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Emotional Connections with Brand Packaging

Donna Sturgess
  • Buyology Inc. studied consumers and their non-conscious response to product packaging, seeing what brands had packaging that solicited a strong emotional response.
  • Brands Adoré Chocolate, Tiffany and Apple came out on top as having the strongest emotional connections, although the responses to what consumers felt about their respective packaging were very different.
  • This Buyology study helps illustrate how consumers can make a connection to a brand beyond the product and their usage of it. The study even showed consumers keeping the packaging for products after it was necessary, indicating a very strong connection to the packaging.

How much do non-conscious stimuli affect what consumers feel for a brand and what they buy? And how much of that non-conscious information comes from packaging?

In a study on packaging from marketing firm Buyology Inc., products from tech brand Apple, Serbian brand Adoré Chocolate and jewelry brand Tiffany, among others, were rated, revealing surprising results such as how the non-conscious responses people have can affect brand loyalty and, possibly, purchasing behavior.

Behind the Non-conscious

It’s fairly well known that Apple plucks a strong chord with its consumers—customers who become transformed through a powerful emotional experience with the popular technology brand. And the company’s aesthetic sense is delivered as one sophisticated theme to stimulate feelings of awe, which is at the high end of the emotion register. However, the research from Buyology on the non-conscious response to product packaging revealed two brands that elicited a more powerful response from consumers than Apple, as well as how they did it.

Unlike traditional research that measures rational response, Buyology measures the deeper non-conscious consumer response, which it considers the silent author of why people buy what they buy. For this study, Buyology’s MindMeasure packaging test was conducted among 421 U.S. consumers to quantify the non-conscious reactions to preference, engagement and motivation measures. And among eight brands tested across multiple categories, the packages for Adoré chocolate bars and Tiffany jewelry were preferred over the Apple MacBook computer.

However, Apple isn’t alone in using its package to generate a strong emotional response in consumers. The MindMeasure Motivation Scores bar chart displays the ranking for these three brands—Apple, Adoré and Tiffany—on three of the motivation measures. The Adoré chocolate bar score is significantly better than Apple across the “cool”, “love” and “for me” measures, while Tiffany is significantly better than Apple on the “love” measure.

What Makes a Connection

The Adoré Chocolate packaging uses a delicate geometry of butterflies to flutter up from the cardboard sleeve that covers a bar of high-quality chocolate. Thus, the cardboard is transformed into a highly sensorial experience to match the delight of the chocolate. Consumers associated the package with Japanese paper art in their qualitative remarks, commenting that it was artistic and precious, which are important qualities for an artisanal chocolate. Other spontaneous comments from consumers included: pretty, mysterious, colorful, cool packaging, oriental, exotic and little luxury.

The familiar Tiffany box with its iconic blue color and signature white ribbon dials up the emotional response in anticipation of what’s inside. The Tiffany brand has created a close connection between color and the emotions of surprise, love and excitement. Consequently, powerful triggers are activated in consumers’ non-conscious memory around highly pleasurable emotional experiences at the sight of the colorful gift from Tiffany. The open-ended responses to the package included: surprising, elegant, present, beautiful, love, fancy, too much and ahhhh.

The Apple MacBook packaging serves as a sleek case for the computer inside, with a sturdy handle on the top for easy carrying. And like all Apple packages, its minimalism and dominant white color signifies the beauty of the brand and thus stimulates the emotional excitement associated with the Apple brand. The MacBook’s box came in third among the eight test brands, and open-ended remarks included: sleek, thin, want one, cool, boring, clean, simple and technical. This Apple package appealed more to men than women in the test, perhaps because of its highly functional form.

There are differences in perception among young versus older consumers as well, as shown on the Engagement Scores by Age chart of engagement measures. The younger consumers rate Tiffany lower, perhaps because of price, whereas the older consumers have closer ratings for the three brands on these measures.

Buyology also asked people in the study whether they have bought a product where they couldn’t throw away the packaging. The most popular responses for women were packaging from Tiffany and jewelry, Apple products, perfume, phones, chocolate and candles. Men most often kept packaging from Apple and computer purchases, watch boxes, CDs, some candy, Wheaties boxes and electronics. Clearly, certain packages seem to have value to the consumer beyond the product.

Packaging Beyond Purpose

Buyology’s non-conscious evaluation of product packaging offers powerful new insights into what drives a connection with consumers. These MindMeasure results illustrate that a new brand package like Adoré can stimulate the same level of emotion or better as the iconic brand packages of Tiffany or Apple MacBook.

So what is it that your brand’s packaging says about the products inside? What signals is it sending to consumers? Romance like the Tiffany box? Utilitarianess like Apple? Exotic like Adoré? How is it displaying the values of your beauty brand? And how can these signals be used to make a deeper consumer connection?

Can your packaging offer better form? Better function? Something else? What can your packaging act as besides a way to get products home safely? Because, in the end, packaging is a critical touch point for brands, and it should drive a strong connection with your current and potential customers to stimulate purchase.

Donna Sturgess is the president of Buyology Inc., an insights-driven marketing firm. Formerly, she was global head of innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Sturgess presented Buyology’s research on the non-conscious response to product packaging at the 2012 edition of Luxe Pack New York.



MindMeasureTM Motivation Scores

Chart from Buyology Inc. measuring MindMeasure Motivation Scores

 Consumers rank their emotional connection to packaging with “cool,” “love” and “for me” values.

Engagement Scores by Age

Buyology Inc. chart showing brand packaging engagement by age for Apple, Tiffany and Adore Chocolate

 The engagement scores for consumers' connection with particular brand packaging clearly vary by age.

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