

The first sample box I want to describe is entirely covered with a 4-color comic strip (top, bottom, and all exterior sides). It is a Jeffrey Campbell shoebox covered with empowering and empowered women superheros, including one on a motorcycle and one in space in a meteor shower. It is like a comic strip because one hand-drawn image is set off in a black-edged box, with word bubbles for the character’s dialogue, and there are also other signs and word-bubbles across the surface of the box.

I personally know nothing about Jeffrey Campbell shoes. (I’m sure my fiancee knows a lot, since she is very stylish and knows brands well.) However, with no knowledge except my initial reaction to the box and the words “Women Unite,” Resist,” and such, plus the space imagery and bright colors, I would say that the company’s brand values include not only empowerment but also humor. And humor sells. Most people want to “associate” themselves with (to be “affiliated with”) a product and company that embody these specific values, and the job of the shoebox is to communicate these values.

If you open the box and look closely at its construction (the lamination of the commercial printing press sheet over the thick chipboard), you might say that the company or brand pays attention to detail (in general) and durability (in particular). Not all of the boxes in the store would meet this standard, both for quality package manufacturing and creative, unique graphics. So this goes a long way.

The second box is lime green. In fact, my fiancee picked out a number of boxes in this specific color for our students. When we walked down the aisles looking for empty boxes, these in particular jumped out because of the thick, heavy ink coverage of the lime green, which was almost fluorescent in its luminosity. A box like this is distinctive. In a store with multiple hundreds of boxes of shoes, that’s very important.

As with the first box, the thickness of the chipboard broadcasts durability and quality. Like the first box, the green commercial printing press sheet (with only a white, hand-lettered Sam Edelman script signature and logo on the green) totally covers all chipboard in the box (in contrast to a lot of other boxes in the store). Again, to me this reflects the brand’s attention to detail and overall quality. All edges, folds, and corners are crisp and precise, with the laminated paper square to the sides of the box.

What makes this box unique is threefold. First, as noted, you can see it from across the store. That’s good advertising. Sam Edelman chose not to compete with other brands for the customer’s attention but rather to grab it immediately with the color of the box. Second, the surface of the lime green box has a canvas texture, like a painter’s canvas. It feels good in the hands. You can easily grasp the box. And it also feels strong and rigid.

But to return to my assertion that good marketing is a conversation, the “piece de resistance” is an envelope containing a little saddle-stitched print book included in the box with the shoes.

Here’s why it’s unique.

First of all, the envelope is about 2” x 3”. It has a build of about 1/3” on all sides, allowing for the easy insertion and removal of the print book it contains. The lime green background of the box continues onto this envelope and book, with only a Sam Edelman signature reversed out of the green envelope and the book cover. The booklet is printed on bright blue-white paper, so the words and images “pop.”

There’s something personal about the size of the print book. No one else would know you’re reading it, it’s so small. And inside there are hand-drawn images of a man (Sam, presumably Sam Edelman himself) and a woman (the shoe buyer, Libby) engaged in a dialogue.

All of the dialogue between the two of them (set in a small, sans-serif typeface) centers on where the shoes were made, how they were made, and why they are special. At one point Libby even says, “And because of this I want to keep them forever. Shoes say so much about a person.”

As a reader, I’m the proverbial fly on the wall looking at watercolor images of Sam and Libby while listening to their discussion. Some of the illustrations are even accompanied by hand-lettered callouts describing the Sam Edelman shoes.

Overall, it’s an intriguing and personal conversation. And even though I don’t buy women’s shoes I can appreciate my fiancee’s love for this entire packaging initiative. It shows that a brand can do enough research to understand its buyers and deliver a unique product that will satisfy them and help them look beautiful.

The Takeaway

What can we learn from this?

  1. Consider this approach. If you wanted a job at a particular corporation, you wouldn’t just mail in your resume. You’d probably study the company’s website and annual report. Maybe you’d visit the company to see what you could learn. You would try to absorb as much as possible about the company to see how you could specifically contribute (or “add value”) to its operations. A good marketer will do this, too, even with a shoebox. Who is the client? What does the client like and dislike? What can a brand create (both product and packaging) that will please the client? In my view, these two shoeboxes reflect this kind of soul searching into what both brands can offer that is unique.
  2. After a brand is able to articulate the nuances of a buyer’s persona, the brand’s goal is to reflect all of this not only in the product (shoes, in this case) but also in all marketing materials, making relevant design decisions in everything from typefaces to paper choices to color. Every time the buyer interacts with the brand (through signage, a brand’s online presence, catalogs, even “frictionless” interactions with the company’s call center), the brand’s ethos must shine through. That is separate from, but intricately intertwined with, the overall quality and specific attributes of the product.
  3. As a marketer, it is your responsibility to initiate and maintain such a conversation with your customers.

Custom Label Printing: Thoughts on Packaging, Boxing, and Labeling

Monday, October 3rd, 2022

Photo purchased from …

My fiancee loves Amazon. She can push a button on the computer, and one box or several boxes will come to the door. Amazing.

So when my fiancee makes a comment about packaging, boxes, and custom labels, I listen closely.

What Is Branding?

This is really a case study about branding. Then again, everything is about branding. Even when a company’s only touch point with a client is a box arriving at their door, a vendor must provide an enjoyable experience and must then repeat this experience in successive purchases. It’s part of their brand.

And what a brand is, essentially, is all of the values and associations reflected in everything from the company’s ads and marketing materials to their packaging. Even the tone of the person you get on the phone when the company sends you the wrong item, and the good feeling they work to instill in you when they solve your problem in their first attempt, is part of the brand. Everything is part of the company’s brand. For Starbucks, not only is their two-tailed siren logo part of their brand, but by now even the specific shade of green in the logo is part of their brand.

The Unboxing Experience

I’ve discussed this in prior PIE Blog postings, but it bears repeating. When a box arrives at your door, the experience of opening it matters. According to my fiancee, Amazon has been sending a number of her packages in brown, recycled-looking boxes recently, presumably to remind consumers that the company is environmentally conscious.

My fiancee recently received a specific soil for a collection of rare succulents she is growing called Living Stones (as in “Dr. Living Stone, I presume”–sorry, I couldn’t resist). When I brought the package into the house, the weight prompted me to ask whether my fiancee had ordered bricks. But no, this is soil. Beyond the Amazon packaging, the succulent soil experience encompasses a number of other promotional qualities.

Flexible Packaging

The bag of soil is transparent and durable. You can see the texture of the potting mix (exclusively tiny stones of different colors, no actual dirt). You can also see that the plastic sack will not inadvertently rip open and dump the contents on your rug. You know what you’re getting, and you know the company that sent the bags values quality.

The Label

The label on the bag includes the logo (for immediate identification of the maker of the product), as well as the name of the product (“Premium Lithops Living Stone Potting Mix”), and a description of the product (“Natural Quartzite, Pumice, Sand, Granite Grit, Calcined Clay”). Plus, the custom label notes that the product is “100% natural and organic,” and that it “helps prevent pests, diseases, and contaminants” ( All of these statements are rendered in a tall, narrow gothic sans-serif typeface in all capitals, reflecting the no-nonsense tone of the information. Clearly the company wants you to buy and use the correct product for these fragile Living Stone plants.

Prominent Contact Information

Finally, and most importantly, the Rooting For You company included not only its logo but also a link to its website. This reflects a number of important things. You can contact the company. It’s like the catalogs I was designing in the 1990s, when I was an art director. I made sure the phone number was on every page spread. Don’t make the customer wait. When they want to contact you to reorder more product, you want that experience to be as “frictionless” (as marketers say) as possible. Customers shouldn’t need to look through the printed materials for contact information. It should jump out and bite them.

Why is this important? Among other things, I’ve been brokering commercial printing for over two decades. I have learned to love the sweet sound of an email arriving from a repeat customer (“ping”). Getting new customers is much harder than doing whatever it takes to keep existing customers happy. And having immediate access to a website (and from there, presumably, to a phone if desired) is part of that frictionless experience. Having all of this information immediately accessible on a simple, elegantly designed, custom printed label goes a long way in communicating the necessary information.

To go back for a moment to the website information, I am reminded of the power of multi-channel marketing, or cross-media marketing, or whatever the current terminology might be. Commecial printing augments the online experience, and online marketing reinforces the print experience. Together they are unstoppable. Having well-branded labeling with the company logo and all relevant information visible from four feet away leads the customer to the URL and the website. And the website gives the customer an opportunity to either order more of the same product or to buy additional products. This benefits the brand but only (and this is the beauty of the equation–absolutely only) if the customer values the product, the print collateral, the website, the assistance on the phone, the carton and the “unboxing experience,” and every other “touchpoint,” every other element of the producer’s brand.

The Thank-you Note

When we’re young, our parents teach us to express gratitude when something goes right. It makes a connection with the donor of the gift or experience and its recipient. Everyone gains something. Interestingly enough, in the package of Premium Lithops Living Stone potting mix my fiancee gave me to check out, there was an additional insert, a thank-you note printed on heavy cover stock. The stock is thicker than regular postcard material. It has “snap.” It feels substantial. You would assume the potting mix vendor had spent a little more to make the postcard feel opulent. After all, you’re worth it.

The thank-you note speaks right to you, “We hope you enjoy your purchase” (www.rootingforyou On the flip side is the logo: large, in nice earthy colors. The name of the company is in an informal script typeface, and the other words are in a funky sans-serif typeface. You get the sense that Rooting For You loves plants and wants to help you love and care for them as well. Moreover, you get the sense that they don’t take your business for granted. They are grateful for the opportunity to serve you.

Good Marketing

All of this can be–and in this case absolutely is–conveyed through simple type, a transparent and durable container (known as flexible packaging), and a simple thank-you note. And with all of the contact information immediately available, you know right where to go when (not if) you want to reorder.

Now that’s good marketing. And (given my fiancee’s satisfaction with the product), it’s based not only on effective marketing technique but more importantly on the producer’s genuine desire to make the customer so happy with the whole process that she or he will want to come back for more.

Custom Printing: Packaging and StealthCode® Technology

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

I just read an intriguing article on (2/13/18) entitled “ToBeUnique: Packaging Becomes Interactive Thanks to StealthCode® Technology.”

Basically, the article is about a new technology created by Tubettificio Favia that turns “aluminum tubes with StealthCode® technology…into a precious tool of corporate storytelling.” (more…)

Custom Printing: Inconsistent Color in Package Printing

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

My fiancee and I were in the grocery store a few days ago, and I noticed two packages of brown Jasmine rice. The packages had the same art, typeface, design, etc., but the colors were different. It was only a slightprinted variation. Perhaps no one else would have seen it. But I did, and I pointed it out to my fiancee. (more…)

Custom Printing: Flexible Packaging Is on the Rise

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

When I was growing up, peanuts came in a can or a bottle, or sometimes a clear bag. Milk came in a glass bottle and later in a coated paper carton that opened up into a spout. There was no such thing as a bag of apple sauce or a box of apple juice with a little straw you punched through a foil covered hole. (more…)

Custom Printing: The Future of “Web to Pack”

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

Not that long ago (perhaps the 1990s to 2000), I remember sending out perfect-bound book printing jobs that took six weeks to produce and brochures that took five to seven (or even ten) days to print and deliver. That was the norm. Everything was analog (offset lithography). No one said the printers were slow because we had nothing digital to which we could compare the analog work schedules. (more…)

Custom Printing: Bacardi’s Direct Digital Bottle Printing

Monday, July 27th, 2020

reproduction rights purchased from …

When BACARDI does something, people pay attention. As a contemporary brand, BACARDI is stylish and sexy–on the cusp of the future. (more…)

Custom Printing: Some Functional Elements of Packaging

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Readability. Utility. Precision. Some commercial printing work is not meant to persuade or educate, but rather to convey information clearly. It’s called functional printing. The printed keys on your keyboard fit into this category. So does the package of eyedrops my fiancee just received from her eye surgeon. She will undergo cataract surgery in a few weeks, and the pre-operative information she just received has to be unquestionably clear. (more…)

Commercial Printing: Package Printing for Vegetables

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Everywhere I look now I see articles about how digital custom printing benefits the package production market. Moreover, this seems to be a two-way street, with the approach of a business to packaging and distribution changing and growing in response to advances in digital commercial printing. (more…)

Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Digital package printing is hot. It’s a growth sector within the commercial printing industry, and I find this most exciting. And as with other growth industries, consumer demands drive innovation. Customers want something, or like something, or find something intriguing, and to keep them happy the inventors and manufacturers create the technology to satisfy these wants and needs. (more…)


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