Packaging ’Magic Moments’

Branding an experience isn’t enough. Identify and understand what creates the ’ahh’ for your consumer and cradle it at every ’touchpoint.’
By Mikki Glass

How To Create An Experience
When creating or evolving into an experiential brand, it’s important to define the experiential opportunity that makes the most sense.
Think about your brand. Measure how it fares in each of the five core components—transformation, optimism, individuality, involvement and adventure—and ask yourself these questions:
- Which experiential components fit with my brand?
- How well are they communicated?
- What are some innovative ways to use design as a tool to create and extend the experience?
Once you’ve created the experience, you should integrate it into everything you do—from how your receptionist answers the phone, to your Web site and, most importantly, to your packaging.
Successful brands create a dialogue with consumers by speaking and listening to their emotions. When I stroll through a Target store, I am struck by the aisles of innovative choices and immediately have the impulse to shop.

I love the sleek design and feel of my Apple iBook, and it looks fantastic on my desk. And nothing makes me happier than the comfort of a Diet Coke.

At every “touchpoint,” successful brands interact with consumers, creating wonderful yet very personal experiences for each individual.

In packaging design, why does the meaning of the experience sometimes take a backseat to everything else? How can we create experiences through packaging that are as compelling as their overall connection with the brand itself?

Too often, the answer is simply, “experiential branding.” This catch phrase has become overused and misunderstood in marketing and package design.
Creating an Experience
The Sterling Group, a New York brand consultancy, embarked on a research study to understand what makes a brand experiential. One goal was to learn how certain experiences could become synonymous with individual brands.
In a qualitative study, 200 highly creative consumers in London, New York, San Francisco and Singapore described their connections to specific brands. They explained what creates a meaningful brand experience for them.
They drew pictures of their favorite brands and helped to develop a frame of reference and to understand the meaning of experiential branding.
Consumer Reactions
Here’s what those consumers said:
- Experiential branding creates a unique relationship in which consumers and brands connect from an emotional and individual perspective—not just physically or visually.
- This experience results in positive purchase decisions and strengthens brand loyalty.

If you can capture that experiential connection with consumers, chances are they will talk about your brand and reinforce it constantly to everyone they know. More importantly, if you translate that connection to the store shelf, your brand can become a part of their life.
Specific “magic moments,” ones that are distinctive and personally memorable, help to create this special connection with consumers. It is a different moment for different people and can happen at any point in the brand experience. However, it is the pinnacle of the experience that creates a true emotional tie.
When a Starbucks “connoisseur” visits the same store every morning, orders a grande latte with skim milk and takes that first sip in the best club chair in the corner, that person is experiencing a magic moment.
The moment becomes longer; the experience of drinking this brand of coffee in this store setting keeps the coffee-drinking experience at a higher level than drinking just any cup of coffee. That makes it memorable long after the coffee has been consumed.
Starbucks is successful at replicating the coffee lover’s magic moment in its own retail stores by leveraging packaging in grocery stores.
Packaging the “coffee shop” experience using consistency in graphics, flavors, product and imagery extends the brand. It creates new magic moments for consumers who may have never visited a Starbucks store.
Through the study participants’ stories and drawings, the Sterling Group research identified five components of experiential brands:
- Transformation
- Optimism
- Individuality
- Involvement
- Adventure

These components can provide the creative inspiration for developing brand messaging and communication.
Transformation occurs when a brand takes you from one state of mind to another. The health and beauty category is all about selling transformation. If we use a moisturizer, we want it to make our skin feel significantly different afterward. Photography is one way to show transformation effectively on-pack, but there are other, less obvious ways.
Dove hair products’ brand essence emerges through the idea of a “weightless moisturizer.” Dove communicates this notion in packaging by using a frosted bottle, a drifting dove and an overall feeling of simplicity. The resulting effect is a sense of lightness—a transforming experience.
The second component of experiential brands, optimism, conveys the feeling of pure happiness with a brand.
Bright colors, energetic graphics and humorous illustrations and photography can make a brand appear more optimistic. They give the consumer a reason to smile and expect the best from it.
Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish brand uses a smiling fish and explosive graphics to emote optimism.
Another example is POM Wonderful. This beverage brand name evokes a positive image. The clear glass bottle’s intriguing round structure, the brilliant mixture of flavors and a bulging heart at the center of the label design work together to create a sense of optimism.
Individuality, the third component, makes the brand experience feel like a unique, one-on-one connection with the consumer.
A section on Ben & Jerry’s Web site invites consumers to suggest new ice cream flavors. Offline, the sheer selection of flavors in the grocery freezer invites individuality because consumers always have the opportunity to choose whatever flavor they want.
Ben & Jerry’s could go a step further and customize its packaging to allow consumers to buy multiple flavors in a single package unit.
For teenage girls, the Jane Iredale brand also encourages product sampling. Jane invites girls to sample trial sizes as well as a constant influx of new colors, flavors and products.
The clever product names and bold package design signal individuality at a time in a girl’s life when she’s “coming of age” and craves self-expression the most.
Brands that invite consumers to indulge in a deep sense of give-and-take with them are at the heart of involvement.
Creating on-pack promotions is a way to use packaging to gain involvement. They invite people to participate in your brand.
Recently, M&M’s re-ignited its brand by changing all of its packaging to black and white and urging consumers to actively pick new colors for the product. It’s an ingenious way to make a statement and get it heard.
Snapple’s clever use of packaging copy, especially on and under the cap for promotions, brand facts and jokes, is central to making consumers active participants in the brand. These tactics draw consumers to Snapple through humor and unique package design.
The result is that consumers actually read the packaging.
How can you involve consumers in your brand? Back panels can be boring—or you can make them compelling to read.
Structure can play a major role in creating involvement. You can either create something consumers can use with your brand, like Venus’ travel case, or something they can use for other purposes after the product is gone. The Altoids tin provides a great example.
Finally, adventure stands at the core of brands that communicate the idea of excitement and exploration.
Fiji water is a leader among beverage brands that use the inside of the back panel for “front-panel” graphics. Graphics depicting the cascading waterfalls of Fiji conjure up notions of a refreshing drink in a tropical paradise.
The graphics take consumers on an adventure to a place where the water is untouched by civilization—creating a sense of intrigue.
From the beginning, the Dorito’s brand has been all about adventure. The interesting combinations of flavors, the fun product names and the extreme imagery on every bag take consumers on a wonderful journey every day, with every crunch.
Brands distributed through retail outlets have an advantage in creating experiences for their consumers. They can use their physical space and customer service to control every aspect of the experience.
Target accomplishes this through point-of-purchase displays, customer interaction and overall store environment. Target has succeeded by making the store easy to shop with bold signage, developing relationships with popular designers and having a lot of checkout counters, reducing waiting time at checkout.
On the other hand, it is much harder to create an experience on-pack because packaging is not spatial in the way that retail is. One can physically walk through the aisles of Target, but since a brand’s packaging is only a small part of that aisle, it must be deeply considered.
A commitment from the brand must be made to creating an experience on-pack.
As a way to answer this challenge, a number of brands rely instead on advertising, promotions and Web sites to create experiences, even though the most common interaction with a brand is its packaging.
Communicating the Experience
But as our previous examples illustrate, it is possible to communicate an experience through packaging. In the design phase, it’s a good idea to investigate constantly how you can integrate your brand’s most unique experiential elements into your packaging.
To do this, you must first understand which experiential component rises to the top for the brand and how to communicate it meaningfully to consumers. The experience also must sink roots into the essence of the brand and be communicated at every consumer interaction with your brand.
If you have a story to tell about your brand, tell it on-pack. It can reinforce the experience and encourage consumers to remember it each time. It is your brand that consumers are taking home from the store.
The author, Mikki Glass, is Vice President, Marketing Communications at The Sterling Group, a brand consultancy in New York. Contact her at 212.329.4617 or