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The Role of Instagram in Package Design

It used to be strictly true that a consumer’s first experience of (and moment of truth) for a brand would be at the shelf. While the physical environment is still where brands make it or break it, today’s consumer is an omni-channel shopaholic with their phone plugged into their forehead.

Social media has become a sort of third rail of packaging design for food and beverage brands. The package has to communicate (brand story + product attributes), it has to stand out from competitors in the retail environment … and it has to look great in that buzzy unboxing video on TikTok.

Lots of people started buying groceries online during the pandemic, and the fleet of delivery trucks in my neighborhood is proof that the browse-click-deliver trend isn’t over. But it’s not just customers finding brands online; brands are finding customers online — paid social advertising has become a serious tactic in every brand’s marketing plan.

This matters because people have a deep-seated need to belong more than ever. Social media is simultaneously filling this need and making the hunger for it stronger. Brands that are winning in social channels are not selling products; they are making lifestyle promises.

Today, consumers expect your brand to have an omni-channel presence and for your packaging and product to look good in all of their feeds — TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever comes next. The packaging system needs to integrate with your website and all of the non-social media platforms (like Amazon, Instacart, gopuff) where your brand can be found.

A Formula for Brands That Win Online and Off

This isn’t just about creating social media campaigns that work – it’s deeper than that: identity, story, system. 

The rise in ecommerce means we have to think about …

·      the shipability

·      the unboxing

·      the full life cycle of the materials, including what happens when it gets in the consumer’s hands

… all while looking effortlessly differentiated and better than competing offerings.

After many years of trial and error and experimenting in our own creative lab, we’ve developed a formula for building a Beloved & Dominant Brand that wins IRL and online:

1. You need an identity that is simple, bold and iconic.

Simple doesn’t mean looking like every other millennial-inspired brand with a modern serif type on a flat color. Simple doesn’t even mean minimalist. Simple means bold and iconic, disruptive, inclusive and exclusive all at once. (‘Sticky’ is how I like to think of it.)

Identity isn’t just how your brand shows up in the world; it’s a foundational call to the deep that joins the brand and the human on the other end. Whether a consumer does something with your brand — using your product in a TikTok video, raving to their network about how they can’t stop buying your brand — they love you because of who they get to be when they’re with you.

2. You need a story that transcends your features and benefits. 

Your brand should have both a narrative and a Real Reason to Believe (RRTB) — something a consumer is willing to absorb, get lost in, share, and desire to belong to, as well as pay for.

Storytelling connects brand strategy — your WHY, the promises you make and the way you keep them — to your audience. The word ‘story’ suggests you’re speaking to them, but in fact, it’s a conversation. And if you have a great story to tell, elements that could be totally mundane, like flavor attributes, can be elevated to competitive advantages.

3. You need a system of package design that scales and flexes to fit any application. 

It has to look great and catch the consumer’s eye when …

·      it’s reduced to fit on your brand page on ThriveMarket.com, and

·      it’s navigable on a big-box store shelf, and

·      it looks great from all angles and feels cohesive front to back, and

·      it photographs well and looks sharp alongside other brands while never getting lost in the shadows.

There’s tension in balancing what the consumer needs to know about your brand’s offering in order to make a decision with your marketing team’s tendency to look at what other brands in the space are doing. That’s why there’s so much copycatting among brands: There’s safety in popularity, which often conflicts with differentiation. So trust your brand’s positioning to tell you how your packaging should look.

Identity + Story + Packaging = A Hot New Brand

What happens when you plug into all of these elements? You differentiate your brand without having to shout about it. You zag away from competitors and take your audience (and theirs) with you.

If you just want incremental growth, you can spend your way into it, but if you want to move up the table, it takes a disruptor mentality. A willingness to be countercultural, to rebel against the category convention in order to create the next new thing. I’m not suggesting you go maverick just for the sake of being maverick — instead, be choiceful, considerate, careful. You want to be seen as the better/smarter/newer option that fits more perfectly into the consumer’s life than whatever they loved before.

Take a look at one of our most recent clients. Henrietta Said came out in May of 2023; a month later it won the Most Innovative New Product Award for Best Savory Snack at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

It’s just peanuts. Five flavors. All Buffalo wing-inspired.

In other hands, it could be just another commodity: a snack nut mix. But this brand is all about creating a provocative story that certain audiences will love and want to promote. These aren’t the Planter’s customers. They’re looking for something different, something they can feel like they’ve discovered.

All the brand ethos ties to the extensive consumer research we conducted. And it has all the elements of a great story:

·      the only women-owned company in a male-dominated category

·      Southern roots

·      the founders’ funny, spicy personalities

We leveraged all those attributes to create a unique positioning and created a bold, immediately eye-catching packaging system. We were able to honor who the brand’s owners are from a values standpoint and translate those into narratives that are shareable and appealing — that combination of identity, story, and packaging is a radical difference maker when you’re going to market.

Their results bear that out: They reached their 1-year sales goal in 60 days.

Identity, story, packaging. It’s the trifecta of branding. But it’s not a simple bet to win.

You need to partner with expert strategists and package designers who are dedicated, who won’t let you say the same things everyone else in your category says, who won’t let you lurk on Instagram and think, “We need pink and a serif typeface going up the side.”

We bring informed intuition, plus data and insight, and a deep, deep understanding of consumer psychology, and category audits galore — all to help brands discover the next new thing that nobody else is poised to deliver.

We’d love to tell you more about how we helped Henrietta Said crush it out of the gate — shall we talk?

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Chief Sales & Marketing Officer
For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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