Small businesses really have to work hard to attract the attention of new customers and once you have them it’s essential to keep hold of them! So how can you make your products stand out from the crowd? Creative packaging ideas.
Whatever your product may be, it should be recognizable as your brand and—especially for new businesses—be different enough to make customers choose them over more established ones.
Perfect your packaging ideas for small businesses one step at a time:
- Why is packaging so important?
- How do we define packaging?
- Apply branding to packaging
- Types of packaging
- Product packaging
- Decorative packaging ideas add a human touch
- Sweat the small stuff: tell consumers what they need to know
- Going greener with small business packaging designs
Why is packaging so important?
Why is creative packaging for small businesses so important? Well, I recently received two packages that made me feel extra special.
One was some CDs bought from an independent record store. The traditional ‘jiffy’ bag had been replaced with a plastic-free all cardboard version and on the outside of the pack was a hand-written note saying, ‘thanks Fi’ with a little love heart drawn on. Inside, there was a postcard with the store’s contact details asking if I could tag them on Instagram.
As I see myself as something of an eco-warrior I loved the fact that they had replaced the single-use bag with a more sustainable option and I also loved the handwritten note that thanked me for my custom. It made me feel like I had a rapport with the staff, even though I have never actually visited the store.
The second was some hosiery from a start-up I have been following on Insta. They arrived wrapped in beautiful color coordinated tissue paper, with an ‘art card.’ A postcard-sized limited edition artwork for me to keep. The tissue paper had protected my delicate items and the art card reminded me that the start-up created their own designs. Did this packaging make me feel special enough to give them a glowing review on Insta? You bet.
Both of these packaging methods made me want to shop with these stores again and influenced me to tell the world via social media how brilliant they were–and those reviews and comments can be vital for the small business or start-up. They had mirrored my own values of sustainability and had humanized the relationship between us by making me believe that there were creative and caring people at the other end of my transactions.
Just by creative use of packaging, these small businesses had succeeded in establishing a rapport between us and made me, as the consumer, want to shop with them again and give favorable reviews.
How do we define packaging?
Put simply it’s a method of containing, wrapping and protecting your products on the store shelf so customers can see what it is, what it does and who made it. Packaging gives protection, keeps the product clean and provides the customer with (often) vital information regarding the product—such as contents and ingredients.
So for perfume—it will usually be a bottle in a box; for a garment–a label and tag. And with internet shopping the norm these days, it’s also about getting your products safely delivered to your customers, undamaged and in one piece.
However, your packaging isn’t just about protecting your product from being damaged, it is also a window into your business. It is a major component of your advertising and brand and it also projects your values.
For example, is your brand marketed as being sustainable? Then your packaging should reflect this and be super eco-friendly. Is your product designed for children? Then your packaging needs to be attractive for a young audience but also be safe for them to open—so no plastic bags or sharp edges. Packaging and branding work together to shape how your consumer views your product.
Apply branding to packaging
By tailoring your packaging to your customer, you share their values and ensure that you connect with them on a deeper level. Finishing touches like this can give your small business an edge over the mass-produced competition and can even begin a rapport with your customers. This connection is so important that it could increase your sales, make them more regular and lead to a greater understanding of your customer base. This is essential for a small business’s continued growth and expansion.
Your branding is the means by which you advertise your company by using a unique and distinctive design. Branding covers the entire look and feel of your company. It conveys to the customer your ideals and company culture. So, to start building your brand, you need to define it—its mission, its values, its audience and its aesthetic. This identity must remain consistent through all extensions of your brand, whether that’s its online presence, its services or its packaging.
Doing this means honing in on your brand logo, your color palette and choice of fonts. It means using a style guide to define every interaction your brand has with your customer. With packaging, this often looks how a customer receives the product after it’s been delivered to their homes. Will they open the outer protective packaging to find a tissue-wrapped gift filled with eco-friendly glitter? Or perhaps, you’d prefer to keep it minimal and stick to a promo voucher.
As a small business, it’s great to show off your humanistic side with personalized touches in packaging design. But to do so, let’s walk you through the various types of packaging you’ll first need to consider.
Types of packaging
You will need to consider how your products need to be packaged. Food, cosmetics and toiletries will all need strong, water and leak-proof packaging, for instance. Delicate items like glassware, jewelry or electrical items will need extra protection from any knocks and damage caused by transit. If shipping long distances or overseas you may need extra protection.
Packaging is divided into three main components: the shipping box; product packaging; and inserts (separate to the actual contents) such as cards. If you’re not sure about which type of packaging you need for your product why not check out The U.S. Packaging & Wrapping Packaging Library which has loads of technical info on the types of packaging available (even if you’re not in the US). Did you know that barrier bags provide an oxygen barrier to protect and preserve products when packaged? Me neither, but you’ll need to know this if your product is tea or coffee!
External–the shipping box
For your external shipping box, you could use a plain cardboard box but you can also print your branding directly onto traditional cardboard boxes. Most printers will be able to print your design on a shipping box. If you’re a small business, start out with smaller quantities or you’ll find storage a problem.
In the US, Discount Box Printing has loads of different shapes of boxes and will do smaller quantities and FedEx also has custom printed boxes starting from $1.48 a box (cheaper for higher quantities).
If you want full-color printed boxes Packlane will print a thousand for $3.71 per box. In the UK Woohoop Packaging provides a bespoke service for shipping boxes (known as mailers) and in the EU, Printmate have a variety of shipping boxes that you can have custom-printed and with a low minimum order quantity of just 100 boxes.
The above design for MIMIXOXO includes the socials info on the outside of the box–useful for encouraging ‘unboxing’ videos and if you have a large Instagram or YouTube following this would be ideal!
Internal–packing and fillers
Void fillers include packing peanuts–those polystyrene squiggly things that look like chips. For an eco-friendlier version you can now get packing peanuts in sustainable corn-starch or you could just use scrunched Kraft or shredded paper. If your budget is really tight, one eco-friendly option is to reuse old boxes, newspapers and magazines as fillers.
1. Wood wool (wood shavings) are an alternative to peanuts but they have a particular scent, so take care which products you use these with. However, this scent and the feel of the natural shavings can add a touch of luxury to the filler. They are perfect for natural products or delicate items such as ornamental or handmade gifts. Kite Packaging (UK-based) sells naturally dried kiln wood wool in 2.5kg and 10kg bales at £39.85 for a 10kg bale.
2. Bubble wrap (and air cushions) are possibly the most common form of filler and they add a substantial level of protection for the product as well. They are not usually considered sustainable due the high plastic content but they do offer the best protection for fragile products. Bubble wrap is cheap, very easily available and you can always re-use it!
This is the main packaging, which contains your actual products. Your product will need something to protect itself from being punctured or damaged and this packaging is your advertising space and main attention grabber on the shelf! If it doesn’t stand out or isn’t clear what it contains, then you run the risk of potential customers walking right by it.
Although a lot of packaging is boxes, you can also use wraps, pouches, labels, stickers or hang tags. Your choice will depend upon the type of products you are selling, whether budget or luxury, its size and shape and your budget. Let’s go through them!
For a luxury product, a unique and unusual-looking box could be the way to get you noticed. But be aware that having non-square boxes can cause problems with stacking and display on store shelves or when packing into shipping boxes for delivery. Take this into consideration when choosing your final design.
Luxury products are afforded more space on a shelf due to their price, but retailers aren’t willing to give up lots of shelf space to cheaper items. These are stacked on shelves in bulk and their containers need to fit together quite tightly. So if your product is luxury then you can afford to go for an unusual shape, but cheaper items need to be stackable.
It’s also worth considering how your product is going to be displayed alongside much bigger brands. Some packaging can be arranged on the shelf to catch the eye and clever use of design, like wrapping illustrations across the box sides, can really make your product really jump out!
A branded wrap is a great option to show off the raw appearance of natural, quality products. If in-store, this method entices potential customers to touch and feel the texture of the product—which can only be a good thing when consumers are looking for experiential shopping increasingly often.
Adding a wrap to your packaging adds to the depth of your designs, layering prints, colors and textures. It enriches the unwrapping experience for customers and shows your brand’s attention to detail.
If you are selling soft or semi-liquid items (like pet food or cosmetics) you can use a pouch. A modern version of a carton or tin, they are safe and leakproof. You can have your branding design printed directly onto the pouch. PolyPouch can provide custom printed pouches and have digital printing options for short runs, as does epac.
Keep it super simple with designs and let your logo speak for itself. Depending on what best suits your brand identity, you could explore doodle art and line drawings to attract customers to your brand personality. Alternatively, you could explore a decorative illustration to cover the entire pouch, which works well if your product is something edible and you want to tantalize the tastebuds of your customers.
Whichever direction you go with, be sure to keep in mind the unusual dimensions of a pouch so that your design looks the best it can be.
Decorative packaging ideas to add a human touch
Cut-out areas on boxes or boards are known as die-cuts. This is a method you can use to showcase contents or to create a unique outline, but they do have to be carefully designed in order to maintain strength. You will also need a strong paper or cardboard to ensure these designs will work. A designer will help you to ensure that all the cuts are in the right places and your design won’t just fall apart! PakFactory and The Custom Boxes both produce custom die cut boxes to your designs.
This chalkboard eraser has a fun and attractive package designed around it and the die-cut really shows the product well. In fact, it’s just a die-cut wrap, but the design makes it seem much more complex.
This scarf holder pictured below has a hidden secret! This is made using a flat board cut into shape using a die-cutter.
In a similar way to sleeves, die-cuts allow the customer to see the quality of the product. A brilliant idea if your product is at a mid-high price point and oozing value for money, such as this luxury picnic backpack.
Tissue and wrapping papers
Customized tissue paper adds high-end luxury packaging and is often used by boutique brands for wrapping lingerie or soaps and cosmetics, adding a sense of class and elegance.
Use plain or patterned tissue and wrapping papers or have your logo added for an extra special touch. An elegant, simple design works best–tissue paper can’t take too much ink in the printing process due to its delicate nature. In Europe, Packhelp will add your logo or design to sheets of tissue paper using eco-friendly, colorfast ink.
The pattern you choose for your packaging can be used again and again across your other branded elements, strengthening your identity in customers’ minds. This fabulous Burger Chef design below shows how your branding can spread across your entire food range, from cartons to bags with only a few changes to the designs.
Two colorways of orange and grey are used here. By reversing the colors of the design, you can easily see that both belong to the same brand and yet have enough differences between the packaging for each different product.
This is where a small business like yours can really shine. You could just slip in a business card, but why stop there?
Thank you notes, handwritten cards, vouchers and even collectible art will all give your customers something to love and remember you by. Remember to encourage them to like you on social media or leave a review by having all your socials printed on the reverse.
An elegant thank-you note with a handwritten message will certainly make your customer feel special. You don’t even have to write the letters yourself! In 2019, UK-based RoboQuill began to use the latest robotic technology that writes handwritten letters in your own hand. The state-of-the-art robot holds a real pen and can write letters or names/addresses onto 1000s of envelopes without getting writer’s cramp. Handwritten notes and letters can increase the human connection between the retailer and customer in a way that emails never can.
Esty has a huge range of thank-you note cards (as well as stickers and labels) for various quantities–perfect for small businesses and for every budget. For instance, 50 pre-printed thank-you note cards in pink will cost about US$ 21.46.
Add an illustrative, personal touch
A beautiful card featuring an illustration could become a collector’s item for your customer. Let your customer know how much they mean to you. You can have different designs made up and rotate them, so that a customer never gets the same one twice! Etsy features a lot of beautiful pre-printed cards, but if budget allows, a brand-exclusive design is always worth taking your identity above and beyond.
Take some time to choose an illustration that reminds your customer of your products or service. Pet stores can feature cute animals for example, or if you sell yoga equipment–how about a calming landscape? You could use the cards just as a gift for your best customers and combine them with thank-you notes or even discounts. Do you have your customer’s birthday? You could send them a beautiful card and offer a discount on their next visit!
Sweat the small stuff: tell consumers what they need to know
If you have to use many different kinds or shapes of packages perhaps branded stickers would be a good option for you? Stickers have the advantage of being easy to apply to almost any surface and are excellent value for money. You can have different ones for each product in your range, or a simple logo version you can apply to all of your products.
Stickers of your own design are an excellent way to get your brand noticed on a tight budget as you can put them onto plain shipping boxes and Kraft bags. Die-cut stickers on rolls are usually cheaper than ones printed on sheets and both Vistaprint and Esty have lots of different custom roll labels. Eg. 100 color roll labels from Vistaprint starting at $129.05 and small single color labels from Esty at just $14.29. You can upload your own design and quickly have them delivered or you can download templates for sticker sheets and print out your own!
Bottle and container labels
Glass and plastic bottles need labels that have industry standard information on them, such as ingredients, so ensure your branding is designed with this in mind. Be mindful that dark background colors make small fonts hard to read and difficult to print. If you want that contrast in your design, think about using a dark glass bottle with a light, bright label.
Using a minimalist design and generic bottles for your products can work well. Below, only a slight change of the label design and two-color printing help keep costs down.
Hangtags can be an important part of your branding and are used for all sorts of differently shaped products. As garment tags also have to convey a lot of important information, such as origin and laundry instructions that are often printed very small, simple designs and logos work best for clarity on these. As well as garments, soft items like bags and purses are perfect for hangtags.
Going greener with small business packaging designs
“Brown paper packages tied up with string; these are a few of my favorite things…” so the song goes. If you’re a ‘green’ business then you will want sustainability built into your packaging too.
You’ll need to source your packaging carefully to keep your green credentials. For delivery, there are plastic-free versions of padded envelopes and paper-based parcel tapes and you could reuse boxes and packaging. Saving on unnecessary packaging will also reduce your own costs but be aware that delicate items may need extra packing. Mixing different types of materials can also make them non-recyclable, so try to keep to just one material overall.
And one of the most sustainable choices is plain old corrugated cardboard which can be recycled up to 25 times before being composted. There are plenty of ways to innovate packaging ideas and designs as a small business. Pictured below, 3L Design decided to get creative with food waste. They used leftover potato peel to form the packaging material for a cone of fries.
Another great packaging idea is to use natural waste from your surroundings; fallen palm leaves, for instance, are a brilliant option to recycle. If you’re set on a glass or plastic aesthetic, design it using recycled materials and encourage consumers to reuse the containers after the product runs out.
LIFE GOES ON actually organize the collection of their empty bottles as part of a laundry-style service and take it directly to be recycled. This could be a great option for small businesses who’re making the most of local branding in their wider strategy.
The Green Business Bureau has loads of ideas for small businesses to go green. Smurfit Kappa has options for all virtually every kind of packaging you could want, including thermal packaging, can-toppers, food trays and counter displays, all made with sustainable cardboards.
Tailoring packaging designs toward your small business
I hope we have given you some fresh, creative packaging ideas for how you can develop your packaging for your small business. Whatever your product, try to keep your branding consistent throughout your designs and your customers will soon easily recognize your products on the store shelf.
For e-commerce businesses delivering directly to your customers’ homes–don’t miss out on the opportunity to use that unboxing experience to make a human connection with your customer with a thank-you note. If your customers find your packaging a delight they will tell their friends and buy from you again! Have fun with your packaging, be super creative and why not try something unusual to stand out from the crowd?