The rise of e-commerce, information technology, and growing sophistication of consumer preferences and behaviors are converging to open a new frontier for brand owners. Today and in the future, corrugated packaging plays an increasingly important role in the branding, as well as delivery, of consumer products.

The corrugated box has long been used as a reliable, sturdy, economical shipping container. E-commerce raises the visibility of corrugated as more boxes are delivered to consumer homes and offices; this will continue to grow as consumers transition to more online shopping and less in brick-and-mortar stores.

The craft beer market can actually be seen as a bellwether for the unfolding, new age of brand development and packaging. Craft beers are niche products. Distinctive flavors, imagery, graphics, brand messaging, packaging and marketing are orchestrated to create a unique experience for the target consumer, and each product is intentionally different. Eye-catching package graphics are used to draw shoppers’ attention and identification with their individual sense of style and image, and to create a memorable impression.

The model aligns with directional sea changes in the way products are selected and purchased across all categories, industries and markets. Success is becoming less about mass market appeal and more about attracting specific, image-conscious brand loyalists. Increasingly sophisticated digital search and marketing capabilities contribute to a brand’s ability to zero in on extremely targeted audiences.

Every brand has a story to tell – but new and specialty products don’t have the brand equity or marketing budgets to compete with megabrands using traditional mass market advertising and promotion. They need to leverage packaging and social media to attract consumers’ attention while speaking to their individual preferences and values. Packaging becomes the product’s primary advertising billboard.

Meanwhile, exciting technological advances are being made in corrugated manufacturing that enable the package to powerfully fulfill a key marketing function. Digital printing capabilities have improved dramatically in the past few years to support direct printing of intricate, colorful graphics on the corrugated board, without a need for labels to carry it off. Many corrugated manufacturers are now investing in equipment to make production-scale, digitally printed boxes. Even conventional, flexographic or litho printing technology is producing sharper, cleaner graphics on corrugated board today than in the past.

This is a boon for branding, especially when boxes are delivered direct to doorsteps. Online shoppers have a very different experience from retail shoppers; the purchase decision and package arrival are separate events, so the box serves as a second opportunity to reinforce the brand, feeding brand loyalty and excitement. Witness the “unboxing” events sweeping social media. The consumer becomes brand ambassador, and Instagram carries the message – and pictures – all over the world. Impactful, memorable packaging graphics amplify the opportunity to tell a brand’s story.

A few big e-tailers are already using high-impact graphics on delivery boxes. Amazon’s Minions box was a high visibility foray into the active use of a box as advertising real estate. Meal kit delivery services like HelloFresh, Purple Carrot, and others use printing on corrugated shipping containers to advertise the brand; some are using full-color graphics and some are still in the one- or two-color field, but it’s safe to say there will be more and more upscale, high-impact graphics being printed on delivery boxes in the future.

The Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA) is a corrugated industry initiative, jointly sponsored by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), The Independent Packaging Association (AICC), Fibre Box Association (FBA) and TAPPI.

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