Packaging: How to think about it

Building a brand on a digital platform is about establishing one level of the customer experience.  Graphics, photography, pantones, fonts and prose define the brand outside of the good or service that is being sold; they set the tone and communicate information about the intended audience.  The brand building that takes place on a website is the canvas from which all products can be born, it is the fertile ground in which innovation and ingenuity sprout. 

But products that are sold in traditional brick and mortar stores are charged with another layer of responsibility.  They must define the product, define the customer, and present a value proposition in a few inches of packaging. A well packaged product can capture a customer’s attention and sell them on its value in a few seconds.  If any of the key determinants are not crystal clear, the sale is lost forever. 

When we first launched Solemates, we depended on our website to introduce customers to the notion of heel protectors.  The term alone was created by us in order to explain what we had invented.  Prior to our invention, it was simply accepted that walking in heels in grass was tempestuous; never did anyone consider there was a solution to this problem (that didn’t involve changing one's shoes).  In seeking to democratize a woman's ability to walk on any surface, we invented a product. With the invention, came new terminology, new language, new slang even.  Heel caps, heel protectors, heel savers  - to use these terms prior to our invention was to speak in code. No one knew what it meant. So for us, we had to launch a website to set a tone that defined “this is the problem” and “here is the solution”.  

When it came to the packaging we were faced with another set of challenges. Our products are quite small and the packaging had to be small enough to be efficient, but large enough to capture some gravitas on a shelf.  The product had to make sense in a display but also make sense on its own, in a basket, on a shelf, or on a peg. There were endless scenarios in which the product might be displayed and the stand alone box had to have enough content to quickly capture a customer’s attention, allow them to relate to the problem, convey the solution, and sell them on our (unknown brand’s) ability to solve the problem. 

Sometimes it seemed that a box the size of a large computer would not be big enough to explain our product.  We tried cartoon graphics, mini-shoe boxes, plastic pouches attached to paperboard hang tags, drawstring tote bags, and crystal clear boxes.  We scoured shelves at stores we envisioned our product to be sold, long before we had any hope of being in retail. We looked to beauty for the most innovative, but kept an eye to mass market because of their price points and accessibility. We wanted our products and our brand to be for everyone who wore heels (and ultimately shoes), not just for those who spend $$$$ on their footwear assortments. 

After months of iterations and some pretty cringey packaging, we hired a firm to help us create a commercial solution.   The first deck they created must have been 50 pages long.  I remember sitting in their office and quickly flipping through it, landing on 2 designs I liked and saying “I love page 23 and 34”.  

I had expected relief and joy from their team but instead was told that they had worked really hard on 1-50 and my job was to sit and listen as they went through page by page, what had driven and inspired their decisions. They were astute in holding me back as hearing about what drove them , did in fact change the way I thought about the packaging end-products.

Ultimately, the designs I liked from the get-go remained the same, but I had better reasons for liking them and a better understanding as to why I liked them. Having a deeper understanding allowed me to know how to expand the packaging themes to other products (in time). 

We landed on a clear window to display the product, a slide box to allow customers a place to store them between uses, with graphics created the image of grass underneath the products, otherwise stuck to white, gray and accents of pink.  The packaging looks good at a wedding, in a high end boutique, and at a mass market store. It is small enough to fit inside a bag, and big enough to find it on a shelf. With a lot of imagination, and working with a team of problem solvers, we created a little masterpiece. 

The packaging that was created from the 50-page presentation went on to win packaging awards for several years. It was innovative, simple, clean, clear and got the message across.

Hilariously, when we were on Shark Tank, Lori Grenier called out the packaging as a weak spot for the brand.  I mentioned the packaging awards and asked her specifically what she didn’t like. She said “It is not clear what it does”.  Mark Cuban interjected, “It says “Prevents Heels from sinking into the grass right on the front, right in the center”.  Lori, unsure how to respond, said “well, the font isn’t that big”.  Mark rolled his eyes (and I rolled mine, internally).  

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